Tips & Tutorials

[Lesson 8] Getting to know White Balance

Light appears in different colours (e.g. Light from a fluorescent lamp tends to be greenish while light from an electric bulb tends to be red or orange). White balance corrects the impact that the colour of light has on a picture. Let's take a look at the types and effects of white balance. (Reported by: Ryosuke Takahashi)

Knowing the meaning of White Balance and understanding its use

Unlike a film camera, a digital camera is able to take photos with the right hue under any light source. This function to adjust the hue is known as white balance. The basic concept of white balance lies in “reproducing a white object in white under any light source”. It corrects the colour tone that arises when a photo is taken under a specific light source by enhancing its complementary colour (clashing colour). The photos below are all taken in daylight with only the white balance setting changed. The colour tone that is generated in each white balance photo shows the complementary colour when corrected. A colour filter is used to correct these colour tones in film photography. The basic principle is also similar in a digital camera with white balance being equivalent to a colour filter. However, there is no corresponding “Auto White Balance (AWB)” in a colour filter. AWB is sufficient for normal use but it is probably good to use various types of white balance when the hue does not match under specific conditions.

Daylight

Colours appear normally in daylight on a clear day. A highly adaptable white balance that can be used in general outdoor photography.

Shade

The hue is adjusted so that colours appear normally in outdoor shady areas on a clear day. A slightly red hue is present when used in the sun on a clear day.

Cloudy

The hue is adjusted assuming a cloudy day with no sun. The extent of the correction is slightly weaker than shade.

Tungsten Light

White balance that corrects the hue from tungsten light. The blueness appears stronger as it suppresses the reddish tone caused by the tungsten light.

White Fluorescent Light

The hue is corrected using white balance from the tungsten light. The blueness appears stronger as it suppresses the reddish tone caused by the tungsten light.

Flash

White Balance that corrects the blue tone of the light from a flash. The trend of correction is similar to the “Cloudy” effect.

Other White Balances

AWB

Automatically corrects specific colours emitted by all light sources. Also corrects colours of light emitted by a combination of light sources. Normally set to AUTO when taking photos.

Manual

White Balance that corrects in the basis of a standard customized by photo data taken of a white or grey subject under lighting of the photography site. 

Colour Temperature Setting

White Balance in which a numerical value of the wavelength of a colour (Colour Temperature) is entered into the camera. A colorimeter is required for taking pictures in this mode. This option is not available on some models.

Using White Balance as a Method of Expression

White Balance constantly attempts to reproduce the correct hue. However, there are also situations in which the correct hue in terms of data may not be desirable in photographic expression. Moreover, there are also techniques to express hue by deliberately setting a different white balance for a variety of uses.

Ryosuke Takahashi

Born in Aichi in 1960, Takahashi started his freelance career in 1987 after working with an advertising photo studio and a publishing house. Photographing for major magazines, he has travelled to many parts of the world from his bases in Japan and China. Takahashi is a member of the Japan Professional Photographers Society (JPS).

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