White Balance

White balance is a crucial element in photography and film recording. The later uses filters to record while the photography applies a filter after capturing a view. The newest versions of the digital cameras allow the users to apply different filters and white balance settings to enhance the picture and create an intriguing effect, which is visible in the result.

It is common for any digital camera to turn a photograph into yellowish, bluish, or warm hue when a user sets the parameter to auto white balance. However, what is white balance? Why is it important? Why if effects the photograph? These are the common questions asked by beginners. Photography is the collective subject of understanding the terminology, lighting conditions and several factors. Producing high-quality images is possible when a photographer possess complete knowledge of the vocabulary.

White balance is an important element in a digital camera. It is capable of enhancing the output of a shoot or completely ruin. An unwanted setting introduces colorcasts, causing skin tones to appear unnatural. This article covers extensively about white balance, its importance, and setting appropriate values to achieve desired output.

Understanding White Balance

Simply put, white balance in a digital camera adjusts the color temperature. The adjustment ensures that the image is natural. It is an important element, as it can change the feeling or the outlook, portraying a different output altogether. It is essential to fix the white balance to ensure that the camera avoids the addition of colorcast.

Changing the white balance is important to achieve natural picture. The adjustment is necessary because light sources (sun, flashlights, bulbs, etc.) do not emit white color and have an absolute color temperature. Digital cameras process the image based on the information sent by the sensors and using an inbuilt algorithm. However, the algorithm does not process the image accurately at all times.

In humans, brain processes the information sent by the eyes. Capacity of the brain is such that it is capable of filtering out unwanted colorcast and adjusts the color temperature to ensure that the eyes see natural colors. In addition, brain also stores the information for such an action. It is difficult for a human to differentiate between a white sheet of paper placed in the sunlight and indoors. The reason is that the brain processes the information in such a way that the white remains white at all times irrespective of the lighting conditions.

There is a vast difference between the color temperature of a tungsten filament and bright sunlight. Most people do not recognize this fact. As a simple experiment, people can use shaded goggles such as a  one with a yellow tint. When viewed through the glasses, there is a change in color tone and entire view appears yellowish. However, after a certain time, eyes and the brain adjust to ensure that the view appears in natural colors. It is irrespective of the presence of the yellow tint.

Digital cameras are capable of accessing details based on the information sent by the sensors. They do not possess artificial intelligence to process colors automatically. Therefore, it is important to alter white balance available to the camera body to ensure that the image appears natural in close relation. Although most of the cameras are capable of delivering near accurate pictures, there are occasions where they make mistakes. It is here that a photographer uses the white balance adjustment in his camera.

Improper use of white balance influences the processing of an image. For example, using a yellowish tint adds more of the yellow color, which alters the skin tone, highlights, and shadows drastically. By adjusting white balance or setting it to auto mode will be helpful in achieving a naturalistic image that has a good balance of skin tones, brightness, contrast, highlights, and shadows.

Color temperature affects the output of the photographs. It is impossible for the naked eye to find the difference because the brain processes quickly and perceives the color as neutral even there is a difference in the color temperature. Digital cameras record the color temperature precisely. Due to this, there is a difference to the outcome of a picture. For instance, indoor images have an orange colorcast due to the tungsten lighting in the household. Similarly, images captured at dawn have blue look.

White balance algorithm calculates the color temperature of the ambient light and adjusts the amount of different colors to produce neutral colors. For example, a DSLR reduces the amount of orange color for a picture captured under incandescent lighting. It boosts the blue color to produce a naturalistic appearance of the image.

White Balance and Kelvin Scale

The measurement used to define color temperature is Kelvin. A number followed by K often describes the values. For example, the value of sunlight or daylight is 5,500K. Just for our understanding here is a list that shows approximate values of different lighting conditions:

  1. Candle flame – 1,000 to 2,000K
  2. Household lighting – 2,500 to 3,500K
  3. Sunrise and Sunset – 3,000 to 4,000K
  4. Sunlight and Flash – 5,000 to 6,000K
  5. Afternoon sun and clear sky – 6,000 to 6,500K
  6. Cloudy sky and shades – 6,500 to 8,000K

Digital cameras “guess” the Kelvin temperature in reference to the white object defined by the manufacturer. Therefore, while shooting the sky, camera calculates color temperature based on white clouds in the scene. It then adjusts the temperature to bring a more natural image. Such a system works when the camera is in “Auto White Balance” mode.

Digital cameras process an image based on the ‘guessing’ the color temperature. Therefore, it is difficult for the system to deliver natural images at all times. When there is a little presence of white objects in the scene, camera finds it difficult to calculate color temperature of available colors. Under such situations, images have a color cast that spoils entire picture. There is a domination of a single color and the color changes from one image to another depending on the shooting conditions. It is preferable to use manual white balance, to overcome such a situation.

White Balance Settings

Digital cameras have white balance presets that have a definition or pre-defined values of color temperatures. Using these presets is helpful while shooting in a location where the lighting condition is dull or has less white objects to consider it as the reference. These presets offer the correction to lighting scenarios, making it easy for the processor to generate a natural image. However, it is important that the photographer does the work of selecting the pre-defined setting.

Auto White Balance is the easiest option. However, choosing the manual mode is preferable, as it allows the photographer to take control. It also delivers promising results over an auto mode in several situations. Manufacturers are improving the algorithm and enhancing white balance, which is certainly a step above in comparison to earlier days. However, auto mode is not foolproof.

File Format for post processing

RAW file format includes every detail of the setting captured by the camera. Therefore, RAW file format provides an opportunity to play with white balance and ensure that the image is near natural. The JPEG file format discards unwanted data from the picture according to the preset parameter of white balance. In RAW file format using image-processing software such as Photoshop can correct the picture.

Selecting the output format as RAW ensures that the camera captures the images with complete details about white balance settings. Furthermore, choosing a consistent value ensures that the color rendition remains the same for all pictures. Although it is tempting to leave white balance in the auto mode, taking control over it manually yields greater results.

White balance – In-camera or post-processing

White balance alteration is available in any DSLR and also with few image post-processing softwares. However, it is important to understand where to use an appropriate selection. White balance application of a camera and post-processing are almost equivalent. Shooting in RAW format allows the camera to select any white balance mode. It further stores the information as a reference without processing the image. Choosing RAW file format output and setting the mode of white balance to auto is a good option.

If the camera fails to recognize white reference in a scene, changing it using the Photoshop or Lightroom is still possible. Using white balance is a suitable choice for beginners, as they set the output format of the pictures as JPEG. As mentioned earlier, digital cameras are capable of ‘guessing’ the color temperature. However, they do not deliver accurate results at all times. It is here that the post-processing comes handy. Applying filters will provide a chance to correct the image and create a more naturalistic picture.

Changing white balance

Application of white balance remains the same across all DSLRs. However, accessibility and the elements present within the options differ from one model to another.

Most of the cameras provide direct access to white balance via a direct ‘WB’ button. This is positioned at the back or top of the camera body. This button allows the user to access sub-options available in the camera. For our understanding here are some common presets inbuilt in most of the DSLRs.

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  1. Auto: The default setting and the camera ‘guesses’ according to the ambient light
  2. Tungsten: Useful while shooting under tungsten bulbs
  3. Fluorescent: Useful when the pictures turn green or under fluorescent lights
  4. Sunlight: Useful for outdoor shooting with clear sky and bright sunlight
  5. Flash: Useful while using the flash of the camera
  6. Cloudy: Useful when shooting on a cloudy day and produces warmer images
  7. Shade: Useful while capturing sunsets and sunrises as it adds orange color making it lively and warmer
  8. Continuously variable: Overrides the auto mode and gives the chance to set the Kelvin value between 2,500 and 10,000K

A better way to understand the functions available in the camera is by exploring the menu. It is also important to obtain the correct white balance by choosing ‘Preset’ function and focusing on a white card. Camera calculates the color temperature of white card and makes necessary adjustments to ensure that it process the images to near natural.

Measurement and setup of white balance

All digital cameras provide custom setup option to measure and calculate white balance. Using ‘Preset’ option available under the white balance menu, focusing on a white card and taking a shot will help the camera acquire a new value. The value changes according to the environment and is best suitable depending on a particular photography session.

Measurement of white balance helps in avoiding colorcast, which auto white balance is incapable of implementing. Performing calibration or calculating from time to time will be helpful in acquiring natural images.

White balance fine-tuning

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Fine-tuning white balance gives greater control over the white balance preset. To begin the process of fine-tuning, selecting a particular preset is essential. Navigation button or the D-pad of the camera gives access to the fine-tuning mechanism of the white balance.

Fine-tuning mechanism is a color palette. The D-pad or the navigational button provides the movement to select an appropriate color that best suits the requirement. The left-right adjustment controls amber-blue pattern while the up-down control adjusts the green-magenta pattern. Upon confirming the required preset, the camera process the image based on the selected color temperature.

Sometimes, shooting pictures with a colorcast produce an authentic feeling and add emotions. Under such instances, choosing an appropriate color pattern yields greater results. White balance set remains the same until changed. Therefore, it is important for the photographer to ensure that they check the white balance setting before a shot.

Apart from white balance fine-tuning, few DSLRs also offer white balance bracketing. The bracketing option allows the camera to process an image with three different white balance settings. These three different settings control adjustment degree and are user-specific. Therefore, photographers have an additional option to set preferred values in the three available options. The option produces excellent images, delivering creative images. However, the output relies on the settings stored in the each available white balance setting.

Conclusion

White balance option in digital cameras allows the system to calculate the color temperature and process the image in such a way that it appears natural. Color temperature of different light sources is different. White balance preset helps the camera to calculate the temperature based on the information sent by the sensors. Although they provide accurate results, relying solely on the auto mode is not a viable option.

Human brain is competent of processing color temperature in a few milliseconds, based on the information sent by eyes. Additionally, it adjusts and records the information. Such a facility helps the human being to view a color irrespective of the lighting conditions. DSLRs run on details provided by the sensors and algorithm to process the image. Therefore, condition and result of the picture depends on the lighting conditions and the value that the sensor sends to the processor.

Setting the white balance avoids colorcast. By having basic knowledge about white balance, gaining control over it by selecting manual mode results in excellent images.

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