Get great colour in photographs using white balance – Photography for Beginners Series
Have you ever taken a photograph and the colours have just been totally off? Maybe there is a blue tinge to everything or perhaps you have turned someone oompa loompa orange? Well the problem is with your white balance and the good news is it is super-easy to sort. In episode 12 of series one you will find out (without baffling science) what white balance actually means and how to use it to get great colour in photographs you capture.
Below you will find a summary of the podcast episode on white balance but it is definitely a far superior experience to listen to the podcast itself. That’s where the good stuff is…
White balance is actually very straightforward. At least they way I am going to explain it to you is. There is lots of science behind colours in photography but I personally don’t think about that much at all. I trust my eyes and I trust my camera settings. And I am going to help you to do the same. However, there are a few things you do need to understand at a very basic level;
What is white balance?
- White balance is about getting rid of unrealistic or unwanted colour casts in your images. Choosing the correct white balance setting should make things that are white in real life appear white in your photography.
- All light has a colour temperature and it is measured on the Kelvin scale.
- As light goes from red to orange to yellow to white to blue it INCREASES in colour temperature.
- When light is reddish-orange like candle light or sunset it has a low colour temperature. Maybe around 2000 Kelvin.
- When light is bluish like the light just after sunset it has a high colour temperature. Maybe around 8000 Kelvin.
- Don’t worry about the numbers too much. It is good to know what the numbers refer to but getting hung up on them is not necessary. Just know that as your light moves from red through to blue your white balance colour temperature setting will increase (from around 2000 to 8000 in photography)
So red is cool and blue is warm???
You might have imagined it to be the opposite way around since we usually refer to red-orange light as ‘warm’ and blue light as ‘cold’ but scientifically we are incorrect when we refer to light this way. Blue light actually has the highest colour temperature. However, when it comes to photography keep referring to reds as warm and blues as cool or you will get some strange looks!
What happens when you change your white balance setting?
You might not want your subjects to be affected by an overly red or blue colour cast coming from the light you are shooting in. Selecting the correct white balance setting will help you with this!
Most cameras will have a setting for Auto, Tungsten (Incandescent), Fluorescent, Daylight, Flash, Cloudy and Shade white balance.
When you choose a white balance setting you are telling your camera what colour the light is. Your camera will then add certain colours to balance the whites and take away any unwanted colour casts. For example, ‘Shade’ white balance is for when you are shooting in very blue light. Your camera will add warmth (in photography terms) to your scene using colours like red and yellow. ‘Tungsten’ white balance is for when you are shooting in quite orange light. Your camera will cool the scene down using blue.
What’s wrong with just keeping your camera on Auto White Balance?
Using ‘Auto’ white balance (A or AWB) allows your camera to assess the colour temperature of the light for you and set your white balance accordingly. Lots use it and love it. I don’t.
Auto white balance can be fooled. For example, during Autumn when there is an abundance of orange and red and yellow all around your camera can be fooled into thinking that the light is that colour when actually it might be a very dull day with blue light. Your camera may end up selecting a white balance setting like ‘tungsten’ to cool down all this warmth and you might end up with blue-skinned subjects!
Image on left taken using Auto White Balance (AWB). Camera detected the warmth of the autumn leaves and decided wrongly that the light was very warm so added blue to cool the scene down. Actually the light was quite a neutral daylight. Using the ‘daylight’ setting on the right image gives a much more natural colour to the skin and scene in general.
Auto white balance will also change throughout the course of a shoot depending on what is in your scene resulting in inconsistency in the colours of your images. This can be a real headache to deal with when it comest to post-processing, especially if there are a lot of images.
You can’t get creative with auto white balance. Sometimes you might want the colour cast. Maybe you want that orange glow from the candle light. Maybe you want that blue tint from the dusk. You even might want to add colour tints by experimenting with different settings.
This image was not taken in warm tungsten light. In fact it was very cold light in the garage. However, selecting the tungsten white balance setting allowed me to add more blue to the image for effect.
Don’t worry about forgetting to change your white balance setting. You won’t! We all look at the first few images we take on a shoot. Check your colours and trust your eyes. If they are off, change your white balance setting until you are happy with them.
Of course there is more to white balance than this but series one is about the basics and I am keeping it simple. You can delve much deeper and get pretty nerdy with white balance. In future series we will discuss grey cards and shooting RAW but for now I will leave it there.
TEA BREAK TASK
Simply find your white balance setting on your particular model and brand of camera and practice changing it. Play about with the different settings and note the changes in the colours in your scene. If, like me, you are more of a people photographer then look particularly closely at the skin tone of your subjects. You want your subjects to look as natural as possible.
Until next time…