Tips And Tricks

Perfect White Balance - Getting it right with camera presets

White Balance

Many times I'm sure you've taken a shot and said to yourself, "That colour doesn't look right." It seems to yellow, blue, green or pink. Believe me you're not the only one who has come across this phenomenon. For many of us, this thing called "white balance" (WB) is something that our camera just "does" for us. We don't see it happening and it's only when things go wrong that we start scratching our heads wondering what we can do about it.

The job of a camera is to record light and unlike the human eye, cameras need to adjust for different types of light sources (colour temperatures). Each light source we come across, be it light bulbs, daylight, fluorescent lights or cloudy days give off different colour temperatures. For example, compared to daylight on a sunny day, light bulbs have a yellowish orange colour cast. When we're inside viewing a scene lit with light bulbs our brains filter out this colour cast and to our eyes the colour is right. Our camera on the other hand, needs to use a feature called white balance to adjust for this so that the light can be reproduced as white not as a yellowish orange.

White balance as mentioned above is a feature that every camera has. Automatic is the default setting for white balance and the camera will try to guess what the correct setting is. With the camera taking care of white balance, it's one less thing for the photographer to worry about but unfortunately like most automatic features, it's not foolproof. Automatic white balance works about 90% of the time so it's not a bad idea to leave the camera on the auto WB setting. However, since this doesn't always work, lets look at a few ways you can help the camera out ensuring you get a shot with more accurate colour.

Using The White Balance Presets:

Every camera has built in presets that will allow the photographer to step in and override what the camera thinks is right. This is one of the most useful and easiest ways to deal with situations where the camera gets confused with regards to white balance. In order to get at your white balance presets, there are usually two possible ways to access them. Firstly, (and this is more common on DSLRs) there will be a button somewhere on the camera labelled "WB" you can press this button and you will get your various white balance presets. The other way to access your white balance presets is to press the function button on your camera which may bring up a list of other options in addition to white balance. Please note that some manufacturers consider white balance to be an advanced function so in order to change it, you have to move your exposure dial to the "P" mode. Please note, you may not be able to change your white balance in any of the scene modes.

Normally, you'll adjust your white balance after you take your first shot since you will have reviewed the picture and decided that the colour doesn't look right. Before you take your next picture open up your white balance presets and then have a look at the light sources that are lighting your subject. At this point it's a game of match the preset to the light you're shooting under. Depending on how your camera labels the white balance presets, you may have to decode icons that indicate the white balance setting or you may get a text description of the setting itself using some terms that don't always make sense.

Here's a chart that should help you decode symbols and terms:

Small White Balance Chart

Using Presets Creatively

In most cases, using the presets are a great way to help the camera achieve the correct white balance. One of the greatest things about the presets are that they are generally simple to use and once you know the symbols, you are on your way to better pictures. What most people don't consider trying is using the presets creatively to achieve a certain effect. The next time you're out shooting, try taking a few shots of the same subject and change the white balance from shot to shot. As you experiment you'll find that creative use of white balance can do wonders to give an image a different look.

What happens when the presets don't work?

As you start adjusting your presets, you'll eventually come to the realization that the presets don't work perfectly for every situation. Stay tuned for part 2 where we'll go over how to manually set the white balance and achieve perfectly accurate colour.

Using White Balance Creatively

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