What is white balance in photography?
Different lighting situations can affect the overall temperature in tones and colors in your images. Some lighting situations may give you more cooler tones such as blue and some situations may give you warmer tones such as orange. Basically when taking a photo, we use white balance to keep our colors as we see them, not as camera sees them. Anything white in our photos should appear just that, white. White balance does just what it says, it “balances” the temperature colors in our images to make sure whites are white, not blue or orange.
How to adjust white balance settings in camera
Most cameras have preset settings for controlling white balance. Fluorescent, Direct Sunlight, and Incandescent are a few examples of options you may have. You can adjust the setting based on the scene you are shooting. Your camera basically looks for anything white in the scene and tries to balance the temperature when you take a shot to ensure that it has the correct white balance.
If there are a lot of blue hues hitting the sensor due to the lighting situation, your camera will automatically add more orange tones to counteract the coolness of the tones and colors. Likewise, if your camera senses a lot of orange tones, it will add more blue to counteract the warmth of the tones and colors. Your camera basically is tossing in more of the opposite color based on temperature to get an even balance, leaving your whites white, as they should be.
The best way to test the white balance is to point your camera at something white and adjust settings from there. You can even use a “white card” to set your white balance.
Adjusting White Balance in Post Processing
Let’s assume you don’t have time to adjust your white balance settings in camera, or the camera didn’t fully correct the white balance as it should have.
This can be corrected in post processing. Although adjusting white balance on multiple images can be time consuming, it is sometimes necessary. You don’t want to hand over a gallery of images to a bride where her beautiful white dress appears blue.
In Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and Photoshop and Lightroom, you can use the dropper tool to select a part of the image that is supposed to be white and base your adjustments on that. You could use clothing, a wall, eyes, anything white.. to use as your white “point.”
Once you have selected a white area and apply the white balance correction, the software will either add warmer or cooler tones to ensure that the overall white balance is correct.
Once you have become familiar with adjusting your white balance before taking a shot and in post processing, you can begin to experiment with manipulating the white balance for creative purposes. Maybe your intention is to have warmer or cooler results than the proper white balance achieves in the final result? But you should have a basic understanding of white balance and what it means before breaking the rules with it.