Understanding and Using White Balance

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

Light is an interpretive tool in the hands of a photographer. He can make it harsh or soft, revealing or concealing, flattering or libelous. The more he knows about the versatility of light, the easier it is to cope with any picture-taking situation he encounters.”—Peter Gowland

Most of us think about daylight as the proper time for making photographs and many  opportunities at night or late in the day are overlooked. They shouldn’t be but even all the colors of daylight are not the same. Most people look at the “golden hour” and see the beauty of the subject. You’ll hear people offer comments such as “The sunrise was just beautiful,” or “look at the golden glow in that portrait,” or maybe “what a romantic sunset.” To work successfully in any kind of low light situation, we need to know more about the nature of light so we can digitally capture images that others may merely give a fleeting look. Indoors when photographing in car museums, such as the wonderful San Diego Automotive Museum, can be a challenge because of the kind of mixed lighting conditions that exist.

How I made this shot: Camera was a Canon EOS 50D with EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens (at 22mm) with an exposure of 1/15 sec at f/4.5 at ISO 400. Understanding the concepts behind White Balance and the many options that are available to digital photographers make sure that this white vintage Indy racer is really white.

There will come a time when none of your camera’s preset Auto White Balance settings won’t work and that’s when you need to use the Manual option.  It’s a little more labor intensive but after you try it once, you’ll be amazed how well it works under difficult and mixed lighting conditions such as indoor exhibits, conventions centers, and museums. Start by photographing a sheet of white paper under the lighting conditions you want to correct. Tip: The flip side of a Kodak Grey Card is white and that’s what I like to use.

You might shift your focus setting to Manual since focusing on a blank white paper might confuse your camera’s AF settings. If your test image is extremely over or underexposed, proper white balance may not be achieved. If that happens, adjust the exposure accordingly and start over again. Select Custom WB or Manual that typically displays the images stored on the memory card. On many Canon models you then press the WB button but you have to read your User’s Guide to see how it works for your specific camera.



Along with photographer Barry Staver, I’m co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s available from Amazon for $21.88 prices with used copies selling at giveaway prices—four bucks, as I write this.