White Balance and Photography

White balance is a topic that doesn’t get a lot of attention in photography. Years ago, the film purchased for your camera controlled the white balance. You would simply purchase the film based on what you plan to photograph and how the lighting would be. These days, the white balance is controlled in digital photography through your camera’s settings.

The way the human eye color differs greatly from how it is decoded by our digital devices. Even individual digital devices interpret color differently. That can create a situation where your final images look much different when printed. There is a way to get the correct color, though, known as color management. To properly manage color, there are several things you must learn to work with such as your monitor calibration, the postproduction software you use, and your camera settings.

All forms of white have a color. Each color has a temperature. Different temperatures of light create different hues within your image. The Kelvin scale measures the color temperature scale of light. When looking at the lower end of the scale, you have more reds and yellows at around 2000 to 4000 Kelvin. When you get close to 5500 Kelvin, everything becomes brighter, sort of like the light you see on a sunny day at noon. As the Kelvin increases, everything becomes bluer.

Every camera comes with a sensor that will determine the color of the light. This is typically done with the AWB, or auto white balance, setting that sets the sensor to the correct white balance on the camera. The AWB sensor tends to be quite accurate but can be fooled when presented with a large single color, such as a child wearing a bright red outfit. In that case, the sensor may be fooled into seeing the image as redder than it truly is an overcompensate by adding more blue to the image.

The white balance is generally managed through the camera itself, it is important to understand the basics of white balance so you can manually adjust when needed to get the pictures you desire.