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Understanding White Balance in Photography


White balance can be a game-changer for your images. Have you seen sometimes how an image appears bluer than it should? Or, you find overwhelming hues of orange when shooting indoors?

All of these unnatural color casts are due to the wrong white balance. Worry not, as we are going to help you understand white balance in photography. Then, we will learn how to use white balance to get a perfect shot. 

But before that, you need to know about a few concepts!

Light and Color Temperature

Light has different colors or hues. Fluorescent light can appear white or bluish, while an incandescent bulb may appear more orange. The colors of light are called color temperature and use the unit of Kelvin. 

Here are the color temperatures of common light sources-

Low Kelvin values create a warm or yellowish light. Higher Kelvin values indicate shades of blue and appear colder or blue. Now, how does color temperature affect photography?

Relation of Color Temperature and Photography

Any light source and light condition will impact the outcome of your pictures. When you shoot under cloudy skies, your images appear bluer. On the contrary, sunlight makes your images warm and natural. Take a look at the image below-

The first image was taken under cloudy skies. You can see how the flower appears a little bluish. Compare that with the image on the right. You can notice the warm, yellow hues produced by direct sunlight. 

Similarly, shooting under a white LED will make your images appear whiter. Images shot with incandescent bulbs will appear warm. 

Now, let's explore the connection between color temperature and white balance.

White Balance in Photography

White balance in photography lets you compensate for the color temperature. It creates a balanced color temperature to make your images look natural. How does white balance do it?

The feature in your camera adds the opposite color temperature to create closer-to-life images. Or, in simple words, you can balance the color of your image for a natural look. Let's take a look at an example-

The frame shot in direct sunlight is closest to life and looks natural. You can get this effect by choosing "daylight" in your white balance settings. You also have other settings like-

Incandescent: It is a perfect setting for shooting indoors. It creates the color temperature of common household lighting. You can see how using the feature in daylight conditions create a bluish image in the picture above.

Fluorescent: Fluorescent creates the effect of daylight or white light. Cameras come with multiple fluorescent settings to create your desired color temperature. 

Direct sunlight: Creates the natural lighting available during the midday sun. This is the most neutral white balance setting and used as a standard for shooting in sunlight.

Flash: You can use this setting for shooting in low-light conditions. Switch to flash white balance mode while using your camera's flash for a natural outcome. 

Cloudy: A great option for shooting cloudy days. The setting adds more warmth to your images for clicking improved shots.

Auto: This is the auto white balance mode where your camera takes care of creating the best color temperature. 

You may also find other white balance settings for creating varied color temperatures. Some cameras also use Kelvin values to control your white balance. You can choose a Kelvin value associated with a light source to take natural pictures. It may look something like this in your camera-

You will be able to use custom Kelvin values to create different color temperatures. Make yourself aware of what different Kelvin values mean for getting the best shots. 

White Balancing in Photo Editing Software

Photo editing tools can rectify an image to make it look stunning. Is it possible to do the same for white balance?

We don't recommend keeping your white balance tasks for post-processing unless you shoot RAW images. DSLRs that shoot in RAW can do without worrying over white balance. Or, you can just shoot using the auto white balance mode. 

Your post-processing software will be able to add the color temperature you need without hassles. RAW images don't contain color, so they are easier to rectify using a software. So, you might not lose your sleep over white balance if your images are in the RAW format.

Cameras that shoot in other file formats may not be ideal for post-processing. Your images may never get the color temperature you actually saw with your eyes. As a result, only RAW images are suitable for white balance processing using a photo editing tool. 

Creating Effects with White Balance

The manual white balance feature is a great tool in the hands of experienced photographers. You can use different white balance settings to create different effects.

A tungsten setting will add hues of blue/white to your images and can make dull pictures look stunning. Look at the image below-

Shooting in a tungsten setting creates a blue effect on the water. This may not appear natural, but introduces a creative feel in the image. You can experiment with different white balance settings to hone your skills in color temperature. 

Final Thoughts

White balance helps you get your desired color temperature for an image. Choose the right setting to click natural and life-like pictures. Consider the source of your light and lighting conditions, and then choose a fitting setting. Don't forget to share your pictures with your friends to show your new skills. 

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