Thursday, February 25, 2010

White Balance


Last week I talked about how to get the right exposure when photographing a white object. This week I am taking it one step further and discussing white balance. White balance is what makes an object look white and not yellow or red or blue. That is called color casting, and it does have its place in photography, but most of the time a photographer wants the whites to BE white.

The need for white balance comes as the result of the color temperature in the light. Different types of light (incandescent, florescent, tungsten, daylight) lean more towards yellow or blue hues. Unlike your eyes, which can adapt well to these changes, cameras usually do not. Now, it is not necessary that you know what the color temperature of the light in the room is, but it is important that you know how to adjust your camera's settings to accommodate the type of light.

In the example below, these saltwater mushroom corals are under florescent lighting in our aquarium. My particular camera has three symbols for florescent lighting. You can see that the range of color changes from yellow to blue.

P2175321 P2175322

Most often I judge the correct white balance viewing the whites in the scene. Simply put, I look through the lens and see if, based on the camera settings, they look white. If there are no directly white objects, I observe how the lighting actually appears and what colors are shown. It was definitely not the blue of the last photograph. I then select the white balance setting appropriate to the scene.

Most cameras show these settings as symbols: sun, cloud, light bulb, etc. If I am outdoors, I choose either daylight or shade. Shade white balance tends to be warmer (or more yellow). If I am indoors, I choose the symbol for that particular type of lighting. Some cameras even have a manual white balance option. I encourage all photographers to know what their camera's options are, especially where white balance is concerned.

Here is one important thing to note. If you are inclined to always set your camera to AUTO, then you must know that AUTO white balance settings will not always be correct. Sometimes the camera creates a color cast that is not desired. This happens a lot indoors underneath lamps or overhead lights. For this reason, it is most important to understand white balance and how to correct it. One should never strictly rely on after photo editing to correct color casting.

This brings me back to the subject of color casting. Sometimes I will use color casting to achieve a certain effect. I might want the scene to seem warmer or to feel colder. I can do this by shifting the color temperature more yellow or more blue. For instance, I use the Shade white balance setting (typically a cloud symbol) a lot when in full sun. I like the warmer colors much better.

In this photo, there is no white in the scene. However, white balance still comes into effect making the mushrooms appear to be a sunnier brown color.

Mushroom Colony
Mushroom Colony

With the water lily blossom below I used color casting through white balance to avoid the flower looking white because though it was pale, it wasn't a white flower.

Water Lily with Green Wasp
Water Lily With Green Wasp

Here is another water lily. This flower wasn't white either, but had tints of blue and purple in it. If I had warmed the white balance up too much, then the flower would have lost its true color. I also had to take into account the color of the lily in the background. The white balance I chose was going to affect both flowers.

Contrasts, Water Lilies
Contrasts, Water Lilies

White balance is something that constantly needs to be adjusted as a photographer moves from photo to photo, but it doesn't need to be complicated or confusing. When I am in any doubt as to what I want my final photograph to look like, I simply take several with different white balance adjustments. It is by constant observation and practice that every photographer can learn what works best and achieve great results.

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Suzanne Williams Photography
Florida, USA

Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.

1 comment:

Steve Randall said...

wow! I had seen some of your work in association with your mothers ministry, but I did not realize how accomplished and well studied you are. So,you are a pro.