10 Steps to Manual Mode: White Balance

a person editing on a computer screen
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This is the seventh part of the 10 part series: 10 Steps to Manual Mode.

You can access the series here—> 10 Steps to Manual Mode Series.

In this seventh part of the series, we are going to talk about white balance.

What is White Balance?

The camera’s ability to correct color cast or tint under different lighting conditions including daylight, indoor, fluorescent lighting, and electronic flash. Also known as “WB,” many cameras offer an Auto WB mode that is usually—but not always—quite accurate.

How does the color of light effect your photos?

All light is not created equal. It may look the same to the untrained eye, but different light can affect your photos in different ways.

The color of the light is usually measured by temperature.

In high end cameras, you can fix the white balance by adjusting the temperature in Kelvin. In lower end cameras, it is done by distinguishing types of light.

Here are two photos taken in the same spot.

The first one has light from an under the cabinet light that is casting a orangey light on the photo:

The second photo has that light turned off, so it is only getting light from the sliding glass door, which is more even, natural light:

I haven’t done any editing on these, so the only difference is the color of the light. That is where white balance adjustment comes in to play.

What is the temperature range of light?

I love this chart of the Kelvin Color Temperatures @ lumens.com. It illustrates this point perfectly.

The color range from blue to orange shows how the type of light can change the tone of a photo.

If you know the type of light you have and you have the ability to set your camera to a Kelvin temperature, you can use this knowledge to get the proper white balance in camera. This will save you time later when editing.

How do we use white balance to take better photos?

White balance is the ability to fix the color of light in your photos so that it is neutral. This makes your photo look better and more real to the viewer.

You can either try to guess and set the white balance in your camera to decrease the amount of color from your light source.

Or you can set the white balance to auto and let the camera guess the white balance. If it doesn’t get it exactly right, you can fix it in post processing (Photoshop, Lightroom, etc.)

I use auto most of the time and fix it later. I do this mostly because I don’t want to constantly change the white balance when I move to a new location. It is just one less thing to worry about at the moment.

But there is no right or wrong way to fix white balance. You just need to be aware of it and how it affects your photos in the end.

3 Tricks to Get Proper White Balance Every Time:

  1. If you want to set the white balance while you are shooting, you can change that in your camera settings. You should either have light names to choose from (incandescent, sunlight, etc) or you can choose a Kelvin value. Each time you move to new lighting, you should adjust this setting.
  2. You can use a white balance card to help you set the white balance later. This is a white, black or gray card that you take a picture of in the scene with the light you are using. Next you take all of the rest of your pictures. Then, when you are post processing you can use the card in the picture to determine a true white, black or grey. This is especially helpful if you don’t have anything in the photo that is a true white, black or grey to compare with later.
  3. The last (and easiest way) to fix white balance is to do it in Lightroom or Photoshop when you are editing your photos. To do this, you use the white balance dropper tool and click on something in the photo that is true white, black or grey. By clicking on this, the computer will adjust the white balance of the photo to a neutral tone. This is how I do it and it works really well.

Here is a video that shows you how to change white balance in Lightroom:

white balance video from Julie Gropp on Vimeo.

Action Steps:

  1. Access the color of light before you start shooting in any situation.
  2. If you are shooting indoors, try to turn off any lights that are casting a strange color on your subject.
  3. Use one of the 3 tricks above to fix your white balance on your photos for better overall photography.

This is the seventh lesson of ten that will be coming in the next few weeks.

Next week we will talk about histogram and how to use it properly for great photos. Click here to go to the next lesson —> 10 Steps to Manual Mode: Histogram Basics.

White balance is something I really didn’t understand when I first started shooting in manual mode. I thought all light was equal and I was just happy when I had enough of it to go around!

But little things like white balance can make a big difference in your photos, so don’t dismiss it too fast.

I hope this post has helped you understand white balance and how you can fix it in your photography. With the technology we have now, there is no reason why we can’t have photos without color issues.

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How do you fix white balance in your photos? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this post helpful, please share. Thanks!

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