Although you probably never really noticed, the color temperature of light is constantly changing, whether it be from the sun’s movements throughout the day or entering a room with an artificial light source. While the human eye generally doesn’t perceive these shifts in color temperature, cameras are much more inclined to pick up on these changes, which can have a drastic effect on the quality of the colors in your image. Because of this, it is important to always be mindful of your DSLR’s white balance and the various modes used to control it.
Basic White Balance Settings
It has become standard for DSLR’s to include a number of different white balance modes, and it’s important to know how each of them works. In the next section, we’ll break down what each different mode does and what situations they work best in. Keep in mind that some settings act like basic presets for general lighting situations, others require a bit more fine tuning. The various white balance modes can be identified by a set of universal symbols that can be found on virtually all camera models.
Auto white balance mode is designed to automatically adjust the white balance based on the available light at hand, and can be identified by its AWB symbol. As technology increases, DSLR’s are getting better and better at being able to monitor and interpret the available light, meaning automatic white balance has become much more reliable.
The daylight/sunny mode is easily recognized by its sun symbol, and is used in general lighting conditions.
Shade mode is used when cloudy mode isn’t able to remove enough of the cold colors in an image, and helps to achieve a more accurate color balance. The symbol for this mode features a house with diagonal lines extending towards the ground.
Cloudy mode can be identified by the cloud symbol. As its name implies, it is best suited for lighting situations where the color temperature is too cold, such as a cloudy or overcast day.
Tungsten mode can be found by the household light bulb with light rays symbol, and is designed to function best with incandescent indoor lighting. This mode should be used if auto white balance isn’t able to remove enough of the orange coloration from your image.
Fluorescent mode is designed for indoor use as well, but more specifically in buildings that use fluorescent lighting. Fluorescent lighting has a cold temperature and tends to introduce blues and greens into the image, so this mode can be used if auto mode doesn’t completely remove them. This mode can be identified by a symbol with a straight line with light rays.
This mode can be identified by its jagged, downward pointing arrow symbol. As you have probably guessed, this white balance mode is best suited for when you’re shooting with Flash. Because flashes generally produce very harsh light, the resulting photos often look cold or blueish. Flash mode will help add some warmth back into the picture to get a better balance.
How to Set a Custom White Balance using a white or gray card
A simple way to get a custom white balance is to use a white or gray card. As you’d expect, these cards come in either white or 18% gray and are held by your subject to get a sample image. Your DSLR will use this image to get a sense of the color temperature present and compensate so that your whites won’t show up with unwanted hues in the final image.
This is a very straightforward and convenient way to get a custom white balance, and a good number of professional photographers rely on this technique in their work. Because of this, it is easy to acquire white and gray cards specifically made for photography purposes.
To set custom white balance, you have to take a picture of white or gray card > press menu button on your camera > choose custom white balance and select the white/gray card picture. After that, back to white balance menu select custom.
Tips: You can use a white paper, if you don’t have a white/gray card.
Manually White Balance a DSLR Camera
In addition to using presets and white/gray cards, your DSLR will also allow you to manually get your white balance by fine tuning the color temperature in camera. Color temperature is measured in kelvins, and different ranges within the kelvin spectrum result in different hues being introduced into your photograph.
To manually set your white balance, you will first take a sample image that your camera will use as a reference. From there, your DSLR will allow you to adjust the color temperature by using the kelvin scale. For reference, you can check out the color temperature spectrum below.
- 1000-2000K: Candlelight
- 2500-3500K: Tungsten
- 3000-4000K: Daylight/Sunny
- 4000-5000K: Fluorescent
- 5000-5500K: Flash
- 5000-6500K: Daylight/Sunny
- 6500-8000K: Cloudy
- 9000-10000K: Shade