Learning About Color Cast and White Balance

Learning About Color Cast and White Balance

A lot of people are not aware how a light source impacts their photographs until they see the final print. Then they wonder what makes it look so different from the scene they remember capturing.

That’s because light has a temperature measured in degrees Kelvin. And different light temperatures create a color cast on our photographs. As an example, a candle is around 1500 K, a basic incandescent light bulb ~3400 K, and the flash on your camera ~5600 K. A photo taken with a light bulb will look a little yellow/orange, a flash will look like regular daylight, a florescent bulb will give an ugly green/purple hue on you photos unless you set your camera up correctly. So if you are really interested in keeping the color of the skin of the people in your photographs normal you will have to pay attention to white balance.

Using a film camera would require using filters to compensate for this color cast. But white balance is a standard feature on today’s modern digital cameras. Today, cameras have a selection of preset white balance values (auto, daylight, cloudy, florescent, incandescent, snow, beach, manual, etc.). With the exception of scenes with large areas of one color, like the beach or a snow field, the camera’s automatic white balance is usually pretty accurate.

There are two easy ways to correct white balance if the scene is too difficult for your camera to interpret correctly. One is to use the manual white balance setting on your camera if available and set your white balance for the scene. The other is in post production using software.

Using manual white balance is preferred and takes the least amount of time because you just have to set it once for your shooting conditions and your digital camera does the compensation for you on every photograph you take. You just have to remember to change your white balance when the lighting conditions change.

The other option is using your photo-editing program. Depending on the sophistication of your editor you may be able to adjust many photographs at once in a batch, or you will have to adjust each image individually which may take a lot of time depending on how many pictures you have to edit.

Each camera manufacturer has their own way of setting manual white balance. If you are interested in using the manual white balance of you camera you should take the time to read the manual.

Any one of the training programs advertised on this site include white balance training. Check them out.

What about you, any white balance tip or tricks you can share?

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