Copyright Scott Bourne - Proper White Balance

This continues a series of tips I’m going to publish for new photographers. For those of you who already know this stuff, I promise to keep the more advanced posts coming for you.

Arnold Simmons from San Francisco wrote me and asked:

What is white balance and why do I need to worry about it?

Improper White Balance

White balance is a phrase used to describe balancing the colors a camera records so the resulting images look neutral.

When your camera has its white balance improperly set, you get unnatural color casts that cause a scene to render improperly.

Most modern day DSLRs and even compact cameras allow you to set your white balance. You should do this before making an exposure and in the same light you’ll be shooting with.

By telling the camera which colors in the scene are neutral – white or gray for instance, we can set Auto White Balance, Manual White Balance or Custom White Balance. All photos taken in that same light will come out without a color cast.

Your camera may already have default settings for many popular lighting situations such as fluorescent, tungsten, daylight, flash, and cloudy. These are called white balance presets and are intended as a guide.

If you shoot in RAW mode, you can adjust the image in your RAW converter to any white balance you like. Some would argue this means RAW shooters don’t need to worry about white balance until post. I disagree. You want to get as much right in the cameras as you possibly can to save time in post and the viewfinder displays a converted JPG from your RAW file so it might be distracting to you to see a photo with a color cast if you don’t get the white balance right from the beginning.

Set your white balance to most closely match the lighting conditions you’re working in. Don’t forget to reset white balance when the light changes.

This post sponsored by X-Rite Color and the ColorChecker Passport