White balance is probably one of the most underestimated aspects in photography. White balance falls under the category of colour management. Colour management is simply a process used to describe attaining accurate colour in your photos. White balance is a crucial part of your colour management.
White balance represents the colour hue or tone in your images. When you don’t aim to get accurate white balance your photos may be tinged with an incorrect colour hue. This can be disastrous at weddings or when you are shooting portraits. Even a slight shift of colour hue can mean unappealing photos.
White balance is essential in portraiture because it means accurate skin tone. If you white balance is not set to an accurate setting then skin tones may appear slightly blue, greenish or pink. It does not matter whether the persons skintone is fair or dark. If you white balance is unsuitable for your shoot you will find dissatisfying results.
There are different white balance settings on your camera. These are called white balance presets. These presets are designed to set your images to a particular tone. For example, there is a white balance preset called daylight. Daylight is designed to mimic the colour temperature at noon. The light at midday looks very different from the light in the late afternoon. If you want a colour temperature consistent with daylight hue then simply switch the white balance preset to the daylight setting. If you want your images to look warm then you may choose the cloudy or shade in your white balance presets.
Before I go on any further let me delve a little deeper. White balance is all to do with colour temperature. Colour temperature relates to the certain type of hue in your images. The light at different times of day will give you different hues. Some of these hues are suitable for certain subjects and not others. That’s why, when you change your white balance presets, your whole image looks different to the one before.
Colour temperature does not relate to Celsius or Fahrenheit. Colour temperature relates to the colour of light. When the light looks fairly white you can say it is reminiscent of daylight colour temperature. Camera manufacturers develop a white balance preset to mimic this daylight temperature. White balance temperature simply relates to the colour of the light you are shooting in.
To simplify this a little let’s just say you are shooting a subject at 2.30 in the afternoon. You notice that the light changes minute by minute. One minute you are shooting in full sun. The next minute you are shooting in overcast light. The colour temperature of these two lighting conditions is very different. So how can you get accurate colour in different light? The answer is to do a custom white balance.
Below are two images. The first has incorrect white balance. You can see how the couples skin tone looks too yellow. This could be what your photos look like when you use Atuo white balance for example.
Now we see an example of white balance correction. This is what the photo looks like colour corrected, or shot with a grey card. Once the camera has captured the grey card it can then use that as a reference for all colour. Once custom white balance is set the photos will take on a more realistic look.
Custom white balance is a white balance setting especially designed for the individual light you are shooting in. This means that even if you have changing light you can still have very accurate colour. Creating custom white balance is done using the colour checker reference tool such as a grey card. a grey card is simply a tool that tells the camera where mid grey is. Once the camera knows where mid grey is then you are telling it to set all the other colours around this point.
The way to set white balance is to photograph your grey card. Once you photographed the grey card you can then adjust your white balance settings to custom. The camera will then ask you if you want to use that image as a colour reference for all the photos from now on. Once you select yes the magic begins. You will see true to life colour in all your images.
Changing your white balance may differ from camera to camera. It’s important to check your camera manual to find your white balance adjustment settings. I know where they are on the Canon 5D but I am unfamiliar with where they are on a Nikon. I believe that the process is reasonably similar from manufacturer to manufacturer.
Setting your white balance to custom, or choosing the preset yourself, is an essential part of your colour management workflow. Colour management is one of the unsung heroes of photography. It is essential with all the shooting that you do. You will be able to get accurate colour in your highlights, mid tones and shadows. No longer will your whites look cream or your Blacks look dark grey. If you do your white balance correctly you will find that white actually looks real, true life white. Once you find that your colour management has been done correctly attaining accurate, sharp and beautiful colour will become as easy as pressing the shutter button.