White Balancing Your Camera (Part 1)

One of the most important settings on your camera that you need to choose is a white balance. This control allows you to set the overall color (or tone) for the scene. White is used as a reference point because it is the perfect blend of all the color channels.  When a camera is properly set up, a white object will appear neutral with no color cast. Ideally, you should set your white balance correctly before shooting in any new location.

The Dangers of Auto White Balance

By default, your camera is probably set to use an automatic white balance (sometimes called AWB).  The way that auto works is that the camera will analyze the frame and create an automatic setting that attempts to neutralize any color shift.  This setting works pretty well for indoor shooting where lighting is consistent.

With that said, I am not a big fan of auto white balance.  When shooting using this setting, your camera can be sensitive to other factors, such as a passing cloud or someone walking through the frame.  This is especially problematic for video and time-lapse shooting. Instead, it is a better idea to switch to a preset or even create your own.

Using a White Balance Preset

The presets on your camera will vary depending on the model and manufacturer.  However, they are usually easy to understand when you think about them .  Typically, the presets are named for the type of lighting they work best with:

White balance presets are named for the lighting conditions they’re designed for. © Richard Harrington

  • Daylight or Direct Sunlight. This option works best for general shooting under daylight conditions where the sun is readily visible.
  • Shade. This option is used when shooting in sunlight and your subjects are in the shade.  It tends to make the image more orange to compensate for the bluish tones of the shaded areas.
  • Cloudy. This setting is similar to daylight but compensates for the sky having some cloud cover (which cools down the color temperature). Many prefer this setting because it is a little warmer.
  • Tungsten or Incandescent. This white balance setting is designed for shooting indoors with standard lightbulb illumination.
  • Fluorescent. This setting works best when shooting under standard fluorescent tube lights.  However, some lights are daylight balanced, which would require you to switch to the daylight setting.
  • Flash. You won’t use this option when shooting video because you can’t use a flash.

The same scene shot with different settings produces very different results. ©Richard Harrington

This article is excerpted from a new book – Creating DSLR Video: From Snapshots to Great Shots

About Richard Harrington

Richard Harrington is the founder of RHED Pixel, a visual communications company based in Washington, D.C. He is the Publisher of Photofocus as well as an author on Lynda.com. Rich has authored several books including From Still to Motion, Understanding Photoshop, Professional Web Video, and Creating DSLR Video.

Posted on January 24, 2012, in Gear. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.