Creating The Correct White Balance In Camera

Although adjusting the white balance is a fairly quick process with Lightroom, getting the photo captured right from the start is still always key. We did a review of what white balance is awhile back here: Understanding White Balance, and today want to talk a little about getting it right in camera. No matter how quick you can do post processing there really is never a better solution than trying to get the image captured perfectly.

With most DSLR’s there are a few different options you have when setting white balance. You can use one of the Presets which normally include settings such as: Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Flash, Florescent, Tungsten, Kelvin and Custom. There is also a Auto White Balance option which I highly suggest not to ever use. One of the main reasons for not using the Auto option is that it will slightly change when you are in the same light setting if you just move a few feet over. Because of this the post processing can be a pain if every image has a slightly different with color. Even if you try to do a custom balance and get the color totally wrong, all of the images you had captured under that setting will be the same and to batch correct them is quick and easy.

White Balance chart photo

Even though the presets can be easy to use on camera the best way to get consistent color is to create a custom white balance. You also might want to set it to Kelvin and dial in the Kelvin Temperature that you would like. The Custom or Kelvin will give you the most control over your color.

Here is a list of some common light sources and their color temperature in Kelvin.
Temperature —–> Typical Sources
1000K —–> Candles; oil lamps
2000K —–> Very early sunrise; low effect tungsten lamps
2500K —–> Household light bulbs
3000K —–> Studio lights, photo floods
4000K —–> Clear flashbulbs
5000K —–> Typical daylight; electronic flash
5500K —–> The sun at noon
6000K —–> Bright sunshine with clear sky
7000K —–> Slightly overcast sky
8000K —–> Hazy sky
9000K —–> Open shade on clear day
10,000K —–> Heavily overcast sky
11,000K —–> Sunless blue skies

Setting a custom white balance

Setting a custom white balance is fairly easy. What you first will do is photograph something that is pure white. Then set your camera to custom white balance and reference the image in your cameras menu. This will tell the camera what white should be and it will adjust the images you take so that they use that white photo as a reference point. You do have to pay careful attention to the reference shot you are capturing however. Make sure you fill the frame with something white (even keeping a 8×10 sheet of white paper in your camera bag can actually work great) and photograph it in the same light that your subject is going to be in. Every time your lighting changes you will have to do a new custom white balance.

CREATIVE TIP: Photograph something with a color or through a colored filter and your resulting photos will have a color cast opposite the color to which you set it! This can be a fun way to get some cool colors for a different type of photo. Photography something blue and set the white balance to that and photos come out yellow. Set the white balance on something green and the photos come out magenta. Set the white balance to something warm and you get cool.

There are many different types of products people sell to help you create a better custom white balance. Although these do give you a accurate white point when creating a custom white balance, they definitely aren’t required to get a perfect white balance. They can save time though and we will review some of these in a future post.

Once you have captured that great image if you still need to do some changes to the color cast in lightroom check out our quick guide here: Updating White Balance in Lightroom.

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Author: Mark

Mark is a fine art wedding and portrait photographer from Northern California. He has been passionate about photography since childhood and started his studio 12 years ago to bring a fresh style of photography to the wedding and portrait world.

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  1. Dear Mark!!!

    I read your article on white balance. It is well explained based on your expertise. I liked it. I am writing a book on Photography. I wish to use your article in my book under your name. I need your permission to do so.

    warm rgds.


  2. What is a sunless blue sky?

  3. I was wondering about a sunless blue sky too!!!

    Re photographing white. People often talk about a “Gray Card”. What effect does using a gray card have versus a white piece of paper?

    Does a white piece of paper give you a warmer colour?


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