Photography Basics

Introduction to White Balance

Understanding white balance is as important as understanding exposure. In exposure, you are telling your camera how much light you want to record. In white balance, you are telling your camera which is the right colour. So, it is one of the most important settings on your digital camera. In this post on digital photography 101, I am going to give you an introduction to White balance (WB) Let me tell you why you need to read this post. Sometimes when you take photos indoor or in candle light, they look orange. This is because the light sources — candle light and tungsten– adds orange tones to your images. In this post I will explain why it happens and what can you do to take photos with accurate colors.

What is White Balance?

It is the balance of colors in an image by removing color casts from photographs. It is called white balance since the camera balances the colors by mixing them properly. So, anything that appears white for human eyes is rendered white in the photograph.

What is Color Temperature?

For understanding white balance, you need to know the concept of color temperature.Sun light has different colors. And it changes all the time. It is yellow/orange during sunset, violet in twilight, and blueish during broad day light. The shift in these colors is measured in degrees of kelvin. It is called the color temperature. The color temperature is useful in finding out different sources of light, and it helps you to set the right WB preset on your camera.

Here is a chart showing various color temperatures.

White balance settings chart
Here is a cool infographic which will give you a good idea on color temperatures and light source.

Colour Temperature Scale

Colour Temperature Scale infographic


Why do you need to adjust the White Balance?

To get accurate colors in your photos. As simple as that. Different light sources have different colors. For example, tungsten light produces warm colors. We may not notice this color since our brain does color correction. So we see the true colors. But a camera cannot do this unless we set the right WB setting. For example, if you are shooting indoors under tungsten light, and if you don’t set the proper WB, the image looks orange.

White balance comparison
You can see the differences in colours due various white balance settings. Camera adds warm tones in cloudy settings, cooler tones in tungsten settings. The custom white balance is the manual WB adjusment I did in photoshop. Don’t get confused with the ‘Custom’ white balance settings on you camera.

Various White Balance settings on your camera

By setting a white balance, we are telling the camera what color it actually is. WB settings on your camera are self-explanatory. Anyway, I shall go through some WB settings on your camera.

AWB: It stands for auto white balance. When you set your camera in auto white balance mode, the camera makes its best guess to obtain accurate colors according to the different lighting conditions.

Daylight: Useful when you are shooting outdoors in broad day light. In broad daylight there will be blue color cast. Our brain does the ‘white balance’ or color correct by removing this blue cast. That’s why we don’t see the blue color. But camera captures it if you don’t  set proper white balance. And if you set daylight WB setting, camera removes the cast

Cloudy: Ideal setting when you are shooting in a cloudy. It gives a warm color to the images.

Shade: Shaded locations generally produce cooler colors. Choosing this setting will give warm tones ( warmer than cloudy WB) to the image.

Flash: Flash light is blue in color. So in Flash WB settings, camera adds warm tones to the image.

Tungsten/Incandescent: It is often used for shooting indoors. Since tungsten bulbs produce warm colors, this WB setting gives a cool tone to the photos.

Fluorescent: Fluorescent light produces cool or blue colors. So this setting compensates for it by making the photos brighter and warmer.

Custom: This setting is available only in some DSLRs and advanced point and shoot camera. Here the photographer sets the WB.

This is what camera does when you set a white balance: Daylight is blue in color, and if you set daylight WB, camera adds warm tones to the images to remove the ‘extra’ blue color. And since tunsten light produces orange color, tungsten WB adds blue tones to the image, thus, removng the orange color cast.

NOTE: These terminologies may differ. Refer to your camera’s manual to understand the white balance presets of your camera and how to set them.

White balance settings in practice

White balance settings

Here are the two images of a lighthouse I shot with two different WB settings — Cloudy and Day light. As you can see, setting the Daylight WB resulted in more accurate colors than with the cloudy WB setting. The image on the right is exactly what I see with my naked eyes.


I hope you have got an idea about White Balance and how to use it properly. You need to know various light sources before setting the white balance in your camera. If the light source is cooler (bluish colors), you need to tell your camera to add warm colors, and if the light source is warmer (orange/red), you need to tell your camera to add blue tones to the image.

If you have any queries, please drop them as comments.

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Vidhu Soman

Hi, I am Vidhu Soman, Editor of Shutterstoppers. I have been doing photography since 2010, and I co-founded shutterstoppers community in 2012. I love photography, writing, travelling, and reading. If you wish to contact me, send a mail using our contact form.


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