What is White Balance?


How important is it for you to understand white balance?

Well, I have to say that I wouldn’t get to hung up on white balance, especially if you’re shooting in RAW.

What is White Balance?

Do you remember your old school sports hall and those big orange lights? That’s the most memory to me of different coloured light but actually the light all around is very different in colour, it’s just that our eyes are excellent at mixing it together naturally.

Now the three main light sources you will want to know are natural daylight, fluorescent and tungsten.

Fluorescent are the strip lights you get but even they aren’t straight forward as many produce daylight white now. Tungsten lights are the light bulbs that you screw into a lamp or ceiling light, but again they’re not straight forward as the energy efficient bulbs give a more natural light than standard ones. And daylight, well that depends on time of day, shade, cloudy or clear sky!

So as you can see it’s not clear cut and that’s why I wouldn’t really worry about presetting this, I just leave it on auto most of the time. The only time I would use the presets is if I looked at the results on the back of the camera and thought they looked poor, then I’d have a fiddle with my preset options and see if I could get better results.

To demonstrate the differences you get from your camera’s presets I have used this same image that I took on a lifestyle shoot for RNIB recently and changed the white balance in camera.

Manual White Balance

Now if you can’t get a good result from your presets or auto white balance, you can always set it up manually.
For this, ideally you want a grey card (as seen in the header image) but if you are caught out or don’t want to buy any extras, just use a sheet of white paper.

The grey card I use is made by Lastolite and is extremely durable. See it on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. I used to use a small card but it soon got dirty and damaged. This one comes in a smart bag and pops open to a 12″ disk making it very easy to see through the viewfinder.

How you use this is to set your exposure first (correct aperture and shutter speed), then you must be on auto white balance and holding the card in front of you at arms length, take your shot making sure the grey card covers the centre.

Then go into your menu and look for ‘Custom White Balance’. It will by default bring up your last image so select it and click ok. Then change the white balance on top of your camera to the manual symbol. Refer to your manual for more help as it will certainly be featured there.

In summary

While some of the settings on your camera should be set up manually, I think for now just leave this in auto unless you have problems, then try the presets and know you can manually set it up if you’re stuck. For that reason it may pay to practice the custom white balance so you don’t ever get caught out.

My preference is always to shoot in RAW though and then these decision aren’t half as important!

Your camera’s Auto setting is pretty good and it’s rare that you’ll run into problems. That said, it would be good to know what the term is referring to.