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|Category:||Digital Camera Operation|
Beginner's Guide To White Balance Mode - Learn how to make the most of your digital camera's white balance mode to ensure accurate colour in all lighting situations.
Words & Pictures Peter Bargh
Most of us enjoy shooting a sunrise or sunset, capturing the beautiful orange colours generated, but you probably haven't noticed that the colour of light also changes throughout the day too. This is because our eyes and brain adjust to the changes and make everything seem okay. Similarly when going indoors to an artificially lit room the colour changes, but, once again, our eyes adapt.
However, cameras, even though auto white balance now tends to perform well on most models, can record a colour cast. This may be orange at sunrise/sunset, which we accept, blue in the shade on a bright day, yellow under light from household lamps, green in offices lit with fluorescent lighting and so on.
White Balance (WB) modeBefore digital photography photographers had to fumble with colour correction filters when shooting inside under artificial light, or mess around with lighting gels and long exposures when using studio tungsten lighting. Using flash helped overcome these problems, but it still sometimes introduced a blue colour cast. However, with digital cameras their processing chip can detect the colour of light and automatically adjust to ensure whites come out white. This is called the white balance (WB) mode
But like autofocusing and autoexposure the auto white balance can be fooled. There are times when it will compensate necessarily, especially when you want a colour cast on purpose, for example, a sunset, the glow of candlelight or when coping the faded page of an ancient manuscript. Or when the subject is predominantly one colour. In these cases most cameras have a set of preset white balance settings. Some also a full manual option where you either key in the Kelvin value or point the camera at a white reference so it can adjust the whole scene based on the colour it sees.
You can change your camera's white balance options in its menu system. Take a look at your manual if you're unsure where the white balance options are.
|The Samsung NX200's Menu where you can select the White Balance options.|
Of course, you don't have to adjust your images. Some photographers like the unusual look not adjusting the white balance correctly gives them. Photographers who work in fashion for example, sometimes feature a blue tint on their photographs and adding blue to graveyard shots gives a spooky effect.
Lets look at the options most cameras have and what happens when you set these in daylight. This shot of the flower was taken on an overcast day and the various modes were selected one by one.
|Flash||Fluorescent||White Balance Preset|
|Shade||Tungsten or Incandescent|
Auto should get the photograph correct, and on this overcast day the light was slightly blue so it's done a decent job, but what if you had set overcast manually? The camera's processing adjusts by adding yellow to counteract the blue. In this case by too much. The third shot, daylight sunny, has assumed the temperature is 5500K and has produced a really bright punchy white flower, but it's a little too bright for our liking. Flash would normally throw out a slightly cold light so the camera, in the flash white balance mode pops a bit of magenta in to reduce the blue. Fluorescent lighting produces a green hue and the necessary optical correction filter is a magenta, in the digital white balance world the purple colour is just too much.
Now for the reason why it's worth setting cameras up manually - the white balance preset. When selected, this mode asks you to point at white in the scene and press the shutter so it can read the colour value and compensate accordingly. Like the cloudy shot the colour is almost spot on, but the white is just that bit more brilliant in the manual option.
The shade preset has assumed the light is very blue and compensated with too much yellow and, lastly, the Tungsten option throws the equivalent of an 80A blue filter at the picture resulting in the horrible blue cast.
With digital cameras a slight colour cast can be corrected easily using the colour balance or hue adjustments, but it's better to have the shot correct in the first place so now you can use your white balance setting with a little more knowledge.
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