White balance is a term that you often come across when taking pictures. To help you better understand what white balance is and what is not, and how to adjust the white balance, it explains the basics to help you take better pictures in the lighting conditions that life offers.
What is the white balance? ?
Before we start the white balance, we want to clarify what that is not. Sometimes the term white balance is used interchangeably with the color temperature, but they are not equal. Color temperature is the measure, expressed in Kelvin (K), of the color characteristics of a given light source ̵
Like any other aspect of photography, there is no ultimate right or wrong choice as to how to adjust your white balance. It all depends on personal preference and can be optimized to better match the mood of a particular image or scene. For example, a shot among the changing leaves of autumn might be better suited for a warmer tone, while a night shot of the blue ocean might be more appropriate with cooler tones.
That is, there are some basic elements that will help you steer in the right direction so your photos are not too extreme in one direction or the other.
Camera White Balance Settings
You may have noticed that your camera has a variety of white balance modes. The most common are: Auto, Tungsten, Daylight, Cloudy, Flash, Shadow, Fluorescent and Custom. In the following we will go through each of these modes and explain what they are based on and how they behave in the different scenes.
Auto (AWB) – As the name suggests, AWB automatically adjusts the color temperature based on the data captured by your camera's sensors. AWB is a great option if you want versatility or you want to switch quickly from one lighting environment to another, but rarely will it bring you exactly where you want to be. For these times you might find a more specific setting more appropriate.
Tungsten – Also referred to as "indoor" by some manufacturers, Tungsten tends to cooler tones, except when used artificially indoors. Light illuminates the scene. But even then it can get a bit cooler than you would like, but it should bring you closer to what you want. Tungsten tends to set the color temperature to about 3200K.
Daylight / Sunny – When you shoot, the sun always shines brightly, be it outside or inside (eg through a window), Daylight Mode is your best bet. It is considered the most neutral of the kelvin scale settings. Daylight in approx. 5,200 K.
Cloudy – Considering the overcast days, the temperatures tend to be slightly cooler. The "Cloudy" setting on your camera will probably give your pictures a bit of warmth. Cloudy assumes a temperature of approximately 6000 K
Shadow – Like the flash setting, Shadow tends to warm up the scene to compensate for the cooler blues that people have when they are hiding outside the camera Sun.
Flash – Installed in the camera or in an external unit – flashes and lightning tend to be mistaken on the cooler side of things. Because of this, the flash preset heats the images slightly to compensate for the cooler sounds of the flash. The flash setting is usually about 6,000 K.
Fluorescent – Fluorescent light is one of the more complicated light sources to work with, as there are several types of light bulbs – each with a slightly different color output, and change as they get older. In general, fluorescent lamps tend to emit cooler light, so the Fluorescent Mode adds a bit of heat to your images at around 4000K.
Custom – Different camera manufacturers have different setting options for custom white balance settings on cameras. Some opt for a certain temperature while others rely on +/- scales of a spectrum. If you work in a stable, controlled environment, this is probably the best way to get the most accurate colors. Note: Not all cameras offer this option.
For more information about each camera manufacturer, see the available resources. Sony, Nikon and Canon offer special sections on their respective approach to white balance settings, icons and adjustments.
Using a gray card
One of the best solutions for accurate white balance is the use of a so-called gray card. As the name implies, a gray card is a piece of paper or plastic that is 18 percent gray. Similarly, you can use a color chart to more accurately judge the white balance and colors in your photos.
You can cost as little as a few dollars (like this Movo color and gray card) and it will cost a lot Improve your workflow if you want to edit white balance in post production, which we will explain in more detail below.
Using a gray card is easy. Once you have your card, take it with you on all your photo adventures. When you come to a place where you want to take a picture, hold the card in front of the camera or hold a subject in front of you. Grab a picture of the card you're using and you'll be fine for the rest of the shoot. Just take another photo with the map if the light changes or you change location.
To adjust the white balance
The correct white balance in the camera is not always easy, regardless of the mode in which you are shooting. Luckily, the white balance can be adjusted when editing images. In fact, even the most basic post-production software will be able to make the necessary changes, including the hundreds of apps available for download on both iOS and Android devices.
It is noteworthy that the accuracy of the screens and monitors on your device is of great importance here. If your monitor is not calibrated, something that looks a bit yellow may actually be more neutral, and vice versa. See our Monitor Calibration Guide to learn how to get the best colors from your displays.
If you even shoot on your smartphone in RAW format, changing the white balance in post-production will be even easier, the temperature can actually be edited with Kelvin, without losing quality in the image. JPEG can also be changed, but you start at a central point and can only make it warmer or cooler and not set a specific temperature. Regardless of whether your photo is on a desktop program or in a mobile app, the process of changing the white balance will be essentially the same – move a slider left and right.
If you're having trouble getting the white balance right in the editing software without using a gray card, here's a little trick from photographer Kirk Mastin Adjust the white balance slider as much as possible in one direction, then slowly adjust the slider until you reach what you consider to be a natural balance – looking at the extremes helps isolate the most natural option.  If you would like a more detailed overview of white balance and the effects on your images, Pye Jars from the SLR Lounge has a wonderful 25-minute video on YouTube. To better understand the other settings on your camera, take a look at our detailed Guide to the buttons and settings available on your DSLR.