Sunday, October 28, 2007

White Balance

I realized the other day that I've mentioned white balance (also known as color balance) a couple of times, but never explained it. Getting a proper white balance basically means balancing out the colors so that they are true to life, instead of distorted by the lighting conditions. You know how regular indoor light bulbs often give everything a yellowish tint, and fluorescent lights tend to give a bluish tint, but your eyes/brain adjust so you know what the colors really are? When you have proper white balance in a photo, you compensate for this tint. Your whites look white and all your other colors look accurate. What got me thinking about this? I was photographing a sweater I'm working on, and the first photo came out looking like this:

Ick. (This is one reason I love digital photography - when something is wrong in your photo, you know right away.) The problem was that my camera was still set to white balance for Shade conditions, from some pictures I'd been taking previously. In the D40, there are eight different white balance settings. Six of them correspond to the type of light you're shooting in:

Incandescent (most regular indoor bulbs)

The other two are Auto and Pre. Auto is what it sounds like it should be (automatically adjusts based on what it thinks the light source is), and Pre is used when you want to get a really accurate reading. Basically, you take a preliminary picture of a colored (often grey) card (like this one, for example) and the camera uses that data to get an accurate color balance in the following pictures. (I've never actually done this...never really needed to for the photos I take...)

You can certainly just leave your camera on Auto and forget about it. The software seems to be sophisticated enough that most images will turn out okay. Here's the Auto version of the purple sweater:

It's much better than the Cloud-balanced shot, but still not quite accurate. I was taking these pictures inside near a window (generally the best indoor place to take pictures of knitting, assuming it's sunny outside), and from previous attempts I knew that setting the camera to balance for Sun would probably work best:

Yep. It captures the color of the purple very well, and the white collar looks white, not blueish or cream. Just for kicks, here's what it looks like when set on Cloud:

Close, but not quite. Both on the camera's LCD screen and on my computer, the Sun-balanced shot looks the best.

The Auto is good enough on my camera that I usually leave it on Auto for snapshots, or when I'm going to be in multiple different light conditions in a short time period. However, if I know my lighting will be consistent for awhile, like when taking knitting photos or taking pictures at an indoor sporting event, I'll set the white balance to match the lighting. It only takes a few clicks, and it's usually worth it. My old point-and-shoot has white balance settings as well, although by the time I learned what it was, I already had my dSLR, so I haven't played around with it much. Point is, if you have a digital, you can probably adjust the white balance. Try it out. Let me know how it goes. =)

To learn more about white balance, you can check out:
Ken Rockwell
Cambridge in Colour

A related topic is monitor calibration. I know pretty much nothing about this, as I cannot afford a monitor calibration system. Based on the tests at that site, I think mine's okay, and I'm not too concerned since I just take pictures for fun. =)

Posted by Picasa


  1. I just realized a couple days ago that my camera can do this. I haven't tried it yet. I was too busy ruining half my pictures because I had it set to AV (which I'm not even sure means).

    The difference in the pics is quite dramatic. My laptop screen is always wrong so I usually don't know what I'm doing.

  2. I was going to mention the laptop screen - not always the best judge.

    I have a ??? how does Pioneer Woman color just one feature such as the tongue on the horse which is a black and white photo. Can you do that with Picasa? I have looked and have not found anything.

    And you knit too holy cow!!! Talent Girl

  3. I always get educated when I visit here, I love it!! :-)

    Have you "met" Nin over at I think you have a lot in common!

  4. Nikon, hey? That's OK :)

    Looks like you are learning a lot of cool stuff!

  5. white balance aside...that's a really cute little piece of knitting there!


I heart my commenters! =)