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White Balance for Better Pictures

Monday, October 4th, 2010 by | Filed Under: Digital Photography

White balance is the key to good photography. The difference could mean inaccurate color reproduction and thereby lower quality pictures. Without white balance, pictures may have a yellow, blue or orange cast if they’ve been shot under different lighting conditions. For example, fluorescent lighting adds a bluish cast whereas tungsten (incandescent/bulbs) lights add a yellowish tinge to photos. In photography parlance, cool colors are shades of blue whereas warm colors are yellowish. And this is what we call color temperatures. Unlike the human eye that detects light sources and adjusts white balance automatically, the camera cannot if it’s faced with extreme sources of light. Therefore, the rule of thumb is to warm it up when the colors are blue or green and cool things down when the light is warm (yellow).


Setting up

You have compact cameras that have preset white balances and you have DSLR cameras that have custom white balance settings in addition to presets. The best way to get a handle on your model of camera is to look up white balance in your manual and follow it step by step.

Here are some of the basic White Balance settings you’ll find on cameras:


Auto – This is best when you are unsure about making a call on white balance yourself. This especially comes in handy when you are faced with standard lighting conditions like a cloudy sky, direct sunlight or shade.

Tungsten – This preset works well when you are shooting indoors and the light used is a light bulb or incandescent light. This mode generally cools down the colors in pictures.

Fluorescent – This works exactly the opposite of Tungsten. It cools down extremely cool light of any fluorescent light source and warms it up to balance the color temperature.

Daylight/Sunny – Not all cameras have this setting because it sets things as fairly ‘normal’ white balance settings.

Cloudy – This mode works to warm up a cool picture. If Daylight mode isn’t in your camera or if you do have one, but need your picture to be a tad warmer, this mode works like manna from heaven.

Flash – The flash of a camera can creae a very cool image (bluer). Here is where this mode works to lend it a warmer touch.

Shade – The light under the shade is cooler compared to the picture taken under direct sunlight. This mode will add warmer tones to the picture to render white balance and set right the temperature prevalent under such extreme conditions.


Manual settings

If you have a DSLR camera, you have the added advantage of custom setting white balance. Here is where you help the camera identify what is a true white or grey color, so it can identify the colors in the spectrum properly. You can do this by filling your viewfinder with a white or grey card. If you can’t lay your hands on one, you can use a white sheet of paper instead. The best way to see the difference between auto white balance and custom is to first shoot in auto and then use a white card and shoot again. You will see that the result is much truer in terms of color saturation and temperature control.

~Zahid H Javali

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