One Shot: White Balance

July 10, 2010

Not everything is simply black and white. Forgetting to check and adjust white balance can be one of the biggest mistakes a photographer can make. According to the light present at the time of shooting, there can be a slight tint or color cast to your picture: flourescent lights can produce red tinted pictures, and light can bounce off shirts to tint a face to the according color (see the picture below). Obviously, we want the color that is most true to life, the color of what you see before you as it is.  Although unwanted tints can be simply fixed in the post process, it is best to get them out of the way by setting your white balance correctly.

Looking at the basic white balance presets we can see that each preset corresponds to a different temperature:

The higher the temperature in Kelvins, the bluer your image will be and the lower the temperature, the redder it will turn out;however, even with these preset settings, a perfect white balance cannot be achieved. Many houses and buildings utilize different types of bulbs in a single room. Even outdoors, the sun has many phases: sunrise, midday, afternoon, that daytime auto white balance doesn’t take into consideration. Thus, it is best to adjustyour white balance manually.

For this process known as ‘custom white balance’ you will need neutral point of reference (most preferably one that is gray or white in color). Some photographers carry around portable references such as a gray screen or piece of paper; however, anything you find in nature that is close enough, you can use. Next, take a picture with the focal point at the your reference point. Afterwards, now that your camera knows what white really is, your next image should translate to a perfect white balance.

In other cases, you may want to use white balance artisticly. Depending on the image you want to create, you may want to keep these tint contingencies to create a tone and develop a feeling.

For more on white balance check out: Cambridge in Color & Digital Photography School

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