I’ve already discussed exposure in my first post, Learn Photography Basics, Get Your Camera Out of Auto Mode. I explained how to set ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed. I’m sure you thought that was all you needed before snapping away, but no, I am here to talk to you about another super important setting in your camera; White Balance. White Balance is the temperature setting in your camera and will help you achieve the proper color for your final image. White Balance can be an artistic choice, especially when shooting landscape and still life images. When working with people, though, having their skintones be correct is very important. And while you will almost always have to correct your white balance in post processing (when you edit your photos), the more correct you get it in camera, the better your final image will be.
What the heck is white balance?
As always, I am going to try to be informative yet succinct. I don’t think you want to get into the science of light temperature and if so, this probably isn’t your blog anyway. As a beginner, the main thing to understand about white balance is that light sources, such as lamps and the sun, all have a different temperature to them. In fact, the light from the sun has a different temperature to it depending on the time of day. Technically, the light reflects off of various surfaces which causes the temperature to be different, depending on the time of day and your surroundings. Your camera is a computer, essentially, and doesn’t function in the same way your brain and eyes do. Our eyes automatically adjust as the temperature of light changes, but our camera needs a little help.
Why is it important?
As I mentioned in the introduction, the thing that you want to get correct more than anything is skin. Artistic choices can be made to the color of the sky, the grass, a building, etc. The color of skin can drastically affect the way the photograph is interpreted. For example, if a newborn has too much blue in it’s skin, it can look dead (I can’t really think of a more eloquent way to put that). Or if it has too much green, it can look jaundiced. Finding the correct white balance means finding the right balance in temperature and tint. Temperature is a range between blue and yellow, while the tint is a range between green and magenta.
This picture is straight out of camera. It’s not too far off, but is a little cool.
Different ways to set white balance in camera
Pre Programmed Settings
Cameras, even professional ones, have program settings for white balance. The first setting I’m going to discuss is the auto white balance setting. This setting automatically chooses a white balance for you. Don’t use this setting. It is almost always wrong, it’s almost always too cool, and because it varies so much, it’s hard to correct in post processing. So just don’t do it.
Other programmed settings include daylight, cloudy, shady, tungsten, and florescent. Though you will still probably adjust when editing, these are more accurate than the auto setting. Obviously, when you’re outside, use daylight, when it’s cloudy, choose cloudy, and when you’re in the shade, use the shade setting! Tungsten is a very warm light and is actually the temperature of most of our bulbs in our house. For sitting at home, enjoying family time, it’s a great temperature because it’s warm and cozy. For a photographer, it’s a nightmare. When you’re inside, choose the tungsten setting.
This is actually how we measure the temperature of light. Each of those settings above is set at a specific kelvin number. It can range anywhere from 1000 to 10000. In your camera, you can choose to set your own Kelvin temperature. To me, beyond using an expo disc (which we will discuss in a moment), this is going to be the most accurate way of setting your White Balance. It takes some time to grasp the concept and memorize the numbers, but once you do, this gives you the most control over your end result. If you are shooting in very warm lighting, like inside, you would choose a lower number, somewhere between 2000 to 4000. If you are shooting in very cool light, like the shadows late in the day, you shoot with a higher Kelvin number, like 7000-10000. I will revisit this topic later, but for now, that’s all you need to know about in camera settings.
The temperature for this picture is 8300K. I actually shot this WAY TOO COOL and had to correct a bunch in post processing. It doesn’t look as perfect as it would have, had I done it correctly. Though my stepdaughter is gorgeous, so it makes it easier.
What is an expo disc? It is a professional white filter that helps you set your white balance using a setting in your camera. Each camera is different, so I can only tell you how to set it on mine. When you go to your white balance settings, you will see an option that says d-1. You choose that option and hold the button down until it blinks. Once it does, you turn your lens to your light source and cover your lens with you expo disc. You then click the shutter and voila, there is your white balance. You should see a blinking GOOD if it worked. The only reason it wouldn’t is if you didn’t have your settings correct for some reason. That automatically sets your white balance. You may still have to adjust when editing, but for the most part, it will be pretty close.
5000K and it could stand to be warmed up a bit
Back to Kelvin
If you are using the programmed settings, then you’re done. You can always fix WB in editing, as I have mentioned, but as long as you choose the right setting, it should be pretty close. What I use, and what I recommend for everyone, is shooting in Kelvin. This gives you the most control over your image, and that’s what I’m going for almost always. I do not shoot in any other mode beyond manual, and I don’t like giving up control to my camera!! That’s why I also shoot in raw!!
How to choose the right number?
Something I have figured out over the years is that I have absolutely no idea what the temperature of light is. I ALMOST ALWAYS shoot too cool. I am starting to learn that I need to pick a higher number. Here are some examples:
- It’s a warm day, around noon. The sun is shining brightly in the sky and the clouds are sparse. I’m going to choose 5500k.
- It’s around 4:30 in the afternoon. The sun is bright and golden hour is quickly coming. We are behind my house which is mainly shade. I’m going to shoot around 8000k.
- It’s early evening, the sun is setting, and we’re inside, playing. The lamps are all on and I don’t have much window light. I’m going to choose 3000k.
In my editing software, when a picture is too cool, meaning there is too much blue and not enough yellow, I am going to slide the temperature slider to the right, warming up the photo. If my picture is too warm, meaning there is too much yellow and not enough blue, I am going to slide my temperature setting to the left, to cool down the picture.
I hope that makes sense. It has taken me a couple of years to really grasp that concept, so just try a bunch of things out and see what makes sense to you. If you decide to go pre programmed settings, this is what you’ll find.
Daylight setting – 5500k
Cloudy Setting – 6500k
Shady Setting – 7500k
Tungsten Setting – 2850k
Once you learn those settings, you’ll spend most of your time in Kelvin anyway!! Or you can always invest in an expo disc.
- Always shoot warmer than you think you need to
- Remember that when the light changes, the temperature changes. You will need to choose a different Kelvin setting, use your expo disc again, or choose another programmed setting. So if you’re walking with your kids, and they run from a sunny spot to the shade, change your WB settings.
- Don’t use auto white balance. Just don’t. Don’t do it.
- One thing I forgot to mention is that if you don’t want to spend the money on an expo disc, you can also use a black, white, or gray card to set your white balance. Just follow the instructions for the expo disc, and instead of placing the disc over your lens, point the lens to your neutral card and click the shutter. It will do the same thing, though not as accurately.
- You can always fix this in post processing. Some photographers will say things like they always get it right in camera, but Mark Wallace (who is very knowledgeable in light) said that you almost ALWAYS have to fix white balance in post processing because our camera just can’t get it 100% right!
- Lastly, White balance can be an artistic choice, so having the knowledge is important and then understanding how to break the rules is important too! Just have fun and remember, this is a learning process for everyone.
I hope this was helpful for y’all. This is a fairly scientific topic and while I kind of love this stuff, I understand that not all of you want to be super involved photographers, you just want to take pretty pictures. My goal is to try to break the information down in a way that is easy to understand and useful in your progress. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns! I am an open book and will ALWAYS respond to you so please feel free to contact me through email, phone, or social media. Thanks for reading!!