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Setting Your Camera's White Balance

Have you ever taken a photo that came out looking too yellow, blue, or green? White balance is a digital camera setting that removes unrealistic color casts so objects that appear white in person are rendered white in your photo. Our eyes can accurately judge what is white under different light sources, but digital cameras often have difficulty with Auto White Balance (AWB).

To get good white balance, take your camera out of AWB. Your white balance setting can be accessed either in your camera’s menu or using a dedicated button labeled “WB” on your camera’s body.

White Balance Presets

Because AWB isn’t perfect, cameras have white balance presets which will give you approximate white balance for common lighting settings. The typical options are incandescent (a light bulb icon), fluorescent (a fluorescent tube), daylight (the sun), flash (a jagged arrow), cloudy (a cloud), and shade (a house with shade on one side). Presets work well as long as the light comes from a single source.

More complex lighting scenarios involving multiple light sources of different color temperatures are challenging for your camera. An example of “mixed lighting” is where you have incandescent lights combined with some natural light coming through the windows. Your camera’s white balance presets can only compensate for a single type of light at a time.

Set Your White Balance Manually

For tricky lighting situations, including “mixed lighting”, you’ll get the best colors if you ignore the presets altogether and set your white balance manually. A single color temperature will still be applied to the entire scene, but the results will be better than can be achieved with the presets.

Generally, setting white balance manually involves taking a photo of something white or mid-gray in the same light that is illuminating your subject. You will then select your camera’s Custom White Balance mode and tell the camera to use the photo you just took of the white or mid-gray content as a reference.

  1. Photograph Something White or Mid-Gray. First, photograph something white or mid-gray that is illuminated by the same light source affecting your subject. This could be a wall, the ceiling, an item of clothing, or a sheet of paper or card. Whatever you use, it needs to fill, or mostly fill, the frame. Your camera will use this reference photo to set the white balance correctly.

  2. Select Your Camera’s Custom White Balance Mode. Next, choose your camera’s Custom White Balance mode from the menu or WB button.

  3. Tell Your Camera to Use Your Reference Photo. Finally, tell your camera which photo to use as its reference. From the "Custom WB” mode, press the “SET” button. The camera will then show you the last photo you took (you should see the reference photo you took in step one). If not, keep scrolling until the reference photo is displayed. Once the reference photo is displayed, press the “SET” button again. Your camera will now use the white balance derived from this reference photo for all future photos, until you switch white balance modes or choose a different reference photo.



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