The Effect of White Balance (WB)

Many people have questions about white balance (color temperature) for images, like "What's the difference?", or "Which setting should I use?", or "Why are my pictures blue (or gold)?". White Balance is an adjustment to the image for the color temperature of the light source being used in the image. In the old days, we used to purchase film with a color temperature specific to the light we were shooting. We used optical filters on the lens if we needed to change the white balance when we shot. People have accidentally left the white balance setting on a fixed setting, like daylight, and take pictures indoors without a flash (or vice-versa), and wonder why the image color looks wrong. It's caused by the light source being a different color temperature than what is set in the camera. Flash units are typically balanced for daylight. If you take pictures of a full moon, use (start with) the daylight setting, as that's the light being reflected off the moon.

If you decide to use dedicated settings, make sure you select the appropriate one for the type of light being used, at least for starters. Keep in mind, mixtures of light from tungsten, fluorescent, sodium vapor, mercury vapor, and lamps on dimmers all have different color temperatures and are difficult to accommodate when used in the same image.

Since I save the RAW files, I usually leave the white balance setting in AUTO as the white balance can be easily changed in the RAW editor I use. AUTO usually comes pretty close to reality, but not always. Many JPEG editors do not have the versatility to modify the white balance easily in a JPEG file. RAW editors may even allow the custom selection of color temperature in-between the hard settings.

Below are images of the same shot with the white balance adjusted to the indicated setting. Sometimes adjusting the white balance may make the image more appealing, sometimes it will make it look real nasty! The nice thing about editors, the choice is yours.

Image as shot with WB in AUTO
Auto White Balance
WB changed to DAYLIGHT
DAYLIGHT White Balance
WB changed to CLOUDY
CLOUDY White Balance
WB changed to SHADE
SHADE White Balance
WB changed to FLASH
FLASH White Balance
WB changed to FLUORESCENT
FLUORESCENT White Balance
WB changed to TUNGSTEN
TUNGSTENWhite Balance


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The shot below was taken during the "blue hour" after sunset. (Guess why thet call it the blue hour.) As you can see, there IS a bluish hue to the original image. Adjustments have beenmade as indicated below. I think I like the 10,000° K color temp the most, with SHADE being second.

Image as shot with WB in AUTO
Auto White Balance
WB changed to DAYLIGHT
DAYLIGHT White Balance
WB changed to CLOUDY
CLOUDY White Balance
WB changed to SHADE
SHADE White Balance
WB changed to 10,000° K
FLASH White Balance


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All images © Bill Harbison - All rights reserved