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Selecting the Best White Balance

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White balance can effect both the mood and appearance of an image. The correct white balance contribute to a finished photograph that accurately represents the original scene. The wrong color balance, on the other hand, can leave a photo looking washed out or unnatural. So, how do you select the best white balance for your photograph? While there are tool that can help you get your color balance right –  like shooting with a grey card or using software like Color Checker – these tools don’t always work perfectly. There are lots of situations where these tools just won’t work – when there is a strong natural color cast caused by reflected sunlight, for example – or when there are different light conditions in different areas of your photograph. For more reliable results, we select the best white balance based upon shooting conditions, our memory of the scene, and the mood we are trying to convey.

Take a look at the photograph above. Jay took this shot early in the morning under a heavily overcast sky. In post-processing, he selected a white balance of 5200k – which is a lot closer to the default setting for daylight condition than for cloudy ones. Jay wanted to bring out the fresh greens that he remembered from the scene – so he relied upon his memory and the mood he wanted to create.

Camera default settings – 4300K – strong blue color cast.

Default “cloudy” setting – strong yellow color cast.

What would have happened if Jay had chosen a different white balance setting? The two images above show the most likely results. The first shows the image with the default white balance selected by the camera. In this case, the camera selected a white balance of 4300K, which gives the photo a strong blue cast. This blue cast makes the flowers appear dull. The second example uses a cloudy white balance. This time the image has a strong yellow cast, and the grass appears past its prime.

Take your time when you adjust your white balance. Look at your image as you adjust the sliders and watch for unnatural color casts and dull colors. Use your memory of the scene to produce the best possible results, rather than relying on mathematical algorithms to do the work for you. Good luck!

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