White balance is a term that is often used in photography, but may be a little confusing to new photographers. Fortunately, it isn’t too difficult to learn. And even if you do mess it up the first few times, if you’re shooting in RAW, it’s easily correctable once you know what you’re looking at. We’ll touch on that in this article too, but first, let’s discuss what white balance is.
What Is White Balance?
In short, white balance is important because you want the colors in the photo you are taking to be as accurate and realistic as possible. At least most of the time. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. However, for the sake of this article, we’re going to assume you want things to be as realistic as possible. Have you ever put on a pair of tinted sunglasses that made everything a look different colors? That’s what using the wrong white balance will cause your photos to look like. You’ve probably seen photos before that have a weird blue, orange, yellow, or,perhaps, green tint to them. That’s a result of using the wrong white balance.
In order to get the correct white balance, the photographer or camera needs to be able to properly measure the color temperature of the available light.
Different types of lighting will have different color temperatures, thus creating a different shade of light. Color temperature is measured in Kelvins. The warmer the color temperature is, the lower the Kelvin number will be. Cooler color temperatures will have a higher Kelvin number. Most digital cameras have a setting which will allow you to dial in exactly what Kelvin number you want to shoot at. Using this information, you can adjust white balance fairly accurately in camera.
- 1000-2000 K Candlelight
- 2500-3500 K Tungsten
- 3000-4000 K Golden hours
- 4000-5000 K Fluorescent lights
- 5000-5500 K Speedlights
- 5000-6500 K Overhead sun with clear skies
- 6500-8000 K Overcast sky
- 9000-10000 K Shade
Alternatively, if the scene you are shooting isn’t a color temperature you would like it to be, you can also adjust the Kelvin number to either warm up or cool down a scene. Just over or under compensate to get the desired result.
Your Best Bet: Shoot In Raw
I highly recommend you shoot in RAW whenever available. Memory cards are inexpensive, so we can’t use their file size as an excuse. The beauty of shooting in RAW when it comes to white balance is how easy it is to correct during post processing. In fact, many photographers will set their cameras to an auto white balance feature and forget about it. All it takes is a simple push of a slider in Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop to correct any inaccuracies in the color temperature or white balance of a photo.
That being said, it’s always best to understand why and how things work, so take your time to learn about white balance, even if you do always shoot in RAW. Knowing how to correct white balance in camera is never a bad idea!