How to Understand White Balance in Photography

The white balance in photography has to be set properly for the correct exposure, especially when taking pictures outside in bright sunlight. The camera’s automatic white balance system is designed to automatically adjust to different light conditions but this can lead to a photo being overexposed or underexposed, causing loss of detail and colour.

The white balance setting can be adjusted manually to ensure correct exposure. This involves taking a reading of the light colour temperature with the help of a special white balance tool.

Setting the white balance is usually done via the exposure settings on the camera’s Mode Dial. However, this is not always possible and some cameras only offer a few options which means the choice is limited.

How to understand the white balance

What is white balance?

White balance refers to the colour temperature of the ambient light. The camera’s automatic white balance system uses the image sensor to find the proper settings to suit the current lighting conditions. In brighter light, the camera will most likely use cooler colours and in darker light, warmer colours.

This works fine for outdoor photography and most of the time it does a good job of ensuring the image is correctly exposed. However, some situations mean the automatic white balance settings can cause problems. If the subject is in direct sunlight, the image will be too dark. If you are photographing a subject in the shade, the image will be too bright. There are times when a more manual approach is needed to ensure the correct exposure.

The white balance tool

If you are in need of a quick and easy solution, the white balance tool (WB tool) on some cameras is an excellent aid to manually adjusting the white balance. Most DSLR cameras now have the white balance tool on the mode dial, making it simple to select the correct option.

The WB tool is a small square indicator on the front of the camera. When you press the button, the indicator lights up, telling you which of the white balance presets you have selected.

In normal circumstances, you can simply turn the dial to the correct position and take a picture.

White balance settings

The white balance setting on many cameras is controlled by the Mode Dial and there is only a limited number of choices available.

When shooting in Auto mode, the camera will select the most suitable white balance setting for the conditions and will use the correct settings for the selected white balance setting. When shooting in the other Picture Styles or scene modes, you can adjust the white balance settings to suit your personal preferences. When you are using the Auto, Flash Off, Low Light or Creative Auto modes, the camera will not apply any adjustments to the white balance.