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White balance. 6 mistakes photographers make.

White Balance

The white balance (WB) is the process of removing unrealistic colors, it serves so that the objects that appear white in the photos are actually white.

Proper white balance must take into account the “color temperature” of your light source, which refers to the heat or coldness of white light.

Our eyes are very good at judging what is white or not under different light sources, but digital cameras often have a great difficulty with automatic white balance (AWB) – and can create ugly shades of blue, orange, green or even color projections.

Understanding digital white balance can help prevent these color projections, thereby improving your photos under a wide range of lighting conditions.

Bluish tone or blue collor cast
White balance, Daylight

Color Temperature

The color temperature describes the spectrum of light that is radiated from a “black body”, with which the surface temperature.

A black body is an object that absorbs all incident light – not reflecting or allowing this light to pass through it.

A good analogy to explain the radiation of a black body is when we heat a stone or a piece of metal. Usually we say that these when heated become “hot red” when they reach the proper temperature and then become “hot white” when the temperature rises further.

Similarly black bodies react with different temperatures to light banking.

Why would the temperature of light be a useful thing for photographers if they never deal with real black bodies?

Fortunately, light sources such as tungsten lamps and daylight come very close to mimicking light distribution created by black bodies, although other sources such as fluorescent ones can significantly move away from black bodies.

Even if photographers do not use the term temperature to refer to light created by black bodies, the term is applied as a correlation of color temperature.

The table below shows this correlation with using conventional light sources and their reference on the Kelvin scale.

1000-2000 KCandlelight
2500-3500 KTungsten lamp
3000-4000 KSunrise / Sunset
4000-5000 KFluorescent lamps
5000-5500 KFlash
5000-6500 KDaylight with clear sky (midday sun)
6500-8000 KModerately cloudy sky
9000-10000 KShadow or very cloudy sky

The white balance of the camera is designed to help produce images that have colors that match those you saw at the time you made the photo.

If you make a mistake here, your photos are lifeless with stoned colors, or even with annoyingly colorful, bluish, rosy, orange tones.

Let’s take a look at some of the mistakes that photographers regularly make with white balance.

mistakes 1. Use white balance on automatic all the time

The automatic white balance adjustment is a useful one because it takes a little out of concern about the color change of light throughout the day and how you move between different lighting arrangements, but it may not be ideal for all situations.

When a scene has a dominant color the automatic white balance system of the machine can try to remove or mitigate such dominance so that the photo comes out more balanced, in this way the AWB, can change the colors of the photos fleeing a little from reality.

Sunrise and sunset, when the light is too hot, can also be a challenge for an automatic white balance system.

It was designed to take out collour casts and some will do their best to get rid of this atmospheric color.

The Daylight or Sunny option usually has a better proportion in color balance.

mistakes 2. Use Shade or Cloud settings on cloudy days or in shadow situations

Although all manufacturers have these white balance settings on their machines most of the time you apply them to the situation in which the setting was designed the colors turn out to be excessively hot, pulling to a tint Orange.

It can be used as a good tool to inject personality, mood, into photos when you want the photos to have warmer colors.

It can be very effective during misty mornings to convey the feeling of the warming sun, for example.

mistakes 3. Avoid manual white balance

Many relatively experienced photographers get nervous when they are using white balance in manual or custom mode, but in fact it is extremely useful and very easy to control.

In this configuration the photographer needs to inform the camera what is the color of the light, this is done using a target card white or gray 50%.

The actual method for defining a custom white balance varies between cameras, but the basic principle is the same.

This card should be photographed in the same light that illuminated the main subject, as for example in the photo above.

Fill your machine screen with the gray card photo and then say it to use such color as a reference for the white balance.

After doing this shoot the main subject with a custom white balance!

mistakes 4. Confused by mixed lighting

Shooting in mixed lighting can be a tricky job, not to mention a nightmare. If imagine in a room where you have as daylight lighting and tungsten lamps, what configuration to use?

Using the daylight setting all the locations predominantly illuminated by the lamps appeared in the photos with warmer colors, more orange.

On the other hand, using the tungsten setting all places where there is natural lighting have become more bluish.

The solution is to set a manual white balance value, as mentioned earlier, by placing the subject to be photographed in the most important light of the scene.

Another way to deal with this problem is to modify the lighting so that all lights have the same color.

mistakes 5. Shoot in Jpeg.

While it’s a good practice to get the right white balance on the camera so you can properly evaluate image success, it’s not essential when you shoot raw.

Raw files have all available color and white balance information and can be adjusted correctly with just a mouse click.

As well as having a list of predefined white balance presets and adjusting each photo over measure. The Camera Raw Adobe has a white balancing tool by sampling that can be adjusted just by clicking on a neutral area of the image, just like in Lightroom.

Problems starting when you have no neutral area in the photo, or in the photo shoot. But just include a photo of your grey card at the beginning of each session and make all adjustments based on the parameters of the card.

mistakes 6. Always search for neutral photo

Many photographers are always in search of the most balanced white balance and forget that the photo does not necessarily need to be neutral.

Suppressing all the heat that the light of a candle brings to a photo will surely completely steal the atmosphere that was created by such light. Using white balance as an artistic tool is very valid.

So, what did you think of the article? Leave a comment!

Written by Rix Mascarenhas

Rix Mascarenhas is a photographer, videographer, and drone pilot at

Art lover, always involved with crafts, design, painting etc... As a photographer, I enjoy taking pictures and creating stories that have meaning and help people to thrive. My work is guided by the stories behind each scene that really represent the moment.

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