Understanding White Balance Settings

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I am Neyssa Lee a Seattle area photographer, mom of 6, planning obsessed, and who help you see the beauty, love and joy, in your own family’s chaos. I also use my super power of time management to help fellow photographers take control of their businesses. Learn more by heading to my ABOUT ME page.

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Hi, I'm Neyssa

I’m so excited about today’s lesson on understanding white balance settings! This is something that is so easy to use and make drastic changes to your images. On your camera there is somewhere that says “White Balance” or “WB.” Then there are several different options to choose from. Most cameras are automatically set to Auto White Balance. Typically this is just fine. However, once you see my different images, you might change your mind!
I figured the best way to explain white balance settings was to show you how different my image is when my camera is set to different white balance settings. My adorable subject is not one to sit still, though the images are all taken in the same chair, with the same camera settings, and same lighting conditions. Let’s look at how by ONLY changing white balance my image changes.

But first, what is white balance? I don’t want to bore you with technical jargon. But the idea is that different light sources have different temperatures (or colors) of light.  If you were to look at a white piece of paper under bright sunlight vs under fluorescent lights, the paper would look white to our eyes (which automatically adjust), but different colors to our camera. That is why cameras have different white balance settings. To allow us to tell the camera in which setting we are taking photos.

AUTO WHITE BALANCE: Auto White Balance is the simplest option to pick. You can set it and forget it. However, there are times when it is way off. I’m sure you’ve had images where you’re not quite sure what went wrong. It may have been that Auto White Balance chose the wrong coloring for your image. In the image below, Auto White Balance comes pretty close to what the lighting was like. However, it is still a little blue for my taste.

Understanding White Balance Settings

TUNGSTEN: This white balance setting accommodates for the warm (yellow) light from tungsten bulbs by cooling down the image. You can see how blue Swayer looks under natural lighting. Though this is a great setting when you’re in a room with tungsten lighting.

Understanding White Balance Settings

WHITE FLUORESCENT: This is another setting that cools down the image. However, notice that it is not as cool as the Tungsten setting used above. It is a perfect setting when you’re under fluorescent bulbs!

Understanding White Balance Settings

SUN/DAYLIGHT: This is a middle of the road white balance. If you look at the other images you can see that is is warmer than the Tungsten and Fluorescent (see below), and even warmer then Auto White Balance. However, it is cooler than the shade setting. This would be a good option if you’re shooting outdoors and it is sunny and you don’t want your images too warm (yellow).

Understanding White Balance Settings

FLASH: The flash on your camera is cool, or blue, in color, so it compensates by warming your image up a bit. Honestly, this was the first time I have ever used this white balance setting on my camera since I don’t use my flash very often!

Understanding White Balance Settings

CLOUDY: This setting is another favorite. It’s probably the one I stick with most on my camera. It warms up the images as you can imagine cloudy skies have a cooler, or bluer, look to them. Cloudy isn’t quite as warm as the shade setting

Understanding White Balance Settings

SHADE: If you’re in the shade the light is often a little bluer than if you were in, say, direct sunlight. The Shade setting compensates for the blue and make the image warmer (or more yellow). Living in Washington I use this setting a lot (along with Cloudy).  While we may have a blue light here, I prefer my images with more warmth.

Understanding White Balance Settings

There are also custom setting options where you can use Kelvin to set an exact temperature. We won’t get into that now, but know that it is an option. I find that using the cameras white balance settings are an easy and quick way to improve your images.

It’s your turn! I challenge you to test them out for yourself and see how understanding white balance settings improves your images straight out of camera!

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