Sunday, March 18, 2012

Step Eight: Learn How to Set Your White Balance

Have you ever taken pictures at an indoor event only to get home and find that everything has an orange, grey or bluish tint? This is because the color of objects are affected by different types of lights, whether they be tungsten, fluorescent or something other than that. Our brains know how to compensate and automatically adjust how we see the objects, but cameras aren't smart enough to do that on their own. Without human intervention, most pictures taken indoors and some pictures taken outdoors will have a color cast that can ruin the picture.

I took the picture below at my brother's wedding several years ago. See how there is a greyish orange cast to the picture? That's referred to as a color cast. I took a good number of pictures during the wedding ceremony and reception and much to my dismay when I downloaded my pictures they all had this dingy color cast.

Luckily I was able to remove the color cast later, but I had to do this on each individual picture I took that evening which took a lot of time. Sometimes it's easier to remove the color cast than others. Sometimes you can't get the true colors to show through. For this reason, it's always better to eliminate the color cast in the first place by setting the custom white balance in your camera.

Learning how to control white balance was one of those things I was determined NOT to learn. I think it had something to do with the fact that I knew I needed to read my camera manual to learn how to do this and I had it in my mind that it was a hard thing to do. It could not be further from the truth. Once I finally took my camera manual out, walked through the steps one at a time (and there are only about three or four steps), I was amazed how simple it was. If there is one thing that anyone can quickly master, it's white balance.

There are fancy gizmos you can buy that will help you set your white balance, but I've found that a white sheet of paper (or in a real pinch, a white napkin or table cloth will do just fine, too) does the trick for me. You will likely need your camera manual to walk you through the steps the first one or two times. If you can find your manual, look online for it.

To give you an idea of how easy this is, below are the steps I follow when setting a custom white balance.
  1. I take a picture of something white. I usually have to set my lens to manual focus because if it's in auto-focus the lens can't find a focus point and just whirls around. I try to remember to immediately set the lens back to auto-focus. 
  2. I go to my camera menu and find Custom White Balance. The camera will automatically open the display area and the picture I just took will be displayed. I click on set.
  3. On my camera is a WB option, I select the option that looks like a flower.
  4. I'm ready to shoot away! I just don't want forget to reset the custom white balance when I use your camera again or change it back to auto white balance.
Again, there are grey cards, special lens caps, and other tools that you can buy to help set your white balance, but since I'm not a professional photographer, I'm happy enough just setting the white balance using something white when I know my pictures will be affected by a color cast.

When I taking pictures outdoors or in a house with natural light coming in, I don't worry about setting a custom white balance. I find that auto white balance in those conditions work fine enough for me.

Tomorrow I'll talk about editing photos to make them look their best.

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