White balance is a fundamental aspect of photography that refers to the adjustment of colors in an image to ensure that white objects appear neutral and without any color cast. It is a critical parameter for achieving accurate and natural-looking colors in photographs, especially when shooting under different lighting conditions.
Light sources emit different colors, which can affect the appearance of objects in a photo. For instance, natural sunlight has a different color temperature than tungsten or fluorescent light. If the camera’s white balance is not properly set, the resulting image may appear too warm (orange/yellow) or too cool (blue).
Adjusting the white balance helps maintain color accuracy and ensures that the colors in the photo look as they would in real life. White balance is commonly measured in Kelvin (K), a unit that represents the color temperature of light sources.
Kelvin Values of Common Objects and Light Sources
- Candle Flame: around 1850K – 2000K
- Incandescent Light Bulb (Tungsten): around 2400K – 3200K
- Sunrise/Sunset: around 2000K – 3500K
- Household Halogen Bulb: around 2800K – 3200K
- Fluorescent Light: around 3000K – 7000K (varies with type)
- Moonlight: around 4000K – 5000K
- Overcast Sky: around 6000K – 7000K
- Daylight (Direct Sunlight): around 5500K – 6500K
- Electronic Flash: around 5500K – 6000K
- Shade (Open Shade): around 7500K – 10000K
- Blue Sky: around 10000K – 20000K
Keep in mind that these values are approximate and can vary depending on atmospheric conditions, geographic location, and other factors. Additionally, the white balance setting of your camera can also affect the perceived color temperature in the final photograph.
Common White Balance Settings
- Auto White Balance (AWB): The camera automatically adjusts the white balance based on the detected lighting conditions. It’s a convenient option for many situations, but it may not always produce the most accurate results.
- Daylight: This setting is ideal for capturing images in natural sunlight, which typically has a color temperature of around 5500K to 6500K.
- Cloudy: Suitable for shooting on overcast days when the light is cooler than daylight. It adds warmth to the image, typically around 6000K to 7500K.
- Shade: Intended for shooting in open shade or areas with cool, bluish lighting. It adds more warmth to the image compared to the cloudy setting.
- Tungsten (Incandescent): Used for compensating the warm, orange tones of tungsten lighting, which is around 2500K to 3500K.
- Fluorescent: For correcting the greenish cast often found in images taken under fluorescent lighting, which can vary in color temperature depending on the type of fluorescent bulb.
- Flash: This setting balances the color temperature when using a camera’s built-in or external flash.
- Custom White Balance: Some advanced cameras allow you to create a custom white balance by capturing a reference image of a white or gray card under the current lighting conditions.
Correctly setting the white balance is crucial for achieving accurate colors in your photographs. Many modern cameras also offer post-processing options to adjust the white balance during image editing. My Samsung Galaxy S20 allows you to adjust a specific Kelvin value under the white balance (WB) setting in the Pro menu. One of the great things about digital photography is that we no longer have to use white cards and color-cast removing filters in order to get accurate colors. If you shoot in RAW format, you can easily adjust the white balance in post-processing software later. The original image stays untouched and unprocessed by the camera. This means that as long as you shoot in RAW, you can simply ignore the white balance setting.
If you do not use RAW and shoot JPEGs instead, then you will need to learn how to adjust the white balance on your camera, since adjusting the white balance later can be quite damaging to the image, and you might never be able to get the colors right.
Again, in most circumstances, your camera will do a good job of guessing the correct color temperature, but there will be cases where the camera will be fooled by lighting conditions and give you bad colors. That’s when you will need to manually change it on your camera.
- Kelvin, in the context of photography and lighting, is a unit of measurement used to quantify the color temperature of light sources. It is named after the Scottish physicist William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin, who made significant contributions to the field of thermodynamics and proposed an absolute temperature scale. The Kelvin scale is based on the concept of absolute zero, which is the point at which all molecular motion ceases. In photography, Kelvin is used to measure the color temperature of light in degrees Kelvin (K), where higher values represent cooler (bluer) light and lower values indicate warmer (redder) light. Understanding Kelvin is essential for setting accurate white balance in photography to ensure that colors in images appear natural and true to life. [Back]
- Johnson, R. (2019). Understanding White Balance. Digital Photography School. https://digital-photography-school.com/understanding-white-balance/
- Davis, L. (2018). A Simple Guide to Understanding White Balance in Photography. Fstoppers. https://fstoppers.com/originals/simple-guide-understanding-white-balance-photography-252987
- “Understanding White Balance – A Beginner’s Guide” (UPDATED ON NOVEMBER 6, 2020) https://photographylife.com/definition/white-balance
- “Adjusting White Balance for Astrophotography” (accessed August 6, 2023) https://astrobackyard.com/white-balance-astrophotography/
- “William Thomson, Baron Kelvin.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., www.britannica.com/biography/William-Thomson-Baron-Kelvin.
- Johnson, R. “Understanding White Balance.” Digital Photography School, www.digital-photography-school.com/understanding-white-balance/.