Understanding white balance and how to achieve the correct white balance in camera

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Jeremy Gray

posted Thursday, January 6, 2022 at 1:30 PM EST



Photographer and educator Mark Wallace is back with another new video for Adorama. The latest episode in Wallace’s ‘Exploring Photography’ video series focuses on white balance.

Before getting into it, it’s worth talking about shooting RAW files and how that affects white balance. If you shoot RAW, you can adjust white balance during post-processing without affecting image quality, which is great. That’s not true when you shoot JPEG files, as you’ll have a much narrower range of white balance adjustments that look good. Now, even though you can easily adjust white balance on your computer when you shoot RAW images, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t understand white balance and try to ‘get it right’ in the camera.

At a basic level, what is white balance and what does it do? Wallace recommends thinking about it in terms of ‘color balance.’ When you adjust white balance, you’re not changing only the look of ‘white’ in your images, you’re changing how all colors look. When you look at something white with your naked eye, in just about any lighting condition, it will appear white. However, to your camera, it’s more complicated than that, because your camera ‘sees’ in red, green, and blue pixels. The mixture of red, green, and blue create white but your camera can interpret a scene in such a way that white is tinted blue, green, magenta or orange. How do we get a digital camera to produce images where white is white? Using white balance settings.

We need to understand color temperature. Cameras use a color temperature scale based on Kelvin temperatures. The lower the color temperature, the bluer an image. For example, 2,000K white balance is much bluer than 5,000K and even bluer still than 10,000K. If you’re shooting with ‘Flash’ white balance, the color temperature is typically around 5,000K. ‘Daylight’ white balance is warmer at around 6,000K. ‘Cloudy’ white balance is even warmer at up to 8,000K. If you select the correct white balance for a given lighting condition, a white object should be a similar color even if you’re shooting with indoor lighting, flash, sunlight or under overcast conditions. If you’d like further reading, Cambridge in Colour has a fantastic tutorial about white balance that goes into good detail and has example photos.

Cameras today have very capable automatic white balance settings. So, do you even need to understand white balance or how to set a custom white balance? Not always, but sometimes using a custom white balance is required to get the best results in camera. In the video above, Wallace demonstrates how automatic white balance works, how to set a custom white balance in camera, different in-camera white balance modes and how to set the optimal white balance during post-processing.

If you’d like to see more tutorial videos from Mark Wallace, head to the Adorama YouTube channel. 

(Via Adorama)