Information about white balance can be fed excessively technically and appear too difficult to understand in articles about photography and textbooks. We would like to present information on the white balance in an accessible form to help you master all the functionality of you digital camera not going deep into the technical terms and the physics of the conversion of photons into the bits of information. If you follow all these steps, you will get a fairly good idea of the white balance, Kelvins and color temperature with various settings and lighting. After a certain amount of experiments, you will become a master of photography.
1) Understanding of restrictions
The first thing to do is to understand that shooting in RAW won’t give absolute white balance. There may be situations where you shoot in mixed light, for instance, light of tungsten lamp in the room or the fluorescent light, the light from windows in the room with fluorescent lighting, any combination of the above lighting, etc. This light will have different temperature in the RAW image and you won’t be able to align it with the white balance slider.
Understanding of white balance and color temperature can help you reduce (or emphasize) the effects of mixed light and to achieve the desired result.
The second thing to remember – the more color correction you need in post-processing, the longer your work takes. Therefore, we recommend you to read this article and begin mastering the white balance and color temperature.
2) Find white balance settings
Let’s get started without having to remember any specific or complex terms. To date, our cameras are clever enough, but the AWB (Auto White Balance) is not always possible to achieve desired results. In general, AWB works well, guessing the temperature in the daytime. However, at night or when shooting indoors, it’s better to configure it manually. Each camera is slightly different, but in general, white balance settings are always in the main menu settings.
3) Remember icons
White balance icons always correspond to the current lighting situation. Most of the icons are clear: “sun” icon – sunlight, “lighting” – speedlight.
These are ready-made presets for quick selection of light temperature, in most cases enough to quickly change and shoot and then to align to the ideal state during the processing.
The table clearly shows how the temperature changes from warm to cold. Almost any camera allows to set the temperature manually (K5300 icon), further we will take a closer look…
4) Experiments with K
Parameter K in your white balance settings perhaps is the most important parameter of white balance. Here is an example so you can imagine what difficulties you may face using the gels for the correction of mixed lighting without understanding of “Kelvins”. Try to scroll the parameter K to the end, as in the picture on the left, up to about 2500K. If you take a picture, it will likely be bluish (blue shades degree depends on the current lighting situation). Now scroll into the opposite direction to 10000K and take a photo. Your image will likely be orange. Simply, the more the K is, the more orange your picture will be and the more you reduce K, the more blue color will have the photo. The advantage of using K option, in contrast to the others, is that you can check your images and adjust accordingly, rather than be content with presets.
5) The concept of temperature / color
Now let’s take a look at the chart on the left. On the chart you will see that the lower the Kelvin level the more orange the color of light is, and vice versa, the higher the Kelvin level, the higher is the blue color of light. What does it mean?
This means that if we shoot in a room with tungsten light (3000K), setting 3000K in the camera settings, it will make the light ”neutral” or white. If we reduce to 2500K, the light will become bluer and if we increase up to 3500K, the light will become more yellow / orange.
For instance, the photograph, who prefers the image a little bit warmer, will set not 3000K but 3300K in tungsten light. Thus, overall color will be more yellow and warmer. To make the sunlight warmer, it’s necessary to set the WB by 200-250K more than 5500K.
Conversely, if someone prefers colder scenes, it is necessary to reduce by 200-2500K. In tungsten lamps lighting (3000K) you should set the white balance of 2800K or 5300K respectively. Any temperature settings lower than the color temperature of the scene will cause blue / “cold” colors of the image.
This is useful for practical application. For example, you entered the hall of the hotel and noticed that the light source is tungsten lamps. Try to configure K scale between 2500 and 3500 (depending on your preferences of warm and cold). What if the image is too orange?
At this point, you should know how to resolve this issue, going to settings and reducing kelvins. If the color is too blue, do the opposite, increase K. If you shoot outdoors or use flash (which is almost the same as sunlight) set up from 5000 to 5500 and adjust until you get something you wanted to see. Ranges 3000 and 5000 are two the most common ones you will use, so they are worth remembering.
7) Elimination of mixed lighting by using correction filters.
AWB works well in smooth lighting, when you have one light source without contrast. However, you can face mixed lighting in your scene. When the speedlight is turned on, AWB automatically transmits the temperature of 5500K to the AWB settings.
So, let’s take a look what results we get when shooting indoors with tungsten light and speedlight with turned on AWB mode. You take a picture, the speedlight illuminates the object with a temperature of 5500K, the camera records results with temperature of 5500K, the object looks good but the background is orange
Well, you can say “let’s fix the white balance in the editor and all!”
Nothing will come of it, if you align background for about 3000k, the object itself will become blue as in the picture.
All due to the fact that in our frame we have two sources of light with different temperature and power, they are also different structurally – speedlight lamp is gas discharge and table lamp has a filament.
There is a way! You must use the color correction filters (gels).
The first thing to do is to assess the situation and understand what kind of filter is necessary, such an experience doesn’t come immediately, but there is no big deal. You can fairly accurately by eye determine the type of the main light in the room – warm or cold, the type of lamp, and the light intensity.
In our case (left photo) table lamp with tungsten lamp was used, speedlight with filter Full C.T. orange is directed towards the face of the policeman.
This filter converts speedlight 6500K into 3200K, approximately as in tungsten bulb, thus we get the light source with the same temperature as our main light.
If you shoot in RAW it doesn’t matter what WB settings are used in the camera, you can easily set the correct white balance in RAW-editor.
If shooting in JPG or you want to immediately asses the preliminary results, set the WB parameter “K” in camera settings corresponding to your filter, it’s even more convenient because you will almost instantly see if you picked up a filter to main lighting correctly.
The filter Full C.T. orange with temperature 3200K was used in the scene with the policeman, respectively, the temperature 3000K was set in the camera in WB settings, and picture taken has virtually perfect white balance, so it wasn’t even edited.
Correction filters can be different for various light sources… we will tell more about this in further articles. Don’t forget to compensate the flash output level, the filter is not transparent and part of the light flow is blocked. The filter characteristics contain all the necessary information.