White Balance is one of the most critical settings that we have to get our colors right, it is a core concept for every photographer to learn. Right up there with Exposure Theory and how to get swamp smell out of your truck upholstery (that might just be a “me” issue…). But, it is an often misunderstood concept, used incorrectly it can make your colors look strange, dull, or unreal. Fortunately, it is a setting we can easily adjust in camera and in the digital darkroom.
If you are unfamiliar with the White Balance setting on your camera, now is a good time to grab it and its manual. Make sure you know how to change this setting, it’s usually indicated by a WB button. Don’t worry, I’ll wait for you to get back…
So, What is White Balance in Photography?
The short answer is: “the white balance setting helps get the colors in your images as accurate as possible by removing color casts in your photos”.
Photographers take photos at all times of day, in all types of light. In different lighting and conditions, white light can seem more reddish/yellowish or sometimes more bluish/greenish. This is called “color cast”. In bright unfiltered daylight, white looks white to your eyes and in your photos. But, depending on what is creating the light and what that light has interacted with before it hits your subject, these color casts will skew the colors in your photos.
Normally, we don’t really notice these color casts, as our eyes and brain are constantly adjusting to them. When we see something that is white, we don’t notice if the white is a little yellowish or a little bluish in different lighting. We just think, “Hey, that’s white”. But, our camera’s sensor doesn’t have the same capabilities that our eyes do to compensate for shifts in color. It is just capturing information from its sensor, recording the proportions of red, blue, and green of the light that strikes each pixel. We really don’t notice the warmth or coolness of light unless we train our eyes to do so. However, these color shifts become pretty obvious when viewed later in our images.