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Photography Question 
Ellie van Rooyen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/15/2004

White Balance: What, Why, How

Hi there, can somebody perhaps explain white balance to me - what it is, why should you change it, and when should you change it to what? My camera manual says something about taking a photo of a white piece of paper and storing it under your custom WB ... why would one do this? And what result does this have?

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9/6/2005 6:47:00 AM

Michael H. Cothran   Different light sources emit lighting of different colors or hues. Your brain "automatically" adjusts these hues so you see normally most of the time, but film and digital devices don't do this. With film, you have your choice of daylight or tungsten balanced. With digital, you have an endless array of "white balance" choices.
Correct color is defined as a hue of 5500 degrees on the Kelvin scale. This is the normal White Balance of sunlight at high noon. Higher Kelvin temperatures result in bluer light, and lower Kelvin temperatures result in more yellow light. So, for shooting outdoors at midday in the sunlight, you would choose the "daylight" option. Overcast days and shade on sunny days tend to be bluer in hue, thus need to be "warmed." Indoor, incandescent and tungsten lighting is very yellow in hue (about 2800K), so it needs to be "cooled," or made bluer. Fluorescent lights are somewhat green-heavy in hue, so they need to be compensated with some magenta hue.
So, if you use the "daylight" setting for any of these other sources, your images will be "off-colored." Many cameras are equipped with an "Auto" setting, which sometimes works, and sometimes does not. You should also have a "Custom" setting, in case you are shooting in a light source different from the ones offered on your camera. This would be appropriate for many studio lighting situations.
If you want your color hue to be accurate, choose the appropriate setting. If none of the settings look good, try setting a Custom White Balance. Good luck.
Michael H. Cothran

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9/6/2005 7:17:08 AM

Ellie van Rooyen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/15/2004
  Thanks a lot, Michael ... can I just bother you once more? You said that if the day is overcast, it is bluer in hue and needs to be warmed. How do you 'warm' a photo, or how do you 'cool' a photo? And how do you, for instance like you said, compensate a photo with some magenta hue?

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9/6/2005 11:25:29 PM

Michael H. Cothran   Your digital camera should have settings for all the above mentioned color hues - cloudy, fluorescent, etc. Just dial in the appropriate setting. It may be to your advantage to learn to master the custom white balance setting by reading your instruction manual. With the custom white balance, you can often adjust your camera to whatever light source you are shooting under more accurately than with the default settings. Otherwise, just set your camera to the cloudy symbol for overcast days, or shooting in the shade, set it to the tungsten/incandescent lightbulb symbol for indoor shooting, and set it to the fluorescent symbol for fluorescent lighting. These settings automatically give you the appropriate color hue, albeit to a default degree.
With film cameras, you are required to use filters. With daylight film, the 80 series (A, B, or C) would cool a scene, the 81 series would warm a scene, and a +10 or +20 magenta filter would compensate for fluorescent lighting.

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9/7/2005 11:16:47 AM

Ellie van Rooyen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/15/2004
  Thanx a lot for your help Michael, I really appreciate it, I think I've got it now! I will go do some practising.

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9/7/2005 11:02:00 PM

Irene Troy
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/27/2004
  Michael - thank you! WOW! Your's is the most consise and easy to understand explanation of White Balance that I have seen. Even the book that I have on digital photography fails to explain white balance in such a clear way. It finally makes sense to me in a way that I can actually use. Perhaps you need to be writing a book on digital! Thank you!

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9/8/2005 5:09:54 AM

Joseph M. Kolecki
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/4/2005
  I have a question... and I will also consult my instruction manual about this (sometimes its easier when someone explains, however) but with my Nikon D70, I can adjust each of my white balance options... either leaving them at zero, or tuning in to 1,2,3,4 or 5 or -1,-2,-3,-4 or 5... what are these settings and how should I use them? What do they do exactly?

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1/5/2006 11:26:47 AM

Ellie van Rooyen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/15/2004
  interesting, the answer to this one would be interesting...

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1/6/2006 2:27:52 AM

John Rhodes
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/24/2005
  For Joseph K.
I don't have access to my camera manual right now, but I can give you a general explanation of the +/- numbers for white balance. Sunny daylight is, as mentioned earlier, is 500K. The +/-settings allow you to fine-tune these settings in increments of, say 200 or 300 degrees kelvin. In this example, you could set at 5500K then tune in at 5200K or 5700K (plus or minus one). Check your D70 manual for the exact fine-tune settings.

Bryan Petersen, whom we all recognize as the expert to turn to, says in his latest book, Understanding Digital Photography, keeps his white balance set to cloudy plus 3 at all times; shoots RAW, and adjusts the temperature, if neccessary, after-camera.


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1/6/2006 9:03:01 AM

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