What is White Balance? (And How to Get it Right in Camera)

What is White Balance

Importance of White Balance In Photography

Getting your white balance right in-camera will not only save you a lot of time in post-processing, it will also give your images a much more polished look.  If your white balance is way off when shooting, chances are that, even after some clever post processing of white balance in Photoshop or Lightroom, it will still not look quite right.

To properly understand white balance, we need to get a little scientific and talk about how light is measured: in kelvins.

What is White Balance?

Think of light being measured in kelvins in the same way that temperature is measured in degrees.

The cooler the temperature of the light, the higher the number of kelvins will be. As you can see below, shade, which we know is very cool because whites in a photo in the shade often look slightly blue, is around 8000K, whereas incandescent light is in the ballpark of 3000K.  This is why shooting indoors at night often results in images with an orange or red cast:

White Balance Settings

How does this affect your image in camera?

Well, each of your white balance settings will affect your image based on whether you are shooting in cooler or warmer light.

In-Camera White Balance Examples:

For example, if you are shooting in the shade, which is a very cool temperature, setting your camera's white balance to shade (rather than cloudy or direct sun) tells your camera that it needs to compensate for this coolness by adding in more warmth to the image.  This is how to achieve a true white in your image's brightest highlights.

On the other hand, if you are shooting in incandescent light, which is very warm, then your camera's white balance setting will cool down the image so that it is not too orange or red.

Another way to think about white balance settings is to take a photo and apply various white balances to see how they effect the image differently.

As you can see in our white balance infographic below, the Shade setting is too warm - this is because the photo was shot in the sun, so adding additional warmth that the in-camera Shade setting provides makes the image too yellow.  Direct sun is the proper white balance here because the subject is in the sun!

Notice how using the correct white balance setting makes the white of her dress a pure white, with no hints of yellow or blue. 

How Different White Balance Settings Affect Your Image

White Balance Definition Photography

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I encourage you to experiment with the white balance settings on your camera to see how they affect an image.  Once you understand how kelvins work, you can also use the Custom setting on your white balance menu to get your white balance perfect in-camera.

The Custom Menu on your camera will allow you to manually set the white balance by entering a value in kelvins.

If you are interested in Photoshop actions that will help you beautifully edit color and white balance, be sure to check out our PURE Color Workflow Photoshop Actions Collection.

Do you have any questions or comments about White Balance?  Leave us a comment below - We would LOVE to hear from you.  And PLEASE SHARE this tutorial using the social sharing buttons (we really appreciate it!)

Portrait Photoshop Actions