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What is white balance?

by | Learn

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Whether you are a professional photographer or do it as a hobby, you would have come across subjects that appear yellow when shot indoors, or bluish when you use a flash. Ever wonder why that happens? Well, inappropriate white balance settings are the culprit. But what is white balance?

It is important to thoroughly understand the concept of white balance and how it affects your photos because incorrect white balance settings can ruin your pictures. Improper white balance settings can cause undesirable colour casts all over, leading to unnatural skin tones and other unrealistically coloured elements in your image. Let’s explore the concept in detail and help you ensure your future shots are nothing less than perfect!

What Is White Balance?

‘White Balance’ is, basically, the colour of your main light source in the current scene and how it affects the photographs overall colour accuracy. The camera setting is used to balance the colour temperature of the images you capture. It works by adding the opposite colour to your images to make the temperature neutral and your picture colours closer to reality, eliminating any colour casts.

When you choose the right white balance settings, the whites are white and don’t appear orange or blue in your pictures anymore. The colours are adjusted to make your images look more natural.

Why Should I Be Aware Of It?

When the white balance of your pictures is not right, unwanted colour casts ruin them and make them look unreal. It affects the global colours in an image significantly and will make the image look too warm (more orange tint) or too cool (more blue tint). When images are captured with an inappropriate white balance setting, they will either be useless or will require a lot of your time to try and fix them during the post-processing stage. So, to avoid the hassle, always make sure that you have chosen the right white balance settings.

Keeping colours Close To Reality

If you want to keep the colours close to reality and make your photos look natural, try setting the white balance of your camera somewhere close to the Kelvin temperature of the lighting in the scene. Make sure that it is set to a neutral temperature value. Most modern cameras will have the option to set a custom white balance based on the light in your location. If you can’t keep adjusting it all the time, go with a neutral setting anywhere between 4500K and 6000K, set up your custom white balance or choose ‘Auto’ white balance in your camera.

How Does It Affect My Photos?

Simply put, it ruins your images, making them look more blue or orange, completely distorting the colour balance. If you are into nature photography, for instance, and want to capture the beautiful sea waves hitting the shores, an inappropriate white balance setting will result in the image being reproduced with unrealistic colours. 

What Are The Ideal White Balance Settings?

When it comes to the ideal white balance settings, there is no one setting to fit all the scenes. White may not always be a true white in different types of lighting. So, there are different white balance settings used as a standard for different types of lighting you might be shooting in. Modern cameras have various presets set to a particular Kelvin number. It, basically, adjusts the appearance of the whites depending on your chosen settings. Let’s go through some standard white balance settings available in most modern cameras today.


With this setting, the camera analyses the scene you are shooting and automatically selects the right white balance based on the ambient light in the surroundings and whether or not you’re using a flash.


With some cameras, you may be able to set custom white balances by configuring them with a white balance card. For this, you have to capture a white card (like the one here) in the same lighting that you’ll be using for your shoot, and the camera will figure out an optimal setting as it ensures the card in the image captured is fully white. That’s, probably, the most accurate way of adjusting the white balance in any situation. But you’ll need to do it all over again as soon as your lighting changes.

You can also manually adjust the white balance by setting a colour temperature in Kelvin. It can range anywhere between 2500K and 10000K, but in most cases, you’d be better off keeping it between 4500K and 6000K. 


Depending on the model, your camera will come with a set of built-in white balance presets to choose from. These include Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent and Shady in most cases.


With comparatively neutral white balance, this setting is tailor-made for capturing images outdoors under direct sunlight.


Cloudy skies mean less warmth in the ambient light. So the cloudy setting is slightly warmer and perfect for outdoor shoots on overcast days.


This white balance setting is for indoor photoshoots with incandescent lights. It cools off the orange tint of tungsten lighting by adding some blues.


This setting is tailored for shooting under fluorescent lights. While fluorescent bulbs produce fairly neutral light colours, they still have a touch of a blue tint to them. This white balance setting adds a bit of orange shade to warm it up a little.


The colours in a shady scene are a bit cooler compared to the ones in the sun. So, the shady setting adds a touch of orange to warm the scene up a little.

In conclusion…

While the White Balance of your pictures can be adjusted both in-camera and during post-processing, using the right camera setting will save you some extra work and, obviously, your precious time. Always choose the right camera setting and make your pictures pop with colour!

That’s it from us this week. Be sure to follow our social channels on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Youtube, and sign up to our newsletter, where we send a periodic round-up of articles and sneak in updates exclusively for our subscribers.

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