Photography Tips {White Balance}

It’s 2013, and I’ve not updated my blog; I’ll be attending a photography conference next week, then my family is taking an extended vacation; therefore, I probably won’t be quite as “active” as I should be until mid-February. I’m making this post count.
This is a big one. I would almost go so far as to say this is “THE” tip that will change your photography. I’ve mentioned this in every how-to post I’ve done, but I’ve not mentioned the importance or impact it can have. So, here goes: White Balance.
Light is a science, and I’ll try to stay away from too much technical detail, but one of the ways photographers evaluate light is “color”. What color is the light? Light at sunset is a different color than at mid-day. Tungsten (regular bulbs) has a different color than florescent. Our eyes have the ability to adjust for this color change – our eyes know that a piece of paper is white whether we are inside, outside, or upside down. Unfortunately, cameras were developed by man, not God, and so they don’t have the ability to adjust quite so well. Your camera “sees” the color of the light, and although it is quite competent at choosing the color and making the appropriate corrections, it doesn’t always get it right – especially in a situation where two light colors are present, or where there is a heavy color cast. We have to tell our cameras what color light we are shooting in. Our cameras have pre-set White Balance selections: shade, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, daylight, etc. But the most powerful setting is “custom”. Let me show you why.
This week, I rearranged and cleaned out my daughter’s bedroom, and to complete the transformation, I replaced her purple canvas drapes with pink sheer curtains. As you can imagine, when the light shines through her window her entire room glows pink!

How I “saw” the scene. My daughter glowing pink! (I had originally hoped for a bit more happiness, but grumpy works too.)

While this is very appropriate if you know my daughter, I knew this was the perfect image to show the power of Custom White Balance. Once you fully grasp the power of White Balance, your whole world will change. You can use it creatively – to color your world – to change the mood of a scene. White balance gives you one more avenue with which to own your DSLR. So, here we go… First, let’s see what happens when I set my camera to “Auto White Balance”:

How my camera calculated the color.

Good, but I can do better. My camera is guessing at “what does White look like in this light?”, and it’s making a very educated, calculated guess, and coming up with “almost”. So, I’ll help it along. I will tell it what white looks like, by using the “Custom White Balance” setting. To use this setting, your camera reads what white looks like from an image that you’ve taken (of a white index card, or a gray target) in the current light, and makes the necessary tweaks. This is the image after setting a Custom White Balance.

After setting a custom white balance!

Obviously, Abigail was not as enthused as I about rocking your world, but this will change your photography if you learn to use it. The beauty is, none of these images are “wrong”! I can marry what my eyes “see” with how my mind “sees” it. I LOVE the first image of Abigail coated with pink light – that was the image in my mind. If I set my camera to “Auto”, it would give me the second image. And if I wanted to try for the most natural skin tone, I would use image number three. There is no wrong, but it is so powerful knowing that I can tell my camera what to do.
Those yellow glows in photos you take in the evening without flash? White Balance. Those bluish photos you take in the shade outside? White Balance. Boring blah photos on a gray rainy day? White Balance. Check your camera’s manual to learn how to set a custom white balance, and stick a plain white index card in your camera bag. Then go to my facebook page and tell me how much you LOVE your new skills!

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One thought on “Photography Tips {White Balance}

  • January 13, 2013 at 9:22 pm
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    I do not own a camera…I live vicariously through you…I am not able to comprehend a lot of things “pros” tell me to do, it just does not gel. You my dear, on top of being an amazing photographer, have a gift for teaching the technical to those of us who feel like the proverbial “box of rocks”. Not an easy feat!! Thank you for teaching me, and making me want to buy a camera and learn how to take a decent pic!!
    Love you and wish you an amazing family vacation!!

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