Picture Perfect: How to Set a Custom White Balance

Posted by on Apr 18, 2014 in Photography | Comments


On DSLR cameras, there is a feature called white balance. The standard setting is automatic, but learning how to create your own custom white balance in your photography can make the difference of turning a blue-toned photograph into one that reads the color correctly. Because no one really wants an orange face, except maybe Willy Wonka.

Custom White Balance in Photography: Two Plants

 Daylight                                                                                            Shade

What is white balance in photography?

Different light sources have different temperatures. The sun casts a different light than shade. Fluorescent lights read differently than tungsten, etc. White balance is used to help your camera determine what is actually white so then the photo reads all other cameras more accurately.

Camera presets for white balance

DSLR White Balance Presets

Auto: 

The camera does its best to read color accurately. Most of the time the camera does a pretty good job, but there are times when it gets very confused. Those are the times when a custom white balance comes in handy. However, when you don’t have time to create a custom white balance – during a wedding ceremony, for example – auto works well.

Daylight: 

Use this when the sun shines bright. Since I live in Seattle, I rarely use this setting.

Cloudy:  

Aside from auto or a custom white balance, this is the setting I use most often. It’s for when the clouds mostly cover the sky, and the light is pretty cool. It warms up the photo a bit.

Shade:

Use this when you are shooting in the shade or the light is very cool (blue tones).

Tungsten:

These are lights that are most often found in homes. The light that comes off those bulbs is very warm (yellow and orange), so this setting adds blue/cool tones to the image.

Fluorescent:

These lights often emit a cool tone. Accordingly, this setting adds warmth to the image.

Flash:

The light coming off the flash is quite cool. The camera will adjust by warming up the tones.

Custom:

This is where you get to tell your camera what is white in the lighting setting that you are in. You get to override what the camera thinks, determining what white is white in the image. This setting will then adjust all the colors to read accurately.

Adjusting and Comparing White Balance Settings

Tungsten (will correct for orange overhead light)                                       Daylight setting 

Why bother with a custom white balance?

Well, for one thing we want to avoid skin tones that read inaccurately. It’s true that sometimes an “error” in color can create a more compelling image. For example, in the winter I like to have more blue tones throughout the image. But, beyond that, I generally want the colors to read true.

Most often the auto or cloudy settings work just fine for where I live, yet there are times when my camera is confused by the tones. It’s not until I tell my camera what is white that it will adjust to the other colors.

I will often create a custom white balance when I have light coming from two sources, a window and overhead light for example. If I can’t turn off the overhead lights, I’ll create a custom white balance as my camera has a hard time reading white when there is mixed lighting.

Shot Taken With Custom White Balance

Same image shot with a custom white balance

How to make a custom white balance?

Follow this steps for making a custom white balance for any image.

Step 1:

Find something white in the same light where you are photographing and take a photo of it. The image doesn’t have to be in focus, but you want it to mostly fill the frame and not be overexposed.

Step 2:

Go into your MENU and select Custom WB.

Step 3:

Select the image you just created by pressing the SET button. It’s the button in the middle of the big dial by your right thumb.

Step 4:

Now set your Camera WB setting to the Custom Icon (see above)

Step 5:

Now you’re all set! Your new custom WB should get you great result. Remember to update your WB settings if you move into a different lighting situation.

Learn more about how to adjust your camera settings to adapt to your lighting situation and achieve the best shot in Shoot It! A Product Photography Primer.

What setting do you use most often? Auto? Custom? Daylight?