One of the challenges faced by photographers on a daily basis is adjusting white balance of their images. For those of you who don’t know what white balance adjustment is or how it can impact your photos read this next few paragraphs carefully. For those who already know that part and want to know how you can use simple steps to correct the white balance of your photos, skip to the editing part.
But first you need to have an understanding of color cast because this is something that impacts our photos considerably. You may have surely noticed images taken under a fluorescent light to be overly blue? Then again you may have also noticed that under a tungsten light images are overly orange.
Every type of light, unless it is day light balanced will throw a color cast on your images. Even shooting under the shade or under a cloudy sky tends to impart a color cast. This does not impact white only, (though the term white balance is frequently used in relation to this) but all other colors.
This is something, however, that does not affect the human eye. Our eyes have a mechanism by which it can automatically adjust to the different types of light. We can see everything normally the color they are, regardless of the type of light under which we see them. But our cameras don’t have that ‘automatic adjustment’.
It, thus, becomes imperative that you use some sort of color adjustment to take care of the color cast. This color adjustment process is known by different names. White Balance Color Balance or Color Correction. Whatever the name the process is the same.
Auto White Balance
Now, having said that cameras don’t have an ‘Auto White Balance’ adjustment option I would like to correct myself. There is an automatic method of adjusting white balance on all cameras. This is termed as Auto White Balance. It does a fairly decent job of eliminating most color cast. But the end result almost always leave room for fine tuning. In other words the result is not the same as the human eye. The result is not as conclusive as to term it as an accurate adjustment.
This is the reason why most photographers employ some sort of technique for adjusting white balance post shooting. There are in fact many such methods. Some of the methods employ taking a reference image of white sheet of paper or white card or even a color checker shade (just like X-rite ColorChecker). This constitutes as the reference shot or the rest of the shots to follow.
The Easy Reference Point Method
When you start a session take a picture of the reference point. Then normally go about taking the rest of the images. Afterwards when post-processing the images, select the reference shot and use it to adjust the color balance of the rest of the images.
Mind you, if the light changes at any time during the session, you will have to retake the reference point image again. This is something that may sound a bit too cumbersome for beginners. But trust me when I say this, it is better than doing a guess work as to the correct color balance of your photos without a reference point. That’s exactly what the reference point method is all about. It is the most accurate method to get the colors as close to what they should have been without the color cast. This takes the guesswork out of the whole business. You don’t have to remember what the lighting condition was when you took each of the photos.
The Pro Method
Pros tend to color balance their photos depending on the way they want their final image to be. That means it does not always use a reference point and has sometimes no relation to what the color cast was when the image was made. Everything depends on the artistic vision of the photographer.
You may think that the right white balance has nothing to do with what one’s artistic vision is. You would be wrong. Initially, you would be contended with shooting and then post-processing your images to ensure the color balance is as close as what you had seen with your bare eyes. But as you grow as a photographer you will realize there is a lot of magic in post-processing, you would start to explore more radical post-processing techniques. At that point you would no longer be bogged down by the ‘rules’ of photography as to what you can or cannot do.
Thus, even if an image was shot on a cloudy day and has a blue tone to it, you would not hesitate to warm things up to make it appear as if it was shot during the golden hour. That’s the beauty of white balance adjustment.
The Other Pro Method
Another method for adjusting white balance is by dialing in manually a compensating number that works as the opposite of the color cast. Color temperature is expressed in Kelvin ˚. The higher you go on the scale the cooler the color is and vice versa. Let’s say that you are shooting under tungsten lights. You can probably tell from experience that the color cast would be orange.
To cool things down you can dial in the compensatory number on the manual white balance feature on your camera and choose the right color temperature. Let’s say in this case 3000 ˚ K. When you do that the camera automatically compensates for the overly orange color cast. This method requires a lot of practice. This is because you will have to continuously fine tune each time you face such varied lighting scenario and then compare the frames after fine tuning the Kelvin number. Also you will have to remember the entire color chart for the kelvin temperature of each of the corresponding color.
In photography there are no rules to good photographs, except for good photographs. Thus, regardless of whether or not you nailed the color balance of your photo the ultimate test is the quality of composition and how you are able to tell the story you want to tell in the most captivating way as you possibly can. Thus, there is no good ‘formula’ as such to what should be the right color balance for your images. Depending on the subject, the composition and the vision any technique for adjusting white balance is acceptable, so long the final image is acceptable.