How to Use White Balance to Take Great Photos

2 April 2020

Of all the different photography settings, white balance is possibly one of the most commonly overlooked. Like many other aspects of manual shooting, white balance is often ignored by beginners and amateur photographers, who hope their camera will simply adjust for them. While most modern cameras can certainly do the job themselves, learning how to manually adjust white balance will ultimately help you become a better photographer.

With a little bit of practice, you’ll learn that white balance isn’t that complicated after all - and that well-lit, well-adjusted photos make mastering this photography techniquewell worth your time. Whether you’re an aspiring landscape photographer or prefer to What is white balance?, read on to learn how white balance works and which white balance to use in your photography.

What is white balance?

For many beginners, the number one question is: What does white balance do? In short, white balance is the process by which your camera removes unrealistic colour casts so that all white objects appear, well, white. 

When properly adjusted, white balance ensures that all the colours in your frame are shown true-to-life, leaving you with a photo that captures your scene exactly down to the last detail.

How to Use White Balance to Take Great PhotosHow to Use White Balance to Take Great Photos

The lowdown on colour temperature

How to Use White Balance to Take Great PhotosHow to Use White Balance to Take Great Photos

While our eyes can easily adjust to different light sources so that all objects appear as they should, a camera doesn’t necessarily have the same ability. Because of that, your camera will often render the same object differently under two light sources. For example, it will capture a white t-shirt differently indoors under artificial lighting and outdoors in bright sunlight.

This effect is known as “Colour Temperature”, and photographers measure it using the Kelvin (K) scale. To give you an idea of how the system works, use this Kelvin white balance cheat sheet. For reference, daylight comes in at 5,500K. Warmer lighting (such as tungsten) measures at 2,500K to 3,500K, the lower end of the scale. On the other hand, shady conditions have coolerlighting, so they tend to measure between 6,500K to 8,000K.

How to adjust white balance on your camera

With its focus on numbers and wide range of options, white balance can seem a little confusing at first. The good news is, you don’t need to remember the numbers on the Kelvin scale to adjust the white balance on your camera.

Every digital camera has a list of predetermined settings that match the lighting you’re working with. The next time you’re wondering how to use white balance to get the shot you want, consult this handy list.

  • Daylight mode should be used if you’re shooting outside in sunlight.
  • Shade mode should be used in a shady area.
  • Cloudy mode should be used if you’re shooting in low light or on an overcast day.
  • Tungsten mode should be used indoors, if regular incandescent lights are in use.
  • Fluorescent mode should be used indoors, if fluorescent lights are in use.
How to Use White Balance to Take Great PhotosHow to Use White Balance to Take Great Photos
How to Use White Balance to Take Great PhotosHow to Use White Balance to Take Great Photos

Once you’ve gotten the hang of those white balance camera settings, you can even enter the colour temperature manually. So, if you’re shooting and feel that your images should be warmer or cooler, you can use the presets as a guide to tweak the colour temperature and make manual adjustments as necessary. For example, if you’re outdoors and your photos aren’t as warm as you’d like, try switching to 5,300K - as opposed to the general daylight temperature of 5,500K.

New to photography? Don’t worry, your camera will have an Automatic White Balance setting that’s brilliant at ensuring the colours in your photos are as realistic as possible. That being said, having an understanding of how white balance works - and how to adjust it to your needs - will give you a creative edge.

Top Tip: Experiment with the “custom white balance” option on your camera. Generally, this involves photographing something white (like a sheet of paper) for your camera to use as a reference point and adjust the white balance accordingly.

How to adjust the white balance in post-production

Many professional photographers now shoot in RAW mode, which means adjusting the white balance in-camera has become less crucial.

If you shoot in RAW (rather than JPEG), your images will retain all of their original data - so you can change the white balance in the editing stage. While you can use any professional software to edit your images, we recommend adjusting your white balance in Lightroom or Photoshop. 

RAW conversion software typically includes the same presets found in your camera, plus a slider that can be easily adjusted to make the image warmer or cooler, and an eye-dropper tool for choosing a neutral point in your image. Together, these features help you to adjust the colour temperature of your image to achieve an accurate white balance.

How to Use White Balance to Take Great PhotosHow to Use White Balance to Take Great Photos

The best accessories for colour management

See photography in a new light

The more comfortable you become with adjusting the white balance on your camera, the better your photographs will be. Once you’ve nailed this photography technique, you’ll be able to comfortably shoot in all kinds of lighting, knowing your images will turn out well.

Ready to put your new skills to the test? Check out our blog for more photography tips, or drop by your local Ted’s Cameras store for expert advice today!

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