How to Set the Perfect White Balance?

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and I may receive a commission if you visit a link and buy something on my recommendation. Purchasing via an affiliate link doesn’t cost you any extra, and I only recommend products and services I trust. All opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting my work!

Colors – a factor that matters the most in any image. A little change in color balance can change the overall look of the image.

White balance is all about getting the best images by using the best color combination for the scenery.

Understanding White balance and learning to set it manually will give your images a professional look without putting many efforts.

What is White Balance?

In easy terms, a perfect white balance is a perfect balance between the warm and cool colors in your image.

Correct white balance shows the natural color in the image, whereas incorrect WB can either make your image too warm (Orange Effect) or too cold (Blue Effect).

Colors in images are supposed to look like the way they look in real life, and usually, it is the case.

Sometimes, the camera makes these colors too warm or cool, i.e., white snow looking slightly blue in images, yellow candle flame looking orange in the picture, et cetera.

A human eye is smart enough to understand the difference in temperatures of colors, but cameras aren’t.

This unwanted color cast can be resolved using auto white balance or manually setting the camera’s white balance.

Setting the Kelvin value for the white balance

What are Color Temperatures?

To understand white balance and to set it perfectly, it is important to know about color temperatures and how they work.

Color temperatures referred to the warmth or coolness of white light coming from the light source.

These temperatures are physical properties of light’s color measured in the Kelvin scale.

The cooler the light is, the higher the number on the Kelvin scale. On the other hand, the warmer the light is, the lower temperature it has.

Color temperatures of the common light sources are:

  • Candlelight 1000-2000 K
  • Incandescent light: 2700 k
  • Tungsten Bulb (household variety): 2500-3500 K
  • Sunrise/Sunset (clear sky): 2800 K-4000 K
  • Fluorescent Lamps: 4000-5000 K
  • Electronic Flash: 5000-5500 K
  • Daylight with Clear Sky (sun overhead): 5000-6500 K
  • Shade: 8000K
  • Moderately Overcast Sky: 6500 K-8000 K
  • Shade or Heavily Overcast Sky: 9000 K-10000 K
  • Blue sky: 10000K
WB color temp and light sources

White balance adds the opposite colors (temperatures) to the image to bring it back to the neutral temperature.

The relationship between WB and color temperature is always opposite. For example, while shooting in shades, you have to warm up the image by decreasing the color temperature.

On the other hand, to reduce the warmness of the image (orange effect), the temperature is needed to be increased by adding the cooler temperature.

Many photographers associate the warmer colors with high temperatures and cooler colors with low temperatures, which is wrong.

Understanding this point, let to set the perfect white balance manually.

When the White balance is set matching to the light source, the final results come out without any unnecessary color cast and very near to the natural colors.

For example: shooting fluorescent lamps, the image will be neutral only when the white balance is around 4000 K to 5000 K. otherwise, this image will be very blue or orange.

Cameras sometimes automatically fix the WB on the temperatures nearest to the light source using Auto White Balance (AWB).

Other times, AWB cannot interpret the scenery, and it’s best to balance it yourself.

Setting the Perfect White Balance:

Besides, Auto white balance, there are two ways to set the white balance.

  1. Using White Balance Preset
  2. Manually setting color temperature by choosing a value on the Kelvin Scale.

Using White Balance Preset

It is a semi-manual way to set the white balance. Most of the digital cameras come with Balance presets.

These preset offer different modes with the fixed on a certain temperature. Commonly these modes are:

  • Auto. With this, the camera automatically fixes the WB.
  • Direct Sunlight for shooting outdoors
  • Incandescent mode for tungsten light bulbs and very cooler images
  • Flash for on-camera flash
  • Cloudy mode to use in shades and a cloudy day outdoors
  • Preset (PRE) for color matching with a white balance card.
White balance presets

There are more or fewer modes depending upon the digital camera.

Setting White Balance Manually

The way to get the best colors is by setting the white balance manually. Once you understand how color temperatures work, it is straightforward to adjust WB manually.

Firstly, you have to take an image of something white or id-grey illuminated by the same source that illuminates the shooting.

You have to tell the camera in custom settings to use the white or mid-grey captured image to reference white balance.

Try to choose such a white or grey object for a reference image that fills the frame.

This way, there won’t be any other colors in the frame, and the camera can adopt the desired color temperature perfectly.

You can capture a white wall, cardboard, or white paper as a reference image.

The manual setting involves three straightforward steps:

  1. Capture the white or mid-grey image. Make sure that the light is properly illuminating the object, and the object is covering the frame.
  2. Open the custom White balance mode. Professional-level cameras often have a dedicated button to access WB. Open it using the menu system or using a dedicated button labeled “WB” on your camera’s body.
  3. Once custom settings are opened, press ‘SET.’ It will automatically display the last captured image. If not, scroll and find the white captured image. Select it once displayed in the custom settings, press ‘SET’ to finish the process.

Once the white balance setting is set manually, it stays the same in all future shoots until you change it using AWB, mode from preset, or setting another photo as a white balance reference image.

Auto white balance can work in most situations but not always. Correct colors are critical, especially in professional photography. That’s why setting white balance using reference images is the preferred method of professionals.

Once it is set manually, it will remain the same throughout the shot without any unnecessary color shift.

With AWB, there isn’t any consistency in color temperatures, which becomes a cause of unwanted cooler or warmer color casting in images.

Understanding the white balance and color temperatures is also helpful to a photographer in certain aspects of his photograph.

It lets him understand how different light sources work, recognize them, and what type of illumination can work best in different situations.

Post-Production Setting of White Balance

Instead of relying on AWB or changing it every time with manual settings, another way to set white balance is doing it in the post-production stage using the software.

It works the best with images in RAW format. In JPG images, the footage is already compressed, and it doesn’t have all the information recorded by the camera’s sensor while shooting the image.

This makes such images somewhat rigid for post-production. Post-production WB setting on an image in JPEG format can ruin it completely.

Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, Lunarship, MAGIX are some of the software to adjust white balance.

Conclusion

Unwanted color cast is a single powerful factor to ruin the overall quality of an image.

The best way to avoid this is by setting the White Balance manually.

Using manual white balance, an image can be captured in the neutral color of scenery and allows the photographer to add customization in the shot.

It is a pretty simple process that requires a little practice.