Light has color. The low angle of the sun at sunset creates warm tones. A cloudy day, with the lack of sun, creates cool tones. The color of light is also affected by objects reflecting the light. So, if you are photographing a little girl standing under a tree in the forest the girl’s skin tone may have a green cast due to the light filtering through the leaves of the tree. When you adjust your camera for white balance you are compensating for the color of light that is affecting your photograph.
White Balance Options
If your camera has a white balance setting, it most likely has different options to choose from, to help with white balance adjustments. You can set your camera on auto white balance, and let the camera decide the proper adjustment, or you can choose from a menu of options such as “daylight,” “shade,” “fluorescent” or “incandescent,” picking the option which best describes the light source lighting your subject.
Your camera may also have a “custom” setting. The custom setting lets you manually set the white balance adjustment. I find using the custom setting particularly good for unusual lighting, multiple lighting sources, and for skin tones.
Since I like to spend as little time as possible processing my images, getting the white balance “right” in the camera means I don’t have to fiddle with white balance in Lightroom or Photoshop.
Setting Custom Balance
Your camera manual should provide instructions on how to set a custom white balance setting. Most likely when you create the setting you will need to point your camera at a white object, fill the viewfinder or LCD screen with the object, and then push your camera’s shutter release button so that your camera can take a white balance measurement to use for the custom setting.
You can find a white object to take your measurement for a custom setting, or you can use a tool created just for that purpose. I find a tool, such as the Vello Universal White Balance Handheld Disc, convenient to use because then I don’t have to look around for a white object and it is easy to hold up to the camera and fill the display.
To use a tool like the Disc first set your camera for your desired exposure and choose manual focus. Hold the Disc by the handle and cover the front of your camera lens with the filter part of the Disc, so that when you look through the viewfinder or LCD screen all you see is the Disc. Aim your camera so that the Disc is illuminated by the same light illuminating your subject. If possible, you can stand where your subject is standing and point the camera back to the location where you will be shooting from.
Remember to redo your custom setting when the light changes.
If you have never tried the custom setting before, test it out with different lighting conditions, and see what you think.
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