If you don’t understand white balance then this is your lucky week. I promise I’ll do my best to help you understand the big mystery.
Have you ever noticed after taking a photograph; you uploaded it to your computer, only to find the color didn’t look at all like the scene you know you photographed? Silly me, of course you have. Suddenly little Johnny has a blue, yellow or maybe even an orange appearance? This happens when your white balance is not set to the correct color temperature.
Let me explain. Light has a color temperature measured in a scale called Kelvins. This scale is measured from a very blue north light to a very warm candlelight. Very technical sounding, but don’t worry, I’m not trying to scare you. Just a bit of head knowledge that you can investigate on your own should you feel the need.
Did you ever buy a very expensive can of paint at the store and then bring it home to put it on your walls and gasp because that was not the color you thought you bought? That’s because light changes color. The lighting at the store where you picked up those swatches is very different than what you have at home. Just ask me. I have vomit green walls at 7:00 am each morning – don’t laugh, it wasn’t at all funny the first couple of weeks.
So even if you thought you outwitted the paint chip and brought it outside to get a good look or into your kitchen, chances are, you were still surprised once you saw it on the walls. Though you may have thought your surprise was because you were looking at a paint chip the size of your big toe, I assure you, that was not the only factor. The changes in light throughout the day cause the color you painted on your walls to be different hues, just like the photos you take at various times of the day.
Now, ordinarily you probably wouldn’t notice much of a change in color temperature unless you were having a candlelight dinner or standing a kitchen with a fluorescent light. That’s because our eyes adjust automatically and our brains tell our eyes what is white, but the camera isn’t as smart as we are and it needs to be told what is white.
Did you get all that?
In simple terms, if you want your whites to look white, you need to tell the camera what to do. Yup, you’re in charge. What a relief huh?
So what is white balancing you ask?
White balancing is what the camera does to get the colors just right on your image. By adding a bit of yellow to an image with a bluish cast or a bit of green to an image with a reddish cast, the camera is able to balance your color so it will look natural…like what you see when you take the photo.
Setting your white balance:
Most cameras, whether a DSLR or a point and shoot, have various preset white balance settings. On DSLR’s there are usually a few more than the four settings that seem to be on most point and shoot cameras. Some of them may be:
Auto – This setting allows the camera to make the white balance choice for you. Sometimes this works great and other times, not so good.
Daylight/ Sunlight – This is used for shooting in bright sun to cool down your sunny shots that have a yellow cast.
Shade – Adds a little warmth to your image with a bluish cast.
Incandescent / Tungsten – This setting is to cool down the colors when you are shooting indoors under bulb lighting.
Cloudy – You get this right? Adds a little warmth.
Fluorescent – This will add a little warmth to your cold fluorescent lighting.
Flash – This will also add a little warmth to your photos when using your flash, which can be very harsh, which is why I don’t use my flash. Ever. Okay, almost ever.
Custom – We’ll get to this in a second.
It is important to remember that by using the cloudy setting, your camera will assume that your image will have a slight blue cast because it is cloudy and it will add yellow to warm up your image. By using sunny or daylight, the camera will assume your image will be too yellow from the bright afternoon sun and it will add a bit of blue to make your image cooler. You can also set a custom white balance if your camera has a setting that allows you to get all crazy like that.
Setting a custom white balance:
If your camera has a custom white balance setting, you can manually set your white balance using a white object or what is called a gray card, (which is exactly what it sounds like, except more expensive.) You can purchase a gray card at most camera stores. I would tell you to make one, but let’s not go there yet.
Just have your subject hold the white object or gray card in the lighting which you will be using for your photographs. Then you will probably have to fill the frame with the card or white object and then press a button to set the custom WB. I can’t give you exact directions because I have no idea which camera you use, but your manual might help. Yeah you remember…. that big fat book you read? Anyway, the camera will use the object or gray card as a point of reference to apply the correct white balance for that particular lighting.
Still with me?
Now, you can also take a photo with your gray card in the frame to use during post processing in Photoshop, but I don’t want to freak you out with too much information, so I have linked to a page that explains it if your curiosity is killing you.
Okay…you have three weeks to fiddle with your white balance settings. The first part of your assignment is to set up your camera, (preferably in an outdoor location, or at least a bright room,) and use a tripod or a stable table top, wall, etc. to place your camera – please use EXTREME caution with children and pets nearby. I do not want to feel responsible for causing the loss of a camera. (If you have no safe place, skip it. I promise I won’t hunt you down and beat you with your own manual.)
Leave your white balance setting to Daylight/Direct Sun and take 4 to 6 shots of the same subject, in the exact same location, at different times of the day, with the SAME daylight setting. This is a great way to see the way light gives a color cast to your photos.
For the second part of your assignment, take your best shot with a white balance that you feel is correct for the particular lighting you are shooting in. Experiment, but more importantly, have fun!
Post your assignment on your blog and when you are completed, please come back here to sign Mr. Linky with your assignment post. Feel free to upload the second part of the assignment to the Flickr’ pool. I will post this assignment on both the Yahoo group and Flickr’ within a few days.
Photo Inspiration: Taken by Aussiegall. You can visit Aussiegall’s photostream here.
Other sites for photo inspiration:
From the Treetop Photography
Assigment 1 – Getting to Know Your Camera
Click to join ThroughTheLens-DigitalPhotography101