How to Select the Best White Balance for Your Photography

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Using White Balance

The purpose of white balance is to tell your digital camera what the true nature of white is. Light changes all the time, and this can alter the fundamental character of the images. The camera reads the light and produces an image, but since the light is different at all times it can mean that all the colors could be out of balance for a clean photograph. White balance allows the camera to know what white is and you can do this by either focusing in on a white card and setting the manual white balance or by using a white balance preset, which will set the white balance according to different color temperatures. The best white balance is then the white balance that gives you the results that you are looking for, whether this is a “true white” or a more colored tone.

Manual White Balance

Manual white balance is going to require you to go through a step by step process where the camera attunes itself to the color of a given situation. Here you will place a white card so it takes up the entire view of the camera, then hold down the manual white balance so that the image on the card turns from the varied shade of white it is to a clean “true white.” This is usually considered the best white balance for standard digital photography since it is going to balance all the colors against what they should be, compensating for any light changes. This may or may not end up being the best white balance setting for your purpose depending on what you want to get and how you have lit the location yourself. For example, if you have used a lot of controlled lighting as well as colored gels to get the location you want you may want to employ the manual white balance. If this is the case then you will want to position the white card outside of any colored lights that you want to appear in the frame otherwise your white balance will be off since it will compensate for the light on the card itself.

White Balance Presets

Automatic white balance may set the white balance to a specific color temperature or to another lighting scenario so that it will match for this. This may be daylight balanced light measured at 5600k, or Tungsten light at 3200k. These settings will then compensate for that lighting specific, or you can try to use them to actually alter the light in the scenario. For example, you may want to warm up or cool off the color in an image by using one of these white balance presets. There is no best white balance preset for this purpose as each situation is different, and you will have to go through a few of them to find the one that gives you the color balance that you want.

Tricking White Balance

The best white balance for you may be one that actually makes the image look far from how it actually appears, and to have the colors fundamentally altered. The process for doing this is called tricking white balance, and you do this by making the white card that you are using the manual white balance on look a slightly different color. The camera will then compensate to make that card white, altering the way it reads all colors. There are a number of different ways to do this, and you can try using a card that is not white or putting a colored gel over the lens. For example, if you want to warm up the image you could put a daylight gel over the lens when you do the white balance. Once you finish tricking the white balance the image will then appear warmer than it did.