White Balance is the setting in your camera that makes sure that the colours look normal in your pictures. The white balance settings button mostly slips the attention of beginners and is normally set to AUTO. Fortunately cameras these days are really smart and they do a great job of getting the right colour balance most of the time. However, white balance is a concept worth understanding early in your photography career.
Colour of Light
Different light sources have different colours. The camera does not know what light you are shooting the picture in. You have to tell the camera!
The diagram to the right shows how the color of different light sources varies. Candle light, sunrise and tungsten bulbs emit a reddish light. Sunlight at mid day and light in shadows (skylight) is much bluer.
Setting White Balance
What you are doing when setting white balance is telling the camera which light source you are using to take the photo. If you set the white balance to tungsten light, the camera knows that the light will be reddish, it will then compensate and make sure the colours are reproduced properly.
All digital cameras come with white balance presets that are calibrated for the normally used lights for photography like sunlight, cloudy conditions, shade, fluorescent lights etc. The diagram below shows how the white balance settings menu looks in most cameras.
Where to find the white setting in your camera
How white balance setting affects your pictures
The above photo was shot in sunlight. The color of the flower is close to natural in the DAYLIGHT white balance setting (and in AUTO). It is very bluish when white balance is set to tungsten. CLOUDY setting is a bit warm while fluorescent gives a strange magenta colour cast.
The picture above clearly shows how changing the white balance can change the colour and mood of the picture. The girl's face is lit by sunlight from the right and by a tungsten bulb to the left. The white balance for the picture on the left is set for daylight. So the part that is lit by sunlight looks natural while that the part that is lit by tungsten is too warm.
The reverse happens when the white balance is set to tungsten. The left part of her face is more natural while the right is too blue.
(You may notice that the skin colours of the two pictures are slightly different even when the right white balance for the lighting is used. This may be due to the fact that the colours of the light might not match the camera preset)
Setting the correct white balance is one way of ensuring close to accurate colours in your photograph. In the next lesson i will talk about Picture Profiles. These are settings in the camera that can give different looks to your image
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