Advanced Techniques

White balance

Written by Gail Bjork

Sometimes the white balance setting on a digital camera needs to be changed to match the light that illuminates a scene. With proper white balance, photos have more true-to-life colors.

The color of light reflected off a subject changes with the color of the main light source. The white balance setting on a digital camera adjusts the brightest part of a scene so it appears white. The human eye sees white objects as white regardless of the light source; unfortunately a digital camera does not.

Digital cameras are set to automatic white balance by default. Automatic white balance does a very good job under most circumstances, especially outside in good light. However, there are times when white balance needs to be changed manually to match the lighting in order to obtain more true-to-life colors in a photo.

Many digital cameras have a number of preset white balance settings as well as a custom white balance setting.

Preset white balance settings:

  • Daylight – for taking photos in direct sunlight
  • Cloudy – for taking photos on shady days, when skies are overcast
  • Fluorescent – for use under fluorescent lighting; your camera may have two fluorescent white balance settings
  • Incandescent/tungsten – for use under standard light bulbs and some types of fluorescent lighting
  • Flash – to be used in conjunction with the light produced by the built-in camera flash

White balancePhotos of a white door were taken under the same lighting conditions (standard light bulbs).

Automatic white balance was used to shoot the image on the left image.

Incandescent white balance setting was use for the image on the right.

About the author

Gail Bjork

Gail Bjork, who is passionate about digital photography, is the owner and editor of Digicamhelp.Gail is the author of three illustrated ebooks about digital photography. A number of her photos and digital photography related articles appear at other websites.In 2006, a series of her photos, People in the Louvre, were exhibited at the Underground Photo Gallery
in Iisalmi Finland. Eight of her photos taken in the Florida scrub are on permanent exhibition at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, Florida.Gail served twelve years as an elected member of The School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, one of the largest school districts in the U.S. She has also been the editor of a small town newspaper and a free-lance writer. Gail and her husband owned and ran several small businesses.

4 Comments

  • Thank you, Amy!

    Take a look at this article on photographing snow with a digital camera The author gives suggestions about what settings to use to keep texture. Be sure to read the comment section, as others disagree about the amount of exposure compensation, plus or minus. In either case, you will probably have to experiment with various settings to see which produce satisfactory results. Check if your camera has a Snow Scene setting, which has settings optimized by the manufacturer to photograph snow. Whatever settings you use be prepared to do some basic editing, particularly to adjust white balance and, possibly, contrast.

  • Great site!
    I’m trying to photograph snow. It’s a cloudy day and I’m setting my camera to cloudy, but within the cloudy setting I have the option of going up or down 3 stops from 0. Should I keep it at zero? What does it do when I go up or down?
    Thanks very much.

  • kripi, thank you so very much for your kind words about Digicamhelp! Our goal is to keep photographic concepts, techniques and settings information as brief and easy-to-understand as possible. There is tons of good information on the web about digital photography. But some of it borders on information overload and can be a little difficult to understand for novice and intermediate digital camera users.