Edited by Nataly Bogorad

July 10, 2019

What Is White Balance in Photography?

Digital devices do not perceive and process images the way the human eyes do. There are different tones in colors and appearance that a device shows, away from what the eyes see. Hence, understanding white balance is important. So, what is white balance? Let’s see!

What is White Balance?

Here’s the definition. White balance in photography is a color management scheme/setting that allows you to tone down the temperatures of other colors, to make an image appear to be less saturated. To manage the color property, then there is a need to set a white balance to adjust the color tone of the picture and to make it appear as natural as possible. Some camera devices provide the options to manually adjust a white balance.

Why is White Balance Needed?

White balance is needed in photography because a camera device captures an image that has many sources casting light on it. These light sources determine the color saturation that is perceived by the camera. For example, a fluorescent light source would cast a blue light to a scene, while a tungsten bulb would make a yellow scene. Viewing these scenes or objects, naturally, sparks no difference for the human eyes because they automatically adjust to them. However, when viewed on capturing devices, they don’t appear so. The color temperature of a captured image might be cool based on the cool light from the blue sky or warm because of the sunset.

How to Adjust White Balance

Step 1: When you are taking a picture in the daylight, it is important to have your camera set according to what you see from your sample shots. Having the camera on auto mode might help, but it does not always do the fix. At night, at best, you would have to manually set your camera.

The following are the preset camera mode you can follow to set your white balance under different light conditions. Each of the preset options tells the camera to how much it should adjust the light color of the scene in what it captures and processes. A prevalent blue color in a photo or a scene means the picture is cool; the greater the blue intensity, the colder the picture or scene. On the other hand, you when the photo or scene tends towards yellow color, it is said to be warm. These temperature terms would be used in this short tutorial.

Tungsten: The mode is suitable for a picture to be taken indoor under incandescent lightening (bulb). A scene considered to be in the tungsten temperature realm is warm. Hence, the tungsten mode on the camera signals the scene and helps to cool down the colors in the picture.

Fluorescent: This feature is common under low white light conditions, and sometimes with blue light. So, this mode helps to warm up the scene.

Daylight/Sunny/Sunshine: This is common with some advanced cameras, more characteristically fit than the tungsten capture option. It adjusts a camera’s color settings to the normal white balance (normal depends on how the manufacturers defined their ‘normal’).

Cloudy: It warms up the scene away from blue refractions perceived from a camera’s aperture.

Flash: A flash is used when the temperature is perceived to be cool or the lightning source is not sufficient. It involves the sparkling of light to warm up picture shots.

Shade: The image appears cooler unlike the shots taken in the ‘daylight’ mode.

Sometimes, you have these preset functions shown with symbols or their first letters, depending on the type of camera. You can check your camera’s manual to get familiar with the symbols and preset white balance functions. Some manuals also provide the white balance chart. Here is an example of such a chart.

Step 2: For those with complex cameras, for example, a DSLR, if the automatically programmed functions might not give you the desired result, then you can go on to define what color you want your scene to be. Simply hold up a white card in front of your camera; your camera sensor/monitor would perceive what typical white balance you want with the shot.

Wondering about how to get perfect in setting white balance? It is by constant practicing. Here are some tips on how to change white balance after post-production

If you didn’t get the setting right for your camera, before taking the picture, there is still a way you can salvage the image, even without any fault. In fact, you could carry out a post-production white balancing effect on a picture if you would like to use a picture for other purposes apart from why you had originally taken them. Such a purpose might be an advertisement, or for practice. However, you need a good photo editor tool to do so. Truth be told, it might be a bit trickier to have an image with too much color saturation fixed for white balance after the shat had been taken.

Step 1: Open your photo editor and load the image in its window.

Step 2: Look for the lighting or coloring option. For some software, the option to set the white balance is in the lighting tray while for some, it is under the color setting.

Step 3: Under either of the options in Step 2 above, check for the one that has ‘color temperature’. You should have a slide bar to set the white balance to whatever temperature you want, accordingly.

Step 4: Alternatively, if the temperature gotten from the slide bar is not something you really want to see, then you can repeat the process from Step 2, and then instead of using the slide bar option to set the temperature of the color, you can go ahead for the option, ‘Neutral Color Picker’.

This function provides the option of a wand to allow you to select what parts of a photo that you would like to affect the color temperature adjustment. Once on ‘Neutral color picker’, click on the eyedropper button. After that, move to the photo area and look for a point or spot that you know is a what spot (or was, as at when the picture was taken), then click on the white spot. The temperature of the entire photo would be balanced based on the white spot that you have chosen.

For a perfect effect, some people import a white color card into the photo, and then click on the white color on the card, as the setter for the white balance.

Some people use this step instead of Step 3 or they’d rather use this step, first, before the previous.

Now, you can go ahead and try to do white balance correction on your own. We have emphasized the need for a good picture editor tool for a post-production white balancing effect; Movavi Photo Editor is a great tool to help you work this out.

Movavi Photo Editor

The easiest way to turn any snapshot into an eye candy

  • Improve quality and retouch blemishes
  • Add effects and filters
  • Crop, straighten, and flip pictures
  • Change image backgrounds and remove objects