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What is white balance and why is it important?

August 01, 2018

If you're slightly confused about the purpose of white balance – don't stress, because even for an experienced photographer, it's a challenge to perfect. Put simply, white balance is a camera's attempt to accurately replicate the colours we see with our eyes. And it's actually pretty important, because from bright sunlight to fluorescent globes, every light source impacts the accuracy of your photos' colours.

For example, it's well known that shooting at sunrise or sunset can give your images a distinctly warm and orange ambience or that clear daylight skies can leave white subjects with a slightly blue tint. While different types of light conditions can be used creatively to give photographs a specific atmosphere, inaccurate white balance can leave your colours looking dull or downright wrong.

Fortunately for humans, our brains recognise these shifts in colour and make corrections for us. But cameras aren't so lucky – sometimes needing us to input the right white balance setting to produce great looking photographs. While the 'auto' setting does its best to correct your images, depending on the lighting conditions, additional settings like Daylight, Cloudy, Shade and Fluorescent can produce better results.

Changing your white balance settings as you shoot is a good habit to develop, but fiddling through your camera menus shouldn't come at the cost of missing great moments. If your camera supports it, overcome these issues by shooting in the 'raw' format rather than standard JPEG. As raw files store a far greater amount of data, you can precisely fine-tune your white balance settings after you've finished shooting with editing software like Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom.

Each white balance setting has a strong impact on your photos, so try them all out in different lighting conditions to learn how they affect your final photographs. While white balance is sometimes an afterthought, using it effectively will quickly have your photos bursting with even greater vibrancy.