For a greater understanding of White Balance generally, check out my previous post on the subject. In this post I will guide you through how to use your digital camera’s preset White Balance Settings to take more control over your photographs. White Balance is all about controlling the colors in your image.

The Usual Suspects
Most digital cameras have a handful of preset White Balance settings which are intended to make adjusting the White Balance simple, and they do make it simple. Fortunately most cameras carry the same presets, so there is little need to relearn them when you switch cameras. These preset White Balance settings are only settings for particular situations recommended by the manufacturer. In fact, their is a more direct method of setting your White Balance by calibrating the color temperature based on a Kelvin scale; this is a more advanced feature, found on high end point and shoot digital cameras and SLR’s, check your manual to see if you have it. I will write more about manual adjustment of the color temperature in a separate post.

The most common preset White Balance settings are Sunny, Cloudy, Shady, Fluorescent, Incandescent. These settings are recommended color temperature settings for particular situations.

What About Auto White Balance
Auto White Balance is a whole different animal. It does not set the color temperature based on a particular lighting situation, rather it sets the camera to one of the presets, based on what it determines is the proper scene. So, instead of the you deciding what the lighting situation is, the camera takes a guess and makes the decision for you. This is a great feature, which lets you focus on all the other things going on with your shooting, but sometimes you will find that it guesses wrong, and the scene has taken on an improper, unnatural coloring. That’s when you want to think about changing to one of the presets, or if your camera has it, to your Kelvin scale.

What’s The Light Source?
The most common presets are Sunny, Shady, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent. The preset scenes can be categorized into two general circumstances, indoors and outdoors. Sunny, Shady, and Cloudy settings are intended for outdoor use. Fluorescent and Incandescent refer to types of light bulbs and are thus intended for indoor use. Their intended uses are pretty straightforward, e.g., if you are outdoors and it is Sunny, select the Sunny White Balance setting; or if indoors and the predominant light source is an incandescent bulb, choose the Incandescent setting.

What’s Going On
White is what White Balance is all about. Different light sources will cast different color light, affecting how colors appear to your eye and your camera. Adjusting the White Balance setting instructs the camera that white has taken on a different hue, other than white. The camera takes this information and balances out the colors, so that white appears white, and other colors appear truer to life.

The Preset Color Temperatures
The preset White Balance settings all have corresponding color temperatures. When you select a particular preset you are telling the camera that white is appearing as that particular color temperature. The camera does the rest.

Now, it is not necessary to now what the particular color temperatures are for each preset. It is helpful in understanding what you are doing when you select one of the preset White Balance settings. Also, even when colors appear correctly, you may wish to manipulate the White Balance for a particular effect, adding a green cast or red cast to an otherwise ordinary scene; an understanding of the corresponding color temperatures is then highly recommended.

The Sunny setting is preset for white. The sun’s light is white, so it makes sense. When you are in bright sunlight or in other situations where white appears as white, choose the Sunny setting. The corresponding Kelvin color temperature for white is 5500K.

A lower color temperature correlates with a redder color, while a higher color temperature correlates with a bluer color.

The redder settings are the indoors settings, Incandescent is redder than Tungsten. Sunlight falls in the middle, as white. The two other outdoor settings are bluer settings, Shady being bluer than Cloudy. So the settings are, from most red to most blue, Incandescent, Tungsten, Sunny, Cloudy, Shady.

The White Balancing Act
What happens is when you choose a lower temperature setting, indicating that white appears red/orange, the camera will balance out the colors by making the image more blue. Unsurprisingly, the opposite is also true, when you choose a higher temperature setting, the camera makes the image more red/orange.

Shooting For Color
Now you should know enough to go out and capture the colors you want. Remember that the presets are only guides; knowing how the different presets are related on the color temperature scale will let you take greater control of your colors and your light. When choosing one of your cameras preset White Balance settings results in the wrong colors, you will know which setting to turn to next.

Getting Creative With Color
Thus far this post was concerned with capturing the “correct” colors, which are “natural”" looking. When I shoot I generally seek to capture realistic colors, but there are the odd times where I want to add some unnatural coloring to the image. I may want to accentuate the lighting or take “natural” colors and want to add a hue to the image. This is where understanding how the preset White Balance settings are positioned in relation to each other on the color temperature scale becomes particularly important.

Other Ways Of Adjusting The White Balance
There are typically a couple of other ways to adjust the White Balance on digital cameras. I already mentioned Auto White Balance in this post, additionally there is custom White Balance and the Kelvin Scale. Custom White Balance is much simpler to use, and takes very little understanding of color temperatures or anything else for that matter, and the results are typically great. Using the Kelvin scale might seem daunting at first, but I find that it is actually easier to use than the preset White Balance settings, and it gives me the ability to fine tune the color temperature beyond use of the presets alone. Unfortunately, Kelvin scale color temperature adjustment is limited to the more pricey digital cameras. I will discuss this more in depth in the next couple of posts.