Photography Tip#17. How to set up white balance for better photography

How to set up white balance - Why are my pictures blue - Why are my pictures yellow

How to set up white balance - Why are my pictures blue - Why are my pictures yellow

Probably the most frequently asked questions about photography are:

“why my pictures are blue?” and “why my pictures are yellow?”

And the answer is hidden in the camera menu under White Balance (WB). It sounds like a technical term used only by photographers, but actually it’s one of those settings that everyone should know about, as it can transform your photography from bad to amazing. First of all, what is White Balance? WB is the key to how your camera sees a white point. If the white point is set correctly in the camera, then it will accurately reproduce the rest of the colors. White balance is also known as the temperature and it’s measured in Kelvin.

Every camera has some standard White Balance features.

But before we get down to explaining them, you have to know that light has a different temperature depending what the light source is:

  • Outdoor (daytime) light is blue (usually 5500K). In shade, cloudy conditions or before sunset, the light becomes warmer so make sure to change the WB.
  • For interior/night time photos, depending on whether you have fluorescent or tungsten lamps, the temperature is completely different and the white balance needs to be changed.
  • You can set the WB manually (most cameras allow it). Put the camera on live view, and experiment until you achieve the desired colors.
white balance menu - Canon

white balance menu - Canon

Color Temperature Light Source
1000-2000 K Candlelight
2500-3500 K Tungsten Bulb (household variety)
3000-4000 K Sunrise/Sunset (clear sky)
4000-5000 K Fluorescent Lamps
5000-5500 K Electronic Flash
5000-6500 K Daylight with Clear Sky (sun overhead)
6500-8000 K Moderately Overcast Sky
9000-10000 K Shade or Heavily Overcast Sky

For a better understanding, let’s take a picture and show it with different temperatures. The picture below was taken on a summer day, in shade, during a family portrait session around Westminster.

How to set up white balance - Tests

How to set up white balance - Tests

 

  1. The first picture (top left corner) is straight out of the camera (SOOC) and we manually set the white balance on the camera before taking the portrait. We don’t like to use grey cards with children (we’ll explain later what a grey card is), so we’ve set it at 6050K, because that looked very close to the real colors.
  2. The second photo (top corner right) was done with Auto White Balance. It’s a bit too yellow for our taste. This can only mean that it is perhaps time to learn to set the white balance manually.
  3. The third one has Daylight (Sunny) White Balance. And although we were in shade and not in direct sunlight, it is very close to the real colors, so no complaints here.
  4. The fourth picture is shown in Shade White Balance, but it’s too yellow for our taste.
  5. The fifth photo with a Tungsten temperature has a blue-green tint to it. It’s clear that the camera did not read the colors correctly.
  6. The 6th picture, with a Fluorescent white balance, has a blue magenta tint. If you take a picture during daytime with your white balance set on fluorescent or tungsten lighting (or vice versa), then you will get your answer to those questions we asked at the beginning of this blog post: “why my pictures are blue?” and “why my pictures are yellow?” It’s simple, the camera will not read and show the colors correctly unless we do a bit of effort and set it correctly.

The best way to get your white balance right is by using a grey card and adjusting WB in post-production.

Grey card for white balance

Grey card for white balance

More details on how to use a grey card in a next tutorial. And here’s our final portrait:

How to set up white balance - Final Image

How to set up white balance - Final Image


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