What is the white balance in photography

When we bought our first digital reflex camera we found a series of options when making our photographs that we had probably not heard before, among these options is the white balance.

Next we will see what the white balance is and how we can take advantage of it to improve our photographs. We will also see some examples of photographs taken with an incorrect white balance.

What is the white balance

The first thing we must be clear is that not all the light that reaches the camera sensor is the same, and this is where the color temperature comes into play, and depending on which is our light source will have a dominant color that it will go from a more bluish or cold light to a redder or hot one. Therefore, when we are going to take a photograph, we must be clear about the type of light, the light of a light bulb is not the same as the light of the sun, and it is not the same on a sunny or cloudy day.

White balance is used to report that kind of light in the environment (color temperature), this way we will make a decision without there being a dominant color, ie without photo leaves us blue, yellow, etc. .

How does it work

Unlike our eyes, if they are able to compensate for the difference in colors of light, the camera must be informed of the type of light in the environment, so the camera can establish what the white color is and thus adjust the tones.

For example, in natural light, the RGB color combination (red, green, blue) is compensated, but as I said before we do not always have the same type of light, as when we are photographing a sunrise, in which case the light will be redder than blue, and if we do not compensate the white balance we will not get the result we want.

Take a test, look for a white wall and use different light sources to illuminate it (candle, light from the window, light bulb). If you do not adjust the white balance correctly, you will see that the tone of the wall is different in each photograph. The objective of the white balance will therefore be to inform the camera of the type of light and in this way get a photograph of the wall with the color white.

The different modes

Digital cameras are able to calculate the color temperature in the scene using the thermocolorimeter, but there are times when you can make mistakes. These errors occur most often when shooting a sunrise or sunset, it is in these cases when you have to manually adjust the white balance, although I recommend that you get used to adjust your whenever you go out to take pictures, at last, The type of light does not usually change many times.

Examples of temperature according to the type of light

1700 K: Light of a match
1850 K: Candle light
2700-3300 K: Incandescent or tungsten light (conventional domestic lighting)
3000 K: tungsten (with halogen lamp)
4000-4500 K: Mercury vapor lamp
5000 K: Fluorescent light (approximate)
5500-6000 K: Daylight, electronic flash (approximate)
5780 K: Color temperature of pure sunlight
6200 K: Xenon lamp
6500 K: Daylight, cloudy
6500-10500 K: TV screen (LCD or CRT)
28000-30000 K: Lightning
At lower degrees the light is more bluish, and the higher this redder value.

Configuration of the camera

To configure the white balance of our camera we have two options, either put it in completely manual mode, in which case we will directly inform us of the color temperature that is in the scene, or we will use some of the options that they give us, which are usually the following:

Sun: We will use it when the main source of light is the sun except in the sunrises and sunsets.
Cloudy: On cloudy days the color temperature is colder or bluish, with this option we will give a warmer tone to our photos.
Shade: Shadows have a colder color temperature, so this option will give a warmer tone.
Tungsten: In this case what we do will cool the image.
Fluorescent: Like the previous one, when our main light source is of this type we will have to cool the image.
Flash: The flash has a color temperature very similar to that of the sun, so we can use both this type and the sun when we go to use the flash of the camera.
In some cameras, especially professionals, there is the option of setting the value manually. This means that we can enter the number of the color temperature we want. For example, for a sunrise we will use a warmer value, if we use the default configuration of the camera we can put the option of cloudy, but maybe this option does not finish us to like, in this case you can always enter the values ​​by hand and raise or lower the temperature to your liking. This is my favorite option.

Another way to set the white balance is by taking a photograph of a white card so that the camera can find the correct configuration. This option, like the previous one, does not have all the cameras.

The Raw format

This is a tip that I give you whenever you go to take pictures, shoot in Raw format. This format, unlike the Jpg, allows the image to be edited without practically losing quality, so if we make a mistake when configuring the white balance in our camera, if we shoot with raw format we will have the option to correct it later in the digital processing .

On the other hand, although the Raw format allows the editing of the photograph without practically losing quality, it is recommended that you always shoot with the correct camera configuration, in this way you will not waste so much time in the development.

Examples of photographs

The picture you see at the top was taken with a color temperature of 5,950k. From my point of view, it is much better than the two examples below.

In the first photograph, the white balance is reduced to 4,200k. For my taste there is a very blue sky and the orange colors of the dawn are lost to a great extent.

In this second photograph, the opposite happens, we have increased the white balance to 8,800k leaving the photograph with a color too orange.

As you can see it is important that you learn to use the white balance, otherwise your photographs will lose a lot of charm.

Being creative with the white balance

Different color temperature in the same photograph

It may be the case that in a photograph you do not want to give the same color temperature for the whole photograph. In these cases we have to resort to some editing program, such as photoshop or lighroom and edit the photo in parts until we get the desired result.

In another article I will explain how we can do this.

Different setting for white balance

It may be the case that in any picture you take you are interested in not setting the white balance as it says “the standard”. I invite you to play with him as well as with all the options that your camera gives you, who knows, even you find a dawn in which to give a temperature a little colder leaves you an excellent result, you never know.

Different sources of light in the same shot

It may be the case that in the same photograph you have different sources of light, for example a street at dusk can be illuminated by the light bulbs of the streetlights and still receive the warm light of the sky. As each situation can be very different from the others my advice is to make different shots with different settings to see which one you like the most.

In these situations, what you can do is also configure the white balance according to the source that emits the most amount of light. For example, if you make a photograph inside your house (on a birthday for example) and you have the lights on, you must set the white balance for this type of light, since the most normal thing is that the light that enters through the windows does not be intense enough to illuminate the room, otherwise you can always turn off the interior light and take the picture.

Another case in which we can find ourselves in this situation is when we turn on the flash outdoors, although in these cases as the light of the flash and the sun have a very similar color temperature we will not have any problem when making our picture .

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