Saturday, July 12, 2014

Strategic White Balance

White balance is one of the least understood aspects of photography. It is also the topic for the week in the Boost Your Photography: 52 Weeks Challenge. (Join the Google+ Community to share your weekly photographs and receive feedback.)

 Many of us simply rely on Auto White Balance or shot RAW images and fix the white balance in post-processing. For an introduction to white balance first read What the ... White Balance? , one of the most popular and most pinned posts on Boost Your Photography. White balance can be a powerful photographic tool when used strategically.

Strategic White Balance | Boost Your Photography

White Balance and Color

White light is made up of the entire spectrum of light (visible and invisible). Our eyes can readily adjust to changing lighting situations so that our brain generally always "sees" a white piece of paper as white, whether we are looking at it outside in full sun, under a tree in the shade, or indoors under a fluorescent light panel. A camera, however, is not so talented, which is why your photographs can have different color casts depending on the lighting and the white balance used.

This chart from Life in Edit by Esmer Olvera provides a great visualization of the different colors and temperatures of common light sources. The article also does a really nice job of laying out the step-by-step process of creating a custom white balance for a given scene. (This is particularly useful if you are going to be shooting a large number of shots under the same lighting conditions, like in portraiture or product photography work.)

As you can see from the chart, shade has blue-ish tones, which is why white snow can look blue when photographed in the shade. Indoor lighting has yellow-ish tones, which is why white walls often look old and yellowed when photographed using only artificial indoor lighting. The deep blues of Twilight give the Blue Hour its name, while the deep yellows and oranges give the Golden Hour around sunrise and sunset its name.

Using White Balance Strategically

Now that you have a general idea of what colors and tones different lighting situations can impart, you can start thinking about how to use white balance strategically.

The first way, of course, is to use white balance to "correct" the colors in your photograph. If you want your indoor white walls to appear white, consider using the fluorescent white balance setting. If you are shooting in full shade and do not want blue snow, consider using the shade white balance setting. The chart below from Digital Camera World provides a fuller description of each white balance preset in your camera and some situations where each comes in handy.

Now, the second way to use white balance strategically is to use it for creative effect. Are you shooting in the middle of the day but wish you could capture that warm glow of a Golden Hour setting sun? Try shooting in Cloudy or Shade. (In one of the first landscape photography books I read, the authors shared that they shoot all of their landscape and nature shots on Cloudy white balance for a warmer look.) You can see an example of such a difference below.

Strategic White Balance: auto vs. cloudy | Boost Your Photography

Shooting just after sunset but the sky has not yet gotten the deep blue tones of the Blue Hour? Try shooting in Tungsten white balance, which will emphasize the blue tones you are looking for. The two versions below are from the exact same shot - using the RAW file to show the difference between Auto and Tungsten white balance for twilight shots.

Strategic White Balance: auto vs. tungsten | Boost Your Photography

Strategic White Balance

Take the next step in using white balance. Spend some time evaluating your scene and deciding which white balance makes the most sense - whether to remove color casts or to add them creatively. Worried about making a mistake? Shoot in RAW, and you can adjust your white balance all you want in post-processing without losing any image quality.

(Looking to grow more in your photography? Consider joining the BYP 52 Weeks Google+ Community to share your weekly photograph and see what others are capturing.)
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...