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White Balance with Digital Camera

Updated on April 8, 2013

White balance/colour balance/gray balance/neutral balance

White balance is the process of adjusting colours that appear unrealistic so as to get them appear normal. You may also want to change what appears to be realistic colour balance to a colour that appears pleasing to you.

The reason why it is referred as colour /gray /neutral balance is because neutral colours (gray, achromatic, white) must appear neutral after the photograph has been recorded by your camera.

While using a digital camera sometimes you will come across a room/scene that has been illuminated or lit in a way that gives you photographs that the colours are shifted to a certain colour

notice: colours shifting towards red in daylight mode
notice: colours shifting towards red in daylight mode | Source

Your eyes are able to judge what is clearly white even under poor or funny lighting but a digital camera will have a difficulty create blue, green or even red-ish colour cast on you photo. You have to know that every source of light be it moon, sun, bulb or street has a different ‘color’ (or colour temperature). Fluorescent lighting found in fluorescent bulbs mainly in office adds a bluish cast to photos whereas incandescent lighting found in home bulbs adds a yellowish cast to photos.

Auto- white balance is often effective when the scene contains at least one very clear white part such that the camera is able to use the part a reference point to set the white balance automatically. But some subjects will create problems using auto white balance even under normal daylight conditions if they do not have a white or bright area. e.g. if the subject has too much warmth or coolness due to unique subject matter, for instance, a person wearing all orange.

Sometimes you experience mixed lighting, where you have a scene that is lit by various types of lighting and you may not have control over them. In this instance auto balance calculates the average colour of all lighting and uses that a white balance, but remember as we have seen above, auto balance will tend to focus more on the colour that is dominant resulting in an image with colours shifted towards a certain colour.

Therefore, you will need either to balance that colour with either Manual balance-set the colour manually or custom white balance-captures the colour of a recorded image and refers to it under the same lighting for correction. In film, will use colour filters that are either placed on the lens or in front of the lights.

Some video cameras will provide you with a button when you press it against a white object; the camera is able to set the colour as a neutral colour for reference when you start recording.

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