White balance is one of those terms that seems to confuse a lot of people. It’s a phrase that just seems to bring on that dazed and confused look in folks. And I guess that’s the reason that many beginning photographers don’t use this feature. And that’s a shame because using the proper white balance when photographing can make a significant impact on the quality of your images.
I think part of the problem is the terminology itself. White balance? What is that supposed to mean? The term doesn’t naturally mean anything to most folks.
So maybe that’s a good place to start….
What is white balance?
Your camera’s white balance adjustment is a system that controls how colors, especially whites, are displayed in your photos.
You see, different light sources create different color ‘casts’ or hues. These color casts are due to the different ‘color temperatures’ of each light source which range from cool blue to warm red.
So, the light from a red sunset and that coming off a lit candle both have an orange/reddish hue. The light coming from a fluorescent bulb and the light bouncing from a clear blue sky both have a bluish tint. Tungsten lighting—regular household incandescent bulbs—gives off light that has a yellow cast.
The good news is that we don’t really notice these color casts. That’s because the human eye is such a sophisticated instrument that it can automatically adjust what we see for these color temperatures and the resulting color casts. So, unless we are in the presences of an extreme situation, we generally see all of these light sources as white.
But that’s not so with your camera. Your camera sees what it sees. It doesn’t have the ability to adjust for color temperature on it’s own. So that means that, without any adjustment, your photos will show that color cast.
That’s where the white balance adjustment comes into the picture, literally. The white balance system on your camera changes the way that your camera sees light, removing these color casts to ensuring that objects in your scene that are white actually look white in your final image.
In our next post, we’ll talk about the white balance setting….