White balance is simply how the camera interprets the color of the scene. Funky color can turn fair-skinned Annie into an oompa-loompa or little Lucas into the Jolly Green Giant. It’s best to get the color right while you’re taking the picture, but if you have to, you can “fix” it in a program like Photoshop, Lightroom, iPhoto or Photoshop Elements.
Bad color can be caused by mixed light, artificial lights, and usually the shade gives your pictures a blue tinge. Some cameras are better than others when it comes to interpreting the correct color - higher end cameras usually do a better job keeping the color true, whites will be white. Color is measured in kelvin temperature.
If you’re shooting with a DSLR and even some higher end point and shoots you have some options to control the white balance: presets and perhaps kelvin and/or custom white balance. Controlling your color means that your camera will neutralize the color of the light and allow the true colors to shine through. The results may not look like what your eye sees as you stand in the scene
Let’s say your subject is in the shade. You take the shot of your lovely dad in auto white balance and suddenly your dad resembles Papa Smurf. So, you switch your white balance preset to “shade” to fix it; that means your camera is adding yellow to neutralize those blue tones.
Presets Presets are a quick way to adjust for your lighting situation. They will cool down the warm light or warm up the cool light. Canon presets are Auto, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, Incandescent, Daylight, Fluorescent, Flash and Custom.
The first set shows you the effects of the presets in clean daylight.
The next shows you how they do their thing under tungsten light.
And finally in the cool afternoon light of my daughter’s room.
Kelvin Adjusting the kelvin temperature is a very precise way of altering the camera’s white balance, however, not all cameras give you this option. It takes some practice to read the light when you approach the scene, but a great little hack is to use the live view feature to scroll through the temperatures until you find the perfect color! 5000K is neutral, clean light; like daylight. When you set the Kelvin temperature, remember that you are neutralizing the temperature of the light in the scene, so if the light is really yellowish, say in a gym, you’ll want to set your Kelvin to low temperature; in contrast, in the shade, you’ll want to set your temperature higher, like 7000K to get rid of blue tones of shade light.
Custom White Balance
This is as specific as you can get, but it takes some planning ahead. You’ll need a neutral item, like a gray card, but I’ve even used the back of a white t-shirt, the side of the bathtub or even a piece of paper in a pinch! And to be honest, I only do this if the light is really, REALLY bad. Different cameras have different methods to set custom white balance, but they all involve taking a picture of the neutral (gray card) and then point your camera to that image as to say “This is a neutral. It’s not supposed to have color. Please adjust yourself so that is how you see it.” Now tell your camera “thank you” and shoot away. But make sure that the light doesn’t change, because if it does, you have to reset that CWB.
Fixing It Later You’ll find in most photo editing software that you can change the white balance either through presets, similar to those in camera, or by using a dropper on a neutral.
This method can only go so far when you are working with jpegs; shooting in raw gives you much more flexibility, but the files are super-huge, so you have to decide if the size is worth it - I think it is!
White balance can be tedious at times, but good color is a foundation of great photography! You have to know how to get it right before you move on to more artistic decisions.
WEEK 4 CHALLENGE: This week your challenge is to try working with your different white balance options to get correct color out of camera. You can use presets, kelvin, or custom white balance, but we want you experimenting with new white balance methods. Correct color in a photograph is truly one of the most important things! Go like the Kensie M Photography Facebook Page and post your favorites from the week there! We can't wait to see what you are working on. And remember we love questions, so feel free to post them in the comments section!
Lynne Rigby is a wife and mother to five wonderful children. Before she began her photography journey, she was a kindergarten teacher, and as such, has a lifelong love of teaching. She began taking photos as a way to capture images of her son Paxton on the football field. While she could get some shots that she could never get with her point and shoot, she was still having problems with some pictures being too dark, or blurry, or funky colored. She started googling and reading, bought herself a “nifty-fifty” and taught herself to shoot in manual mode. And the obsession began! For the first time in nine years, she had a creative outlet for herself. She then started answering questions on a photography forum about the basics of shooting in manual mode and that morphed into a four week class about learning to shoot in manual. And so it began. She has since written 3 other classes: a Beginning Creativity Class, the Basics of Lightroom, and Style and Voice. She has taught thousands of budding photographers over the last four years and watching their progress reminds her of the joy in that kindergarten class a lifetime ago. Lynne is an admin at the fantastic photography forum, The Photographer Within (This is by far and away my favorite photography forum and I highly encourage everyone to check it out!) and her beginning photography course "Photography Fundamentals: Auto to Manual Mode" starts today!! If you are wanting a more in depth experience in learning your camera, this is the course for you!