Understanding White Balance

Posted: September 19, 2010 in Photography

Photography is all about light. One of the major characteristics of light we depend on in photography is how color is communicated. The human brain is able to detect and compensate for different lighting temperatures. As a result, a white object will look white to the eye, no matter if it is viewed under sunlight, cloudy diffused light, incandescent or fluorescent light.

Every time a digital camera takes a picture, it needs to establish the white point as the basis from which the percentage of each color is derived. Because this is affected by the quality of light in a scene, most cameras offer adjustable white balance settings.

In auto mode, complex algorithms in the camera decide where the white point is. This is usually fairly accurate, though under cloudy conditions it may cause the image to be slightly blue. Incandescent or tungsten setting should be used for pictures indoors without flash. This will adjust the white balance when the subject is lit by light bulbs, such as those in a home.

Use the fluorescent mode when the scene is lit by tube lighting.  As there are several types of fluorescent lighting (cool white or warm white), you may find more than one fluorescent adjustment.

Many digital cameras also offer a manual setting in which the user has to decide what the exact white point is. A rectangular piece of white card can serve as a good reference and you can adjust white balancing by using this. Just point the camera at the white card, filling the frame in the viewfinder, and take a picture.

Below are pictures I took outside on a sunny afternoon. The camera was in ‘Program’ mode, ISO was at 200, manual focus. I used the 7 different white balance modes to show the difference between all modes.

1st Row –  Auto White Balance, Cloudy

2nd Row – Direct Sunlight, Flash

3rd Row – Flourescent, Incandescent

4th Row – Shade

Here are some pictures from indoors. Once again, shot in ‘Program’ mode, ISO was 400, and manual focus.

1st Row – Auto White Balance, Cloudy, Direct Sunlight, Flash

2nd Row – Flourescent, Incandescent, Shade


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