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Camera FAQ #11: Which WB setting should I use, Auto or Daylight?

Have you ever wondered how you should set the white balance (WB) when shooting? In this article, I will explain how to use white balance by comparing photos taken with the WB set to Auto and Daylight. (Photo & text by: Kazuo Nakahara)


Set the WB according to the desired colour tone instead of the weather

If you want to achieve a photo finishing that faithfully reproduces the colour tone that you see, you need to set the white balance (WB) to match the colour of the surrounding light. Sunlight changes in colour as time passes. It is bluish as the sun rises, but appears warm in the early morning and evening. Moreover, when shooting in the shade with no direct exposure to sunlight, blue light scattered in the blue sky shines on the subject, making its colour look colder.

For these reasons, when shooting in Daylight mode, the colour may not turn out the way you want when shot in the morning or evening or in the shade, although the colour finishing appears roughly as seen in the sun during the day. Therefore, when taking a picture with a preset WB, take note of how the light shines on the subject instead of the weather condition.

In the meantime, Auto White Balance (AWB) is more accurate and stable than Daylight mode, often reproducing colours more faithfully. However, a photo does not always need to capture colour tones faithfully. For example, when shooting in the shade on a clear day, while AWB can produce a good result by cancelling out the bluish tone of the subject, if an evening scene is shot in Auto mode, the reddish tone may be suppressed, resulting in a weaker impression.

To obtain a satisfactory colour tone, it is a good idea to either use the WB compensation function at the same time when shooting, or to first shoot the picture in RAW. You may wish to express the emotions you felt at the photographic scene with a variety of colour tones by changing the WB during RAW post-processing after shooting.


SCENE 1: Daylight

When shooting outdoors on a clear day, the colour temperature of the sunlight is about 5,500K, which is almost the same as that of Daylight mode (about 5,200K). As a result, if you set the WB mode to Daylight, the colour tone will appear close to what you see. Even if you set it to Auto, the colour tone will turn out almost the same for both the Auto and Daylight modes as the camera will identify the scene correctly.

[Common Data] EOS 5D Mark III / FL: 45mm/ Aperture Priority AE (f/1.8, 1/8,000sec, EV-1.0)/ ISO 200





SCENE 2: Shade

As there is no exposure to direct sunlight in the shade and the (natural) light shines down from the blue sky, the subject is bathed in blue light. If the WB is set to Daylight in this state, the photo will also become blue. In the Auto mode, the camera will effectively cancel out the bluish tone for you, as seen in the sample below.

[Common Data] EOS 5D Mark III/ FL: 45mm/ Aperture Priority AE (f/1.8, 1/1,000sec, EV+0.7)/ ISO 200 





SCENE 3: Twilight

Since light in the morning and evening has an orange tone with a low colour temperature, the orange colour will appear intense if you keep the WB in Daylight mode, which is just nice if you wish to capture an impressive sunset. If the WB is set to Auto, the orange colour will be cancelled out, making the colours look dull.

[Common Data] EOS 5D Mark III/FL: 155mm/ Aperture Priority AE (f/8, 4sec, EV-1.0)/ ISO 200






Kazuo Nakahara

Born in Hokkaido in 1982, Nakahara turned to photography after working at a chemical manufacturing company. He majored in photography at the Vantan Design Institute and is a lecturer for photography workshops and seminars, in addition to working in commercial photography. He is also a representative of the photography information website studio9.



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