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Move to Manual: White Balance

March 11, 2012

Can you guys believe we are coming to the end of our Move to Manual journey?! It’s hard to believe that we started this just a few weeks ago and have already discussed so much. Are you guys learning a lot? I’ve enjoyed seeing all of you post your images over in the Group Flickr Pool and I hope that the feedback and the information so far has been helpful.

This week I’m going to talk a bit about White Balance and how having the correct white balance setting in camera can impact the amount of post-processing you have to do later and what you image will look like Straight out of Camera. Next week, I’ll be sharing the final bit of information on Focal Points and Metering, so make sure you guys are practicing because we’re getting ready to tie everything together!

What is White Balance?

White balance in an image ultimately measures the color of the light and how your image tones are captured. If you want to get really technical, there is a great article by Cambridge in Color on Understanding White Balance and how the different tones of the Blue, Reds and Greens are measured in an image. As with everything else in photography, it’s all about the lighting.

SLR cameras have pre-set White Balances. On my Canon 7D, I have nine different white balance options: AWB (auto white balance), Daylight, Shade, Cloudy/Twilight/Sunset, Tungsten Light, Fluorescent Light, Flash, Custom and Color Temperature.

(Note: See your camera’s manual for which White Balance Options are available on your particular camera and how to set/change the White Balance.)


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Each one of these White Balance settings controls the color tones in your image. Just like last week with the ISO tutorial, I took a series of shots using the various white balance settings on my camera.

Oftentimes (unless I’m shooting outdoors), I keep my White Balance on Auto. I have found that when I’m using natural light inside, I don’t have any issues with my Auto White Balance setting. However, when I shoot outdoors, I tend to change my white balance accordingly if my shots are too blue or too orange. If I’m shooting inside at night time, I will use the Tungsten or the Fluorescent White Balance to keep my image from looking too orange.

Some of you mentioned before in the Flickr Group that some of your images were tinted orange and you didn’t know how to change that. This is most likely due to your White Balance. If you find that your images have a heavy color preference to them, try changing up your white balance a bit. Just because the setting is specified as an outdoor setting (like “shade” or “cloudy”) doesn’t mean you can’t use it elsewhere. Sometimes, you’d be surprised by what works.

I took this photo of Noah a few weeks ago and my white balance setting was off (pardon the small, cropped image. I can’t seem to find the original and this was a screenshot from my iPhoto dock):

Do you see how orange and yellow the color tint is? It was because I had my white balance set on Tungsten Light because we’d been baking Cake Pops the night before and I was using my camera indoors at night. I realized right after I took the image that the White Balance was off and quickly corrected it. But I was so angry with myself when the images were uploaded because (of course) this image was my favorite. I was able to salvage it in Photoshop (though I don’t recommend ever being one of those photographers who just shoots however and then tries to save an image using post-processing), but I would have probably loved the image much more if the colors had been right and I’d be able to edit this image correctly like I normally would.

Your Assignment for this week:

Like last week, in order to really understand what the different settings on your camera do and how the impact your photo, I want you to take a series of shots using the various White Balance presets on your camera. If you want to get brave and try shooting these in full on manual, do it! I also want you guys to take some shots indoors using the Auto White Balance Setting, the Tungsten Setting and the Fluorescent Light Setting. Which setting gives you the least amount of color issues and makes your photos a bit less orange? Upload these to Group Flickr Pool and be sure to come back next Monday for the lesson on Focal Points & Metering! That will be the last lesson before I go over how to tie everything together and use all of this information to shoot in full manual!

If you’ve missed any of the Move to Manual Series so far, be sure to click the image in the sidebar or the link right here in the post to catch up!

  1. […] your image quality will improve dramatically. Hope you enjoy this article To Your Success, SnowmanATS3 Photography|The White Balance Setting On Your Digital Camera…. Have you ever taken a picture …g> This is the kind of situation your digital camera’s white balance is meant to prevent. The […]

  2. Reena says:

    Great job explaining the WB. The visual on it are great. It always amazes how much adjusting WB can change the look of an image.

  3. Gerty says:

    3 months ago I had no clue on how to use my camera, let alone take nice photos. I am so grateful for photo info series like yours because they help make sense of a skill that I thought I could never do—-capture memories, not just press the shutter button and “take a picture”. Thanks for sharing what you know 🙂

  4. myabelle says:

    thanks so much for these tutorials. i have read them since the first instalment, but i havent participated in the flicker pool as i dont have much time. i hope u dont mind if i follow post my assignments but on a later time.

  5. Laura says:

    Do you shoot in RAW or JPEG? I shoot in RAW so I hardly ever worry about the white balance setting on my camera. RAW keeps all the info, so you can white balance afterwards and not get that problem you had by losing a photo because your WB setting was off on your camera. I have found that Lightroom is awesome for balancing a raw image, but Photoshop Raw is great too.

  6. molly says:

    Great post! I’m looking into my white balance more. I find I’m using cloudy a lot because I like my photos to be a bit warmer. But sometimes I still use auto and adjust in lightroom if I need to go up or down at all in color.

  7. Amy Willa says:

    Great stuff, Courtney. I can’t thank you enough for doing this series! It’s AWESOME!!!!!!

  8. good stuff courtney! thank you. and i LOVE your new profile shot of you and lil man. cuuuute.

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Courtney Kirkland is a Sacramento, California photography and design business. Since 2008, Courtney has passionately provided beautiful, meaningful documentary-style photography and intentional, high-quality design.  Value and celebrate the beautiful, messy, and uniquely-special moments of everyday living.