What Is White Balance ? – A Beginner Guide

Introduction:

White balance is an essential aspect of photography because camera lens cannot “sees” the exact true colors in different lighting conditions. The colors of light will affect the colors in your photos. Human eyes and mind adapt very quickly to perceive the color of the light as neutrals, even when it is not.  Our eyes are very good at judging what is white under different light sources. On another hand, digital cameras have difficulty even with automatic white balance and can create unsightly blue, orange and even green color cast. The digital camera record colors exactly as they are, that is why photos taken in household lighting condition have an orange color cast, and photos taken at dusk or dawn have a cold and blue look.

 

color temperature

Definitions:

The following are various definitions of the White balance

  • In digital photography, white balance is an electronic process that calibrates the picture for accurate color display in different lighting conditions by determining what is the true white. The easiest way to calibrate it is to focus in on a piece of white paper where you are taking the photo.
  • White balance (WB) is the process of removing unrealistic color casts so that objects which appear white in person are rendered white in your  Proper camera white balance has to take into account the “color temperature” of a light source, which refers to the relative warmth or coolness of white light
  • Color balance is the global adjustment of the intensities of the colors (typically red, green, and blue  An important goal of this adjustment is to render specific colors – particularly neutral colors – correctly. Hence, the general method is sometimes called gray balance, neutral balance, or white balance. Color balance changes the overall mixture of colors in an image and is used for color correction. Generalized versions of color balance are used to correct colors other than neutrals or to deliberately change them for effect.

 

Color Temperature

There is a wise saying by Paul Outerbridge, Photographer 1896 – 1958

“What is color? No object of itself alone has color. We know that even the most brightly colored object if taken into total darkness, loses its color. Therefore, if an object is dependent upon light for color, the color must be a property of light. And so it is.”

 

Color temperature has been described most simply as a method of describing the color characteristics of light, usually either warm (yellowish) or cool (bluish) and measuring it in degrees Kelvin (°K)

The following figure shows the color temperatures of light sources most commonly encountered in photography.

 

color tempertaure

Controlling white balance in digital cameras

Digital cameras have a comprehensive setting for adjusting white balance in different light conditions; this adjustment happens when the camera processes and save the image. For example, if you take a picture under incandescent lighting condition , the camera can reduce the orange amount and boost the blue cast to produce more neutral colors.

The following is a list of a common setting found in most modern digital cameras.

 

common setting

 

Auto or presets

The absence of at least one white or bright colorless object in the scene will mislead the auto white balance function of the camera, and will mistakenly create an image with slightly warmer color temperature. It also happens with artificial lighting, the camera still producing an image with the warmer color cast even with auto white balance is switched on.

On the other hand, the white balance setting “Presets” allows you to manually set the camera to perform a fixed correction for common lighting scenarios, the camera will rely on you to choose the right setting for the scene.

When you choose PRE, also called “white card” setting, with that option selected, hold a white card in front of the lens and press the shutter button. The camera will read and lock in the color temperature of the light reflected from that card, and that locked-in reading now becomes the standard for the camera’s white balance setting.

 

Raw and post processing

There is another option to correct the white balance of your photo by the using an editing software such as Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. You can check my recommended software HERE. There is free software like GIMP which is really amazing one, I am going to show you some menus of it used to adjust colors in photos

  • White balance correction

It is part of the color correction menu. Light can also have a tint. While color temperature ranges within the orange/blue spectrum, tint ranges within the green/magenta spectrum. Major tint adjustments are typically not necessary when color correcting images were taken in daylight. If you tend to photograph subjects that are lit by artificial light sources such as tungsten, fluorescent, LED or mercury vapor lights, you’ll find yourself adjusting tint much more than with natural light.Here are some snapshots of the menu of GIMP:

White balance correction

  • Hue, lightness, and saturation

Hue defines pure color in terms of “green”, “red” or “magenta”, Hues can refer to the set of “pure” colors within a color space. Lightness defines a range from dark (0%) to fully illuminated (100%). You can lighten or darken a color by changing its lightness value.  Saturation influences the grade of purity or vividness of a color/image. They can be corrected and adjusted in the following menu.

 

Hue, lightness, and saturation adjustment

  • Brightness and contrast adjusting

Other standard color adjustments found in many graphics program allow you to adjust the brightness, contrast, and gamma in the image. These options are used to correct the brightness and contrast of an image. Adjusting the brightness and contrast highlights mid-tones and shadows to bring out detail in either light or dark areas. Gamma adjusts the brightness and contrast in unison.

 

britness and contrast adjustment

 

Mixed Lighting

If there are two of more different lighting sources, the situation becomes more complicated, auto white balance usually calculates the average color temperature for the entire scene and uses this for white balance. This method tends to exaggerate the difference in color temperature for each light source as compared with what we perceive with our eyes.

Here are some solutions to this situation:

  • Gel one lighting source or just turns it off (If it is artificial lighting source)
  • Sometimes it’s possible to eliminate ‘offending’ light sources simply by not shooting in the direction of the light source.
  • Concentrate your post processing of the white balance on the main subject of the photos.
  • Also in post processing, you can desaturate, this is especially effective in situations where tungsten lighting has made photos too orange, it can be fixed by desaturating and add a bit of blue.
  • If you weren’t able to do anything to control the mixed lighting and/or the lighting came out in an unattractive way despite attempts to control it, one answer may be to simply make the picture black and white in order to remove color cast.

 
White Balance filters or caps
The purpose of the white balance cap is to turn your camera into an incident meter that measures the light as it falls onto the subject instead of measuring the light as it bounces off of the subject. In this fashion, you are able to calibrate your camera to the temperature of the light itself and not the temperature of the light bouncing off the subject and the surrounding objects.

To achieve this end, you need to actually put the camera where the subject is and point it back to the position you will be shooting from and use the camera setting “custom”, to record the actual color temperature.

ExpoDisc EXPOD2-77 2.0 Professional White Balance Filter

the white balance cap

  • Quickly set white balance for photo and video set Neutral or Portrait
  • Includes User Selectable Warming Filters (Gels)
  • Meter 18% Incident Exposure



 

Conclusion

As long as you shoot in RAW, knowing the color temperature of different light sources is not that important. Simply understanding the basic concept of color temperature should be enough for most photographers. What is important is knowing how and when to adjust white balance, either in camera before you create an image or in post-processing software after you create an image.

 

Related posts

For more tutorials post click HERE

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Amin Hashem

Administrator at Ehabphotography.com

2 thoughts on “What Is White Balance ? – A Beginner Guide

  • February 19, 2017 at 3:41 PM
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    Great looking website, I love the pictures.
    I have always been interested in photography, I love to especially take pictures of the sun setting.
    I see you have some courses here and quite a lot of information useful for beginners like me. I especially like the food photography post, whoever thought all that detail needed to go into snapping a plate! really useful info, Thanks a lot!

    Reply
    • February 19, 2017 at 4:25 PM
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      Thank you for the comment, glad you have found both the post and the site useful.

      Hope to see you again, there will always be a fresh new stuff!

      Reply

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