Introduction to White Balance

White balance is one of the more confusing aspects of digital photography and is one of the things that really baffles people when they go from simpler point and shoots to more advanced DSLR cameras and can’t figure out why the color of their images is so bad. Today we take a look at white balance and how it affects the color of your photos.

White Balance is used to tell the camera what the current value of the light sources is. Here is a good example maybe some of you have experienced, you take a picture indoors with a lamp next to your subject and when you look at the picture there is a bad orange color across the picture. This is because an incandescent bulb has a very warm (expressed in degrees Kelvin) temperature of the light (red side of the spectrum). Another common example is taking photos in the snow and ending up with a blue cast on everything because the sun’s reflection off snow becomes a very low temperature (blue side of the spectrum). In many cases, a camera’s auto white balance will do a pretty good job but properly setting you camera to the correct white balance can dramatically improve your photos.

Here are three examples of the same shot with different white balance settings:




Setting the camera on an indoor setting results in an orange cast while setting the balance to a tungsten light results in a blue cast, but setting the balance to a shade setting results in a good looking picture.

Of course, it’s not always as simple as selecting the right setting on the camera, especially when you have mixed sources of light such as a fluorescent light combined with a flash. To overcome this you will need to do a custom white balance. We will go into much more detail when we discuss this in a future article, but how can you quickly get a decent white balance?

There are several excellent products on the market to help you such as the ExpoDisc or ExpoCap and card systems like the WhiBal cards. The simplest thing you can do is run over to your local camera supply store and get a gray card, just ask, they will know what you want. When you are ready to take a picture, you take a custom white balance of the scene by shooting the card. Consult your camera’s manual for instructions on the exact procedure for setting the custom white balance. A little practice and your photos will look MUCH better with very little effort.


Kerry Garrison lives in Castle Rock, Colorado with his wife and two dogs. With 10 years of experience shooting products and 5 years of experience in the wedding industry, Kerry brings a good deal of technical know-how and can explain topics in easy-to-understand terms.

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5 Responses

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  1. June 17, 2008

    […] is white balance? While we have another article that goes into more detail, let’s do a quick summary refresher about what white balance is. […]

  2. February 5, 2009

    […] you need a good white balance. The ExpoCap is our favorite tool for this task. Check out our recent article on white balance to help explain why a tool like this is important. Retail Price: $79 […]

  3. February 5, 2009

    […] White balance is an age old problem that is becoming all too modern with so many people moving to digital SLRs. Today’s cameras all have a pretty decent auto white balance settings, from the basic point/shot cameras to the pro SLRs. There are also several “fixed” settings on many of the simple cameras and most of the SLRs like Sunlight, Shade, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent, etc. But as many of you may know, these settings are not always perfect, and sometimes far from it. […]

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