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White Balance

Lesson 13 from: The Beginner Photographer’s Crash Course

Khara Plicanic

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Lesson Info

13. White Balance

Lesson Info

White Balance

What is white balance? Well, you may have run into these icons on your camera possibly, or you may be going, "What the heck, I've never seen any of them." Do they look familiar, Gabby, have you seen them? Some of them, she's like, "Maybe." That's okay, we're here to learn about them. So if you've never seen any of 'em, that is totally fine, we're gonna walk through it. What is white balance, first of all? Well, the idea is that light has color, we know this, but we don't think about it very often but we know it. Even if no one's ever discussed it with you, even if you've never studied photography until this very minute, you know this, just intuitively. You know that sunsets are golden, you know that mornings or dusks might look blue, right? It's all the sun still, but it can change color. And it turns out that that is called color temperature, and it runs along a spectrum like this And it's measured in degrees, but not like Fahrenheit or Celsius. It's measured in a unit called Kelvin, ...

with a K. So on one end, we have 2,500 Kelvin, and then we have 10,000 Kelvin, and of course there's beyond that, but this is just kind of our operating range. So these are where different light sources fall along the spectrum of color, and it turns out that the camera has these different presets to help you deal with whatever lighting environment you might be in, and the light can change through the day, even if the source is constant. If you've ever been outside on a sunny day, it's a really great white light. We would call that daylight, but then, let's say, a big cloud rolls across and blocks the sun, I would immediately notice the change in the light, and the more you pay attention, the more you notice the stuff everywhere, but you might also notice the color changes to be much more blue when you're in that environment because clouds can affect the color of the sun. So if you were taking pictures and you're in Auto White Balance, hopefully the camera would automatically detect that and correct that color to get you a more accurate color, but sometimes it doesn't. Or sometimes it over corrects or not quite enough. I mean, it can't really be perfect all the time. There are different presets in the camera. That's what these icons represent. So this one on the left here is what we would call a tungsten or incandescent bulb, so that's like the light bulbs that we grew up with. The one's that we used to imagine over your head when you get an idea, and you're like ding. Those were tungsten bulbs, and that was always my example. And you know what, the other day, I was reading my son a book, and it had a fluorescent bulb. Someone in the book had an idea and over their head appeared a fluorescent bulb, and I was like, "No way, now my analogy is screwed." I thought that was funny. In my books growing up, it would've been a tungsten bulb, but those are kinda the old school light bulbs. And they emit a very orangy, yellowy warm, we would say, color. Temperature number wise, it's actually a lower number, so that can be confusing, but the Kelvin number is actually lower but it would be what we would call a warmer color. So it would be very orange and red, so like a ballroom. All your old lamps before you switched to LED and fluorescent, they would have that same color. The next icon here represents fluorescent lighting, so that can be a lot of things. A lot of cameras will actually have multiple fluorescent settings, so if you're digging around in your settings, you may find fluorescent one and two and three and so on because a fluorescent bulb in an office might be different than the fluorescent bulb in your home. There's a lot of variations. The next, of course, is the sun, which represents daylight. That's what most things are balanced to be is daylight so flash tries to be close to daylight. So there's the flash, this little thing that looks like a rocket ship that's shooting laser beams is really a building that is casting shade. So if you are in the shade somewhere under a tree or next to a building or whatever, that has its own designation in your camera settings. Then, we have clouds, of course representing a cloudy day. So the way that those work is, let's say, you're out, you take a picture, and it's a cloudy day and the picture looks really blue. That can happen 'cause look where the clouds are. They're on the blue side of the spectrum, so to correct for that, the camera actually needs to add some red. So to add red to that, you would set your camera, go into your white balance, which may be a button. It may be in your menu, and you would go in and choose the clouds 'cause that's the environment that you are in. Then, retake the photo, and it should hopefully be better. Hopefully is the keyword, but so this is something that you actually set before. It's not like a post-production thing, and I should also point out this applies when you're shooting JPEGs. So if you are shooting raw, we'll talk about that later, but you don't worry about this so much in camera. This is a function of JPEGs, which means the camera's gonna take the picture, and it's gonna take the adjustment, the color correction for the cloudy day, and it's gonna put it into the JPEG file that it puts on your memory card, so it should be done by the time you see it, alright? Some other settings that you might have down here in this bottom row on the left, that funny little icon represents a custom white balance. So if none of these are working for you, you can also create your own, and you can read the manual for all the details, but the way that it works for your specific camera. But the way that it works, just so you know, is if you're in an environment, like churches are so hard, I think, to get a good color balance because you have whatever fluorescent or tungsten light. Plus, sometimes then they put different lights on the alter. Like the aisle might be tungsten, and then the alter's fluorescent, plus skylights, plus stain glass windows. I mean, it is just crazy, I always wanna just be like, "Can we just do all ceremony photos "in black and white please?" That would be so much easier, but so when I'm shooting portraits at the front of the alter, plus then I have flash, right, to light all that up, it's just becomes a bit of a mess sometimes. So in some situations, I'll set a custom white balance, and the way that you do that, in theory, you would have a gray card with you and you go and just put it up in the scene where your subject is gonna be, and you actually fill your frame with it through the camera. So I would put the gray card, like maybe I'd have you hold it, Jose. I'd be like, "Hold this gray card for me," and I'd get my camera out, and I would focus, come close and fill in the frame so all I see is the gray card. So I don't see your hands that are holding it or your shirt behind or anything, just the gray card, and then take a picture. And then, I go into my camera into the settings and I choose custom white balance, and then, it's gonna ask me, "What picture do you want "to use to balance this color?" And then I would scroll through my pictures and find the one that I just saw with the gray card, and then the camera is measuring the gray, the neutral gray, and it's reading like, "Ooh, is this a reddish gray? "Is it a blueish gray?" Whatever it decides, it's gonna apply a counter balance, and then it's gonna use that same counter balance for all the photos you're about to take. So the idea is that it would correct that situation for that environment, right, with whatever it determined from that custom balance. So you would have to make a new custom balance anytime that changes, or if then everyone's like, "Oh, well, let's take our group photo "over in this corner of the church." That's when you're like, "No, you will stay here." (laughing) But if you were to move, you would need to make a new custom balance if you were having with wipe outs. So that's how the custom one works, the AWB stands for Auto White Balance, and like the name implies, it's just automatic so you don't have to worry about it too much. It's the one auto feature that I think does a pretty decent job, personally. So I will tell you that I leave mine on Auto White Balance. Like I'll shoot in manual mode, but I'll have Auto White Balance until I don't like it. Then, I'll change it, so if I'm taking pictures, and I'm like, "Ugh, this color just looks gross," then I'll go in and fiddle with the white balance setting. The K icon represents Kelvin, so that's our measurement for this color temperature, and what that allows you... Not all cameras have custom in the Kelvin setting, but if they do, then that allows you to actually dial in the exact temperature that you want so you don't have to be like, "Um, okay, clouds," or you don't have to pick a picture that represents a number along the scale. You can actually be like, "I want 5,700 Kelvin," and just dial it in, so that's kinda nice for some people who need it. Personally, I never use that, but I could if I wanted. So that's how it works, so the idea is you just pick the little picture, the little icon that represents the environment that you're in, and then, hopefully it improves your results. So what does that look like? Here is the same photo, well the same scene. I took six different photos, it's not one photo that's just somehow different, it's six different exposures. Same exposure settings, but different white balance settings. So this first one on the top left was Auto White Balance, and then, whatever was after that. I don't remember now the order that it goes in, but you can see that some of them look more yellow. Some of them look more blue, some of them are kind purple-y. It just kind of depends, and I will say but I think that as I was shooting this, I tried to be really fast changing my white balance between shots because the clouds were moving outside the window so the light was changing while I was trying to shoot this, and I was like, "Come on, can I just try to have some constant light?" So that may have influenced it a little bit, but so, if you don't like your white balance, then you would just change it and take another shot. But it's only gonna affect your photos going forward. It's not gonna affect anything from behind, okay? Okay, so as I mentioned, this is where you might find it. You would probably have a white balance button on some cameras, or on other cameras, it's gonna be in your functions. So again, if you can't it, check your manual. The process is you take a picture, you look at it, review it, and either you like it or you don't. In which case, you would adjust the white balance, and then retake the photo.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Bonus Video - Shooting In Natural Light HD
New Camera Setup

Ratings and Reviews

Kate Ambers

Khara is awesome! She really breaks down how the camera works, photography terminology, and technique. She does it all with a fun and entertaining personality and really makes it easy to understand what you are learning! I love this course!!! So worth it!

Holly Cooper

Loved this course and have recommended it to a friend who is looking to purchase his first DSLR. This course is perfect for beginners or someone who is self taught and who has picked a few bits up along the way; Khara then puts all these little bits of information together. I feel like the pieces have come together for me and I have taken my best/favourite photographs after watching these videos. Thank you CL and Thank you Khara x


I’ve taken a number of excellent courses from Creative Live, and this very thoughtfully organized, well taught class took me from “I love photography but I’ll never get how to do it” to “wow I get it!” It created a huge shift (finally!) for me. There is an intelligent simplicity that really does make for lightbulb moments. I’m extremely grateful for this class. Now I can go back and watch the others courses again and they will make much more sense and I can apply what I learned here.

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