8. White Balance

Pictures by Neil Douthwaite

White Balance isn’t the most obvious concept to understand but it can be very useful to help you to get you pictures looking right. If the colours in photographs look wrong then then the White Balance is probably not right.

What is White Balance?

In the days of film the way that the film absorbed light was often created for certain light conditions and lighting. As a result you didn’t need to worry too much about white balance, there wasn’t much you could do about it. However, with digital cameras it has become more important.

This may sound strange but your camera doesn’t know what white looks like. This is because white looks very different in different lights. Our eyes adjust for the light you are in to make whites look white but your camera cannot do this. For this reason we have to tell the camera which light you are in and the sensor will compensate for this difference.

As a rule of thumb sunlight is quite a blue light and artifical lighting tends to be warmer or more orange. This isn’t always true these days as tungsten bulbs produce very orange light but newer, energy efficient bulbs tend to have different colours of light making setting the white balance on your camera both more difficult and more important.

This thought may explain why you have taken pictures in bright sunshine that look washed out and bluey while pictures taken indoors have a strange orange hue.

Example 1: Outdoors and Overcast

White balance tends to make less difference outdoors but in these shots the white balance has been adjusted.

In the picture below the white balance has been set to the setting ‘daylight’ in the camera. The colours aren’t bad but as the conditions are overcast the picture is maybe a little blue in hue.

WB Daylight
Daylight White Balance

In the next picture the white balance has been set to ‘shade’ which gives wuite a pleasant warm glow and the cattle appear a nice ruddy colour. It might not be the most accurate colour reproduction but some people like a warmer feel to their pictures.

WB Shade
Shade White Balance

In the next example the white balance has been set to ‘Tungsten’ which would work well indoors. In this example though we can see how extreme the difference in the type of light is (our eyes would never percieve this difference) and the picture is rendered completely blue.

WB Tungsten
Tungsten White Balance

The next picture uses the ‘Auto’ white balance setting which in most outdoor lights will work well. The camera has found the right balance and from these examples the colours are probably their most accurate. In the camera in these overcast conditions a ‘cloudy’ setting is also available which produces a similar result.

WB Auto
Auto White Balance

Example 2: Indoors

Taking picture indoors is often where tweaking the white balance can have the biggest effect due to the way different light bulbs affect the colour balance of the scene.

In the example below the camera was set at ‘Auto’ white balance and the result is typical of many indoor shots. The colours feel a little yellow or orange, not bad but not quite right either, the camera can’t quite find white.

WB2 Auto
White Balance Auto

In the next example the white balance has been set to a ‘warm white’ and this has become even warmer, for some shots this may add an interesting effect but in this case it appears too pink.

WB2 Warm White
White Balance Warm White

Next the setting has been set to ‘Tungsten’ and rather than the very blue colour we had when we used this setting outdoors the colours are more accurate and purer. In reality you may wish to have a warmer hue like the examples above, it can create a cosy glow to a picture. As a result the white balance can be adjusted not only to produce accurate colours but also as a way of adding artistic expression.

WB2 Tungsten
White Balance Tungsten