Have you ever taken a photo and then looked at it only to realise that it has a yellowy or blue tint to it? However when taking the photo the light and the scene looked completely normal? The reason for this is that images taken in different lights have a different colour or temperature to them. E.g if you take a photo in artificial lighting it may come across as having a slightly blueish tint. There is a large range of temperatures and colours and this range is known as the Kelvin Scale.
White Balance is an important part of photography that people sometimes neglect to take into account. Put simply the reason we adjust white balance is to get the colours in our images as accurate as possible.
The naked eye won’t notice these slight changes in colour, but although our cameras are pretty damn smart, they sometimes don’t have the capabilities of making these adjustments automatically- it might need a little bit of help to get it spot on. In cooler light, blue or green, you may need to tell the camera to warm things up a bit and in warmer light, yellow or orange, you may need to tell it to cool the colour down.
Many DSLR cameras have special presets meaning that you can adjust the white balance really easily. Below are the settings on my Nikon camera:
Auto – this is where the camera makes a best guess on a shot by shot basis. It generally is pretty good and can quite accurately estimate the colour and temperature, however for trickier lights I find it struggles.
Tungsten – this mode is usually symbolized with a little bulb and is for shooting indoors, especially under bulb lighting. It generally cools down the colors in photos.
Fluorescent – this compensates for the ‘cool’ light of fluorescent light and will warm up your shots Really good for artificial lighting such as those horrible strip lights you get in certain places like schools.
Direct Sunlight – This is basically a ‘normal’ white balance setting. It generally will make the light slightly warmer.
Cloudy – this setting generally warms things up a touch more than ‘direct sunlight’ mode.
Flash – the flash of a camera can be quite a cool light so in Flash WB mode you’ll find it warms up your shots a touch.
Shade – the light in shade is generally cooler (bluer) than shooting in direct sunlight so this mode will warm things up slightly.
It is definitely worth playing around with the white balance settings and not just keeping it on auto as you may find that you like some of the results more. I shot my little piggy here at around 3pm in the afternoon in the house with a window behind me.
While the ‘Auto’ setting is ok, I much prefer the Fluorescent setting, it just makes the photo slightly warmer and more appealing. This is just an example but I have seen many shots that would have looked so much nicer if the white balance wasn’t set to auto. Auto is ok and good for snapshots, but if you want to get more creative with your photography then it is definitely worth having a play round with it. Be brave and take it off auto!
Access your white balance menu by going into your camera’s menu settings. The settings available will differ from camera to camera but just have a play around with it and try it out in different lights when you have a bit of time. You will be amazed the difference it can make to your photos.