Take Better Pictures - Lesson 4

Hello again!

This is the fourth installment of digital photography lessons. More lessons, tips and a few opinions are on my site: imagemaven.com

If you have any questions or comments about this newsletter, please let me know. I appreciate your feedback and I learn from your comments.

Lesson 4 - White Balance

White balance is one of the more complicated digital camera settings to understand. Simply put, white balance is a measure of the colour temperature of light.

Okay, so maybe that doesn't sound simple! Colour has temperature?! Why yes, it does. I won't get into the scientific part of this, but the following chart demonstrates the colour of light and the corresponding temperature.

White Balance

So which setting should you use?

If you know approximately what type of light is falling on your subject, use one of your camera pre-sets that is closest to that type of light. Some common presets are:

If you are outside and it's bright and sunny, use the daylight setting. If it is overcast, try the cloudy setting. If you don't have a clue, then a good place to start is by using the Auto white balance setting (AWB), keeping in mind you may have to tweak your colour a bit in an image editing program such as Photoshop or Picnik.

Warm and Cool

You've probably heard of warm colours and cool colours if you went to art school, do graphic design or even choose paint colours for your own house. Or, perhaps you just know it intuitively. Some people have that built-in sense. The colour wheel here shows the RGB (red, green, blue) and CMY (cyan, magenta, yellow) relationships.

Color wheel

Opposite colours on the wheel neutralize each other:

If your photo has a green cast in it, you can neutralize it by adding magenta. If your photo is too yellow, you can add blue, and so on.

The camera doesn't know what type of light you are shooting under. If you use the Auto white balance (AWB) setting, the camera reads what colours are in the scene and it will try to correct (i.e. neutralize) any large coloured areas of your photo. This can sometimes cause your photo to look a bit off-colour.

For example, if you take a photo of a child sitting on green grass (or green blanket), the AWB may add a bunch of magenta to the colour balance to off-set all the green it senses. Since it affects the whole photo, this will also result in the skin tone changing to more magenta as well. So your child's face may look a bit pinker than usual.

Another situation where Auto can kill your colour is sunsets. What do you think will happen to the colour in your photo when you point your camera at a lovely golden warm sunset while using the Auto WB setting? That's right. It will cool off the colours in your photo and neutralize all that beautiful warmth that drew you to the scene in the first place. For more info, check out this blog post I wrote.

So, to retain the warmth in your sunrise and sunset photos, use the Daylight WB setting. This will force more yellow into your photo.

Your homework this week:

I suggest you do some tests again using your various white balance pre-sets as well as AWB so you can see what happens to the colour of your photos when using different white balance settings.

Extra tips for this lesson »

»What happens with the white balance does not match the light?

Auto WB Cloudy WB - the best match

The first photo uses Auto WB. Looks okay, but the second one is using Cloudy and it is a better match to the lighting conditions, giving better skin tones. The baby's skin was cool in the first one.

Tungsten - Way cool WB

This photo is set to Tungsten WB which turns blue in daylight conditions.

»A quick note about florescent white balance

It used to be that florescent tubes were always a bit greenish. Nowadays, there are so many varieties of florescent bulbs on the market it is hard to know what the exact temperature is. I'm sure you've heard of warm white, cool white and so on. So when shooting under florescent lights, you might want to start out with the Auto WB setting, or set up a Custom WB setting. Instructions for that are in your camera manual.

Take things up a notch!

Check out my web video post on custom white balance - For advanced users

In Between

Don't forget about your homework! The only way to really figure all this stuff out is to take pictures with your camera, check your files, and refine your process.

Also, remember to check my website, ImageMaven.com for new blog posts. You can add comments to the posts as well. Leave your url and it becomes a great way to get some exposure for your own site too!

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Happy Shooting!


Twitter @MarleneHielema