This post is intended to explain White Balance for those who don’t know what the term refers to. This post is not intended as a step by step instruction on how to set your White Balance. Later this week I will post two entries on how to actually use the White Balance settings. The first of the two posts will focus on preset White Balance Settings and the second will focus on manually adjusting the White Balance based on a color temperature.

The White Balance setting on your digital camera is an important tool for getting great shots. The White Balance setting on your digital camera allows you to change the color of the light in your images. If properly used, adjusting the White Balance will allow you to capture more natural looking colors in your shots.

Color Of Light
Different light sources have different colors; all light is not the same. Incandescent bulb light is more yellowish than light from fluorescent bulbs or sunlight. Generally speaking, sunlight is considered white light.

As a result of the different colors of light, your images will capture the colors differently, depending on the light source. To make sure that your images capture more natural looking colors you can manually adjust the White Balance to correct for different light sources.

The White In White Balance
The reason that the setting is called White Balance, is because it uses white as a guide. Different light sources at different angles will produce different colors in real life and in your images. Any white areas in your image will pick up a different cast depending on the light source, and the purpose of adjusting your White Balance is to produce natural looking whites and other colors. That is to say, the purpose of setting your White Balance is to counteract the light source, so that any white areas in your image appear white, instead of picking up the color of the light source. If you adjust the white in the scene properly, the other colors in the scene will be adjusted properly as well.

The Balance In White Balance
The White Balance setting is a counteracting mechanism, or a balancing mechanism. Colors have been designated a temperature on a Kelvin scale, and on that scale White is 5500K. They lower the temperature the more reddish the color, the higher the temperature, the more bluish the color. When your taking pictures indoors by incandescent light, considered around 2800-3300K, you will notice that any white in your scene will appear orange, and generally speaking everything in the image will have taken on an orange hue. To make the white lose its orange tint, you need to tell your camera that the white appears around 2800-3000K or use the Incandescent Bulb setting, and the white should appear white. In effect, when you tell your camera what color the White appears, the camera balances out the color temperature to produce images with the proper colors.

What’s Wrong With Auto White Balance
Although Auto White Balance is a great asset, Auto White Balance has its pitfalls. Setting your camera to Auto White Balance instructs your camera to guess as to what the color of the light is, and how to compensate. If you had no idea what White Balance was before you read this post, then your camera is probably currently set on Auto White Balance. You will still great results on Auto White Balance, most of the time, but there are other times where the camera will guess wrong, and your friends will turn out ghostly pale and greenish, or maybe orange as carrots.

Once you learn how to set your White Balance you will know how to capture the proper lighting and color in your photos, capturing the mood and feeling of the scene. You may choose to adjust the White Balance for all your shots, or you may decide to still use the Auto White Balance, while switching White Balance settings when your camera’s Auto White Balance gets it wrong.

White Balance Settings, Is It Cloudy?
The White Balance Settings should not be confused with Auto White Balance. While Auto White Balance guesses as to the color of light and how to compensate for each of your images; the White Balance Settings allow you to tell the camera what the light source is, taking a certain amount of control away from your camera. Your digital camera likely has several presets to allow you to adjust the White Balance. Typically these settings include, Sunny, Cloudy, Shady, Fluorescent, Incandescent. Setting the White Balance is a simple matter of matching the White Balance Setting to the situation, e.g., if you are shooting outdoors and it is cloudy, change the White Balance to the Cloudy setting.

Custom White Balance
Most digital cameras have a Custom White Balance feature. Although the actual mechanics differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, they are generally the same. It involves pointing your camera at a white area in your scene, and hitting the shutter button. The camera then takes a color temperature reading off the area which you selected and compensates accordingly. Very convenient and very accurate.

Manually Adjusting White Balance
If you have a digital SLR camera or an advanced point and shoot your camera, it may allow you to manually adjust the White Balance, based on color temperature. Similarly to the presets, adjusting the White Balance manually is a simple matter of adjusting the color temperature to the scene. The color temperature is based on a Kelvin scale; certain colors are designated a temperature value on a Kelvin scale. The lower on the Kelvin scale, the more reddish the color; and the higher on the Kelvin scale, the “more bluish the color; 5500 Kelvin is considered white. The reason to use the Kelvin scale is that it gives you even greater control than the presets, allowing you to finely tune the White Balance.

Note that a more orange/red color has a lower corresponding Kelvin temperature than a blue color. So red is actually “cooler” than blue, which may be counterintuitive to most people. For instance, it can be said that a cooler Kelvin color temperature produces a “warmer” feeling in a scene, making things more orange or red.

How To Adjust Your White Balance
Like I initially stated, this post is only meant to explain White Balance is and I hope it has accomplished that goal. Next I will write a more practical guide to using White Balance, rather than just explaining it. I hope that this post also gives most of you enough information to go out and experiment with your White Balance. Experimentation and actually shooting are probably the best teachers, especially with the instant feedback of an LCD screen.