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What Is White Balance in Photography? A Beginner's Guide

Every photographer needs to understand white balance to capture pictures that accurately represent the scene's colors as seen in real life. This guide aims to demystify the concept of white balance. It will show beginners how white balance affects their images and how to set it correctly to achieve accurate colors. Now let us try to reveal more secrets of white balance and figure out how to make colors in your photographs even more vivid.

Split scene demonstrating warm tungsten vs. cool daylight white balance in photography, with a camera symbolizing adjustment.


Understanding White Balance: The Basics

White balance (WB) is among the principal concepts in photography, helping adjust colors so they appear as they do in reality. Unlike the human eye, the camera cannot interpret the color of white under various lighting conditions. White balance guides the coloration of these differences in light and makes sure that the white areas in the picture are really white, letting all other colors be accurately reproduced.

Why Is White Balance Important?

Imagine taking a picture at home with incandescent lighting. You have not adjusted the white balance to the color of your source. In this case, the colors in the photograph, including the person, might appear yellowish. Simply informing the camera of your light's color temperature is sufficient. It assures you of colors in your photos, just like the colors in the real scene.

Color Temperature: Warmth and Coolness in Your Images

Color temperature is calibrated in Kelvin (K), illustrating the warmth or coolness of a light source. The low values will be associated with the warm, yellowish color of the light, while the high ones get a cold, bluish light.

A crucial aspect of mastering white balance is understanding color temperature, as this knowledge enables photographers to make the necessary adjustments to their cameras.

Common Lighting Conditions and Their Color Temperatures:

Lightning Condition

Color Temperature




Very warm, soft light, creating intimate and moody scenes.



Warm, soft light, offering rich colors and long shadows, perfect for portraits and landscapes.

Tungsten (Incandescent)


Warm, yellowish light, often found in household bulbs, creating a cozy atmosphere.



Harsh, flat light with a slightly bluish tone, often used in commercial spaces.



A balanced, neutral light ideal for accurate color rendition.

Shade or Overcast


Cool, bluish light, which can bring a calm and serene feeling to photographs.

Clear Blue Sky


Very cool, intense blue light, challenging for photography without adjustments.

How White Balance Affects Your Photos

An incorrect white balance will result in color errors in the pictures. Some of the bad white balances will cause:

  • Color casts: Unwanted tints that overshadow the true colors of your scene.

  • Mood alterations: The warmth or coolness of your photo can significantly affect its emotional impact.

The Role of White Balance in Creative Photography

While accuracy is important, creatively using white balance can evoke various moods and atmospheres in your photography. Understanding how to control this can be a potent tool within your creative armory.

Adjusting White Balance: A Step-by-Step Guide

Most cameras offer several ways to adjust white balance:

1. Auto White Balance (AWB)

The Auto White Balance setting is a good starting point for beginners. It automatically judges the condition of lighting and modifies the required white balance accordingly. Though AWB does a pretty good job in some cases, it is far from perfect, especially in conditions where mixed lighting is present.

2. Preset White Balance Settings

Many cameras have a preset white balance setting, making it easy to use your camera under various lighting conditions (sun, shade, tungsten, etc.). This offers the presets that change the white balance according to the environment where someone is shooting.

3. Custom White Balance

One can set a white balance that is custom for better precision in representing colors. This is the process of taking a picture of an item that is white or neutral-gray under the lighting conditions where the subject will be taken. Your camera then uses this reference to balance the color temperature.

Using a custom white balance is particularly useful in mixed lighting situations or when precise color accuracy is crucial, such as in product photography or fine art photography, where the true color rendition of the subject matter is paramount.

4. White Balance Adjustment in Post-Processing

Of course, with RAW files, white balance control is highly flexible during post-processing. You can actually adjust the colors of the picture without quality loss in the process.

Practical Tips for Getting White Balance Right

  • Practice makes perfect: Experiment with different white balance settings to see how they affect your images.

  • Using a gray card: a gray card reflects all colors equally, so you will have a very accurate white balance when using a gray card under any given lighting condition.

  • Check your camera's histogram: The histogram is a useful tool for evaluating the color balance in your photos.

  • Remember the mood: While precision is valued, creatively adjusting white balance can effectively set a mood.

Common White Balance Mistakes to Avoid

  • Forgetting to change your settings: Many photographers forget to adjust their white balance settings when moving to different lighting conditions, leaving the camera on one specific setting.

  • Over-relying on auto white balance: While AWB is very convenient, it doesn't necessarily provide the best results, mostly under mixed or artificial light.


White balance is a pivotal aspect of photography that influences the color accuracy and mood of your images. Learning how to master the white balance will enable you to make sure that your photos come out looking more natural and lifelike, no other conditions of the light under which you are shooting notwithstanding. Photography is as much a technical discipline as it is a medium for expressing creativity and experimentation. In essence, there should be no fear of white balance, as it unlocks vast possibilities for perfecting and enhancing photos.


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