Whitest Whites

Want to keep your whites white and your colors bold and beautiful?

Well, I have the solution for you! Nope, I’m not trying to sell you on the stain fighting power of Tide. I’d like to talk a little about the magic of white balance. What is white balance? It’s simply a camera setting which helps you achieve accurate color in your photographs.

Instead of explaining the technical side of white balance, I’d like to teach you why you need to use it, and how.

WHY? If your white balance isn’t set correctly, your whites may end up looking dirty and your colors may look dull or inaccurate. (An incorrect color balance is kind of like washing your clothes in dirty water. They come out of the wash looking kind of the same, but duller and not very new.) This is often one MAJOR aspect of a photo that keeps it looking like a snap shot instead of a professional photograph.

The following example is a portrait of my cutie pie, Vanessa, playing with my light meter. She was lit using my studio strobes, (which are like the flash on a camera) so the white balance was set to “flash” in order to achieve the correct color setting (2nd image in from left). The other examples show what the image looks like with some incorrect white balance settings being used.

HOW? Pay attention to the type of lighting that’s being used in your scene and match it with the appropriate setting on your camera.

For example, let’s imagine it’s a sunny day, the sky is blue and you’re outside taking pictures in the direct sunlight. Let’s check the chart to see which setting to select:

Well, this time it’s obvious, you would select the “Daylight” setting. This should give you accurate color in your photograph. Now let’s say you remembered Ben’s earlier lesson on outdoor lighting and realized, “Hey! I’m so silly. I need to find some shade to photograph in, because I’m shooting a portrait of my cute daughter and shade is great for outdoor portraits!” Well, since you’ve moved to the shade you will need to select the “Shade” white balance setting for accurate color.

Now what if you’re in a situation where none of these settings seems to be the only answer?

What if you’re shooting indoors, next to a window, while the room is lit with a lamp? When more than one light source is in the scene it’s called “mixed lighting.” Mixed lighting can be corrected using a “Custom white balance.” Different cameras have different ways of setting a custom white balance. Read your manual to learn how to set a custom white balance on your camera. Setting a correct white balance is simple, fast, and it’s worth the effort to get great color accuracy and saturation.

Seriously, trust me on this one and go try this right now with your camera. Learn how to set a custom white balance too. Once you have the hang of it I’m sure you’ll agree with me that white balance is the bomb diggy.

Once again, this is a tool to help you achieve the image you want to create. Sometimes an “incorrect” white balance can create a really cool image, so play around with this setting and let’s make some fun photographs.:)

Also, if I get enough requests I’ll write a lesson on HOW white balance works… if you’re interested. Please post comments and questions in the comments section:D

January 25, 2009 - 12:33 am

Kari - WOW Ben, that is some awesome information!!! It will help many people! You are awesome!!!

February 2, 2009 - 1:36 am

Anna - Thanks Ben! this post helped me finally understand that function on my camera! I put this info to good use today when I needed to photograph the true colors of a room for picking out house paint for a client!

February 2, 2009 - 1:46 am

Leavitt Photo - I’m glad you liked the lesson and were able to put it to good use already. That’s great!

Isn’t white balance so funky fresh?!? Yeah, it is.

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