What is White Balance

What is White Balance

What is White Balance

What is White balance

Photographers switching over to digital cameras are always asking me, “What is white balance?” Film users had no control over white balance. You bought a film balanced to typical daylight and the only other option was to switch to a special ‘tungsten-balanced’ film for shooting under studio tungsten lighting. Digital cameras, though, can compensate for different-colored lighting by altering the ratios of red, green and blue as the image is processed and saved.

Alternatively, if you have a camera that can save RAW files, you can choose the white balance setting when processing the image on your computer. By default, digital cameras adjust the white balance automatically. There will be situations, though, where you might want to override this automatic setting and choose the white balance manually in order to preserve the colors of the scene, or make sure the color compensation is correct.

White balance quality issues

Although you can change the white balance of your images later in your image editor it’s not necessarily the best time to do it. If you save your images as JPEG files when you shoot, the camera processes the sensor information before saving the file, and this processing includes white balance adjustment – the camera applies whatever white balance value is currently set. If you then go on to alter the color balance on your computer, you are in effect processing the image a second time, which introduces a degree of quality loss.

It’s best to do one of two things: either (a) choose the correct white balance setting at the time of shooting or (b) shoot RAW (unprocessed) files and process them on your computer, choosing the white balance setting at that point.

Auto vs Preset

You shouldn’t leave your camera set to auto white balance permanently because it won’t always get it right. The camera will attempt to analyze the colors in the scene and ‘normalize’ them, but it can often fail to differentiate between the color of the light and the intrinsic colors in the subject itself. In addition to this, it may attempt to compensate for atmospheric lighting conditions early or late in the day that are actually part of what you’re trying to record.

Finally, where you do want to ‘normalize’ the colors, you’ll find that auto white balance systems usually fail to compensate for extremes of lighting, like the excessive warmth of domestic tungsten lighting or the pronounced ‘coldness’ of the light in deep shade. Indeed, you may find it better to choose your white balance settings manually to suit the conditions, because at least then you’ll know how the camera is going to respond.

Auto white balance systems are not infallible. They’ll often fail to correct adequately for shady conditions, leaving images with a cold, bluish tinge. Being able to answer the question “What is white balance?” and choosing the right white balance preset produces warmer, more realistic-looking colors.

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