Guest post by Justin McKee
It’s the bane of every point-and-shoot photographer’s existence — well, in some instances.
White balance is the reason why some photos turn out way too orange or way too blue. The “balance” part of the equation is off when a photograph’s tint doesn’t match what is normally seen with the naked eye.
The way to correct that issue is to either use a preset on your camera to counteract the temperature of the light in the environment, to use a white wall or a gray card to set the white balance manually or to set the temperature using the Kelvin scale in your camera.
Let’s chat about temperature first. No, not the weather … I don’t even want to talk about Michigan weather with fall around the corner. So I won’t.
Colors can be represented as temperature. Most middle school art students can tell the difference between warm and cool colors. Well, they’re called warm and cool because of — you guessed it — temperature. The warmer a photograph is, the more red or orange it appears; the cooler a photograph is, the more blue it appears.
The temperature of light is generally measured using the Kelvin scale. To give you an example: The light from the sun comes in at about 5,600K(elvin). If you’re in a place where the light is warm, the temperature of the photographs you take on the Kelvin scale are probably around 2,000K.
If you’re in an environment where the light is very cool, the temperature on the Kelvin scale is much higher; 7,500K.
So, let’s say you have your white balance on your camera or point-and-shoot set to AWB (Auto White Balance) and you’re shooting outside. Every photo is turning out great … that is, until you venture indoors. Suddenly, there’s a big shift in how your photos look. The building you just entered doesn’t have very many windows and the light coming from the light bulbs on the ceiling is really making your photos turn out orange. Your eyes see everything normally, but your camera sees everything as super warm.
Counteracting this problem can be as simple as turning your white balance setting from AWB to one of the preset modes.
Each camera handles this differently, but since it’s such a useful function, camera manufacturers tend to put a white balance button on your camera that is easily within reach.
You’ll notice little logos that look like a sun, a fluorescent light bulb, a shaded tree and more. These logos represent different color temperature situations.
Obviously, if you’re outside on a sunny day, you’ll want to use the sun preset because that will set the camera’s white balance to a temperature on the Kelvin scale that will compensate for the temperature of the sun’s light.
If you’re indoors, you may want to change your camera’s preset to the little light bulb logo. Doing so will tell your camera to counteract those warm colors coming from the incandescent light bulbs so your photograph’s tint turns out closer to how your eyes see things.
Another good way to calibrate your camera’s white balance is to use a gray card (or as mentioned before, a flat white surface such as a wall).
Many cameras allow the user to take a photograph of the gray card (or wall) and use the color information from that photograph to set the white balance of the camera. It’s a little trick that can be very handy — provided your shooting environment doesn’t change drastically. However, it does take time.
The quickest way to change your white balance and have accurate coloring (besides using the white balance presets), is to change the temperature of the Kelvin scale on your camera manually.
If you’re indoors, set the Kelvin scale to a number around 2,500K. You may need to increase or decrease the number a bit to get it just right, but that’s the beauty of this feature; you have complete control of the photograph’s temperature. If you’re outside and the light is somewhat cooler than it was indoors, change the temperature of the Kelvin scale to 5,600K or 6,500K to compensate for the change in light. Your photos should look very similar to what your eyes see.
The cool thing about cameras and point-and-shoots these days is that you can actually see these color changes in real time if you have your camera set to live view mode. If you’re taking photos using the LCD screen on your camera or your phone, you can see the temperature of the photograph change as you change the numbers manually.
At the end of the day, you could get away with shooting with AWB and have excellent photos. But in a pinch, knowing how to change your white balance can really help your photographs shine and limit the amount of editing you deal with on the computer after taking each shot.
Justin McKee is a small-town photographer with big ideas living in Michigan. In addition to portraits, wedding photography and video, he also enjoys wildlife photography. He always seeks to learn more about his craft.