The Color of Light – How to use White Balance

Look out your window on a sunny day. Take note of the bright areas and those in the shade. Do they look different? Of course they do, but what is the difference? Most people think of shade as an area where an object, like a tree or building blocks the light and that’s correct, but for the photographer there is one other very important difference. Shade alters the color of the light from white to blueish.

The eye adjusts and this color shift is hardly noticeable but the camera sees it. The white balance adjustment on a digital camera is like having a pocket full of filters. Film photographers know that when they are shooting objects in the shade, they add a warming filter to compensate for the shade’s blue cast. Clouds create a blue tone but not as pronounced as shade. The cloudy white balance setting adds a warming color but not as much as the shade setting. When taking a photo indoors with the lights on and no flash, a camera set for daylight will render a very warm, orange color. Fix that by using the white balance setting for tungsten light. When shooting under florescent lights, choose the setting for florescent lights. While flash mimics the color of daylight, choose the flash setting when shooting with a flash, inside or outside. It goes without saying that when you shoot outside on a sunny day, use the daylight setting.

That’s all you need to know about White Balance. Know the color of the existing light and selecting the correct white balance is easy.

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Notice the different color of the snow. The snow in the shade has a blue hue.

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