Friday Quick Tip: Setting your white balance

I've got a "photo Friday" tip for you this week to help your pictures come out true to the original: set your white balance.

Setting the white balance is just a tool for getting your pictures to look like you want them to look. There really is no right or wrong, except for what looks good to you. Almost all digital cameras have some setting for white balance and in most cases the "auto" (AWB) mode will do a decent job.

But when you take a picture under less than ideal lighting conditions, the color usually will not be true to life with AWB.

Here's a demonstration that shows how the white balance setting changes the color of a picture.

This picture was taken with 5500K fluorescent lights and a light tan fabric background. The modes in the first column: AWB, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten. The second column modes: Fluorescent, Flash, Custom, Kelvin.

The AWB mode does a decent job, but the most faithful reproduction of color is the Kelvin mode, since I have it set to match the 5500K output of my lights. If you can control the light, setting your camera to the light color will usually give you the best results.

But often you aren't controlling the light. For example, if you are taking a picture of a model outside in the shade, you might find that your model looks too "blue". In this case you can use the key above to pick one of the mode "yellow" modes: Shade, Flash, Cloudy.

If you are inside taking a picture of a model on your desk with only a single lamp, your model may look too "yellow". In this case try Tungsten or Fluorescent modes.

If you want to get advanced, you can use the Custom mode on your camera. For the image above I set the Custom white balance based on the tan fabric with no model. As you can see the tan hue of the fabric was removed (turned almost grey) and the model is given a darker almost bluish cast. By setting the custom WB to an image with a strong color, you can get some interesting effects in your photos; like "fake night" explained in this white balance article. You can find some good tips on setting and trouble-shooting your white balance in this article.

What photography tips do you have for getting great photos of your models?