Now look at the color white in these different color temperatures. The human eye compensates for the lighting source, making white appear WHITE in all different types of light. However, if you pay close attention, you'll notice that the color white can have a cast of blue, yellow or orange depending on the lighting situation you are in.
Camera lenses can't compensate like the human eye can, so it records the color white, based on the color temperature setting. The white balance control allows you to control how your camera sees the color white. By ensuring that your camera is "seeing" the color white correctly, you can ensure that it's seeing all the other colors accurately as well.
Preset White Balance Options, and what they do:
- Auto – on this setting, the camera will guess the white balance on a shot by shot basis, generally, you will find that this works in most situations
- Tungsten – compensates for the yellow of tungsten/incandescent lighting by cooling down the color in your image
- Fluorescent – compensates for the "cool" light of fluorescent bulbs by warming up your shots.
- Cloudy/Shade – these settings generally warmup your images a touch
- Flash – warms up your image to compensate for the "cooler" light of the flash
You can also manually set your white balance. Essentially, you are telling your camera what white looks like in the current lighting condition so it can use it as a reference point when deciding how other colors should look. You can do this with a simple white sheet of paper. (I carry a plain white paint card from Home Depot in my camera bag, works perfectly!)
Doing this works differently on every camera, so check your manual for specifics for your camera, but generally, this is how it works:
1. Take your plain white sheet of paper and place it under your light source
2. Take a picture of it (minimize background around the edges, note that it can be tricky to get your camera to focus on just white paper, so do include a bit of the background edges but fill your image with mostly white)
3. Go into your white balance menu and select the preset manually option
4. Select the image of your white paper
Again, there are other ways that are camera specific for measuring and setting the white balance, so check that manual!
So, how do I shoot my images? Generally, I like to use the cloudy or shade white balance settings. I like the warm touch it gives most of the images I shoot. However, if I'm going for something specific I will manually set my white balance using the above method on my camera. I carry a white paint card I got at Home Depot in my camera bag, and use that to set my white balance on the go. Shh! Don't tell, but I also generally find my camera makes a pretty good guess on the AUTO setting, and I often find myself using that so it's one less variable to worry about. If I want to warm (or cool) my photos down a touch, my editing software does an excellent job of correcting it in post.