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What White Balance Is And How It Affects Your Photographs

Visible light is propagated in the form of electromagnetic waves. Although we see light as white, it is made up of electromagnetic waves of different colors. Violet light has the shortest wavelength and red has the longest wavelength. When all these waves fall on our eyes together, we see white light. But different wavelengths are seen and recorded differently by your camera. This means that the way your picture turns out may be different from what you saw through your viewfinder.

When you look at an object in different lights, your brain adjusts the colors and makes you see what you are typically expecting. In other words, your brain does not let the change in lighting affect your color perception. For example, if you are looking at a white marble sculpture, your eyes will always see it as a white marble sculpture. You will not see it as orange under the rising sun, and yellow at midday. Unfortunately your camera is not as intelligent as you thought it to be. The light that is recorded by your camera depends on the color temperature or the wavelength, to be precise. Your digital camera needs some help to recognize white light in different settings. If not done, your camera may record the wrong colors, making your picture look unnatural.

Most digital cameras come with the auto white balance (AWB) setting, which usually gives good pictures, but this is not certain. You may still end up with some unsatisfactory pictures. ‘White Balance’ means white objects should look white in your photographs. Isn’t that simple? If the white balance is set right, your camera takes care of the other colors, giving you good pictures.

If your photographs are still looking artificial, you may want to be more in control. In order to do this, you can set your camera to ‘Manual’ mode and set the right option to help your camera understand what true white color is. Once your camera understands this, it can correctly interpret all color temperatures, giving you natural looking pictures. On a sunny location use the ‘Daylight’ setting under the ‘Manual’ menu. If it’s cloudy, switch to the ‘Cloudy’ setting. ‘Tungsten’ setting is for indoor incandescent lighting. These preset modes will give your camera the right white balance in different conditions, resulting in pictures that are pleasing to the eye.

If your pictures are still unsatisfactory, you can use the ‘custom white balance’ setting. Place a piece of white paper in front of your camera to completely cover the frame, and then press the ‘set’ button. Now you have helped your camera to recognize white color. Your camera will do the rest.

You may want to read further if you want to understand some technical details.

In photography, color temperature expressed in ‘degrees Kelvin’, is a way of defining the color of a light source. Colors recorded by digital sensors at higher temperatures (midday) are called cold colors (blue-violet-green) and colors recorded at lower temperatures (sunrise, sunset) are called warm colors (orange, yellow). Sounds absurd doesn’t it? But that’s how your camera thinks. No wonder some of your beach photos had a blue tinge and some of your indoor pictures looked unnaturally orange.

If your camera’s white balance is off the mark, warm light bulbs may produce an orange glow in your pictures whereas a fluorescent tube may produce a green color on the photograph. Also a bright sunny environment may have a bluish cast. You may have to adjust the color temperature in degrees Kelvin. To set the exact color temperature for different environments, your owner’s manual is the best guide.

Once you learn the art of taking natural pictures, you may want to deliberately tweak your camera’s temperature settings in order to get artistic pictures, just the way professionals do.

August 14, 2015

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