The Basics of White Balance
White balance, which can also be referred to as grey balance or neutral balance, is the term used to describe the colors in a photograph. In most cases you want to adjust the white balance in your images so that neutral colors, grey, white, etc, look accurate and don’t have any blue, orange, green, or magenta color shifts.
White balance is measured in Kelvin. A lower Kelvin temperature, like 3000K, will result in cooler or bluer image. A higher Kelvin temperature, like 8000K, will result in a warmer or oranger image. Daylight and flash is measured somewhere around 5000K.
This is the same scene photographed at three different white balances (3000K,5000K, and 8000K respectively).
Different light sources give off different color light. For examples in the image below the tungsten lights inside the church give off a very warm light while the natural light outdoors during twilight gives off a very cold light.
The following three images are all lit by different light sources so different white balances are needed to get proper colors.
This image was shot later in the evening when the natural light was cooler so a warmer white balance of 17000K was needed to ensure proper colors.
The lights inside this church were warmer, so a cooler white balance of 3950K was needed for proper white balance.
Lastly this image was shot entirely with flash, which is similar to daylight in color, so white balance of 5100K was needed.
How to Get the Proper White Balance
Built In White Balance Presets
Many cameras have built in white balance presets like daylight, flash, cloudy, shade, tungsten, etc. Using these presents in the appropriate situation should get you close to the correct white balance. Auto white balance attempts to create accurate colors but is usually inaccurate.
18% Grey Cards
A more accurate way to get proper white balance is using a grey card. Most digital cameras will let you set the white balance manually by photographing something 18% grey. After shooting the grey card the camera can obtain the correct white balance from the image of the grey card. Your camera’s manual should tell you how to obtain a proper white balance by shooting a grey card. Grey cards can be bought fairly inexpensively from most camera stores.
You can also correct your white balance in post using either Adobe Lightroom or Capture One by clicking part of the image that is 18% grey with the eyedropper tool.
Color Checker Passport and Camera Profiles
The way I ensure my colors are always correct is by using a color checker passport. The color checker passport has several colored patches on it and after it is photographed it can be used to create color profiles that ensure the most accurate color.
First during the shoot I make sure to photograph the color checker every time my lighting changes. Next I import these images in Lightroom and change the images of a color checker to a DNG file. Next I move the DNG files to ColorCheckerPassport software where it creates a color profile from the image. After this is finished I go back to Lightroom apply the new color profile and then correct the white balance by taking the eyedropper tool and clicking on the 18% Grey square on the color checker. Creating color profiles then correcting the white balance will ensure the most accurate colors in your photographs.
Hopefully this article helped give you a basic understanding of white balance. If there are any other photography and retouching questions you have let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them.
Graduate from the Hallmark Institute of Photography and Highest Academic Honor recipient.
Published in several magazines including Shutterbug, Digital Photo, Outdoor Photographer, and PDNedu.
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