The subject of white balance can generate some resistance because some elements of the topic are quite technical. Instead of talking about the technical details of color temperature and black body radiation, I’m going to give you a few tips to hack your camera’s white balance functions to get more interesting pictures.
Automatic White Balance
When set on automatic, your camera’s computer reads the scene in front of it, takes an approximate reading of the color temperature, then sets the white balance accordingly. Auto white balance is far from an exact science because a scene can have a range of color temperatures and light sources.
In some situations, like outdoors on a sunny day, the automatic white balance does an admirable job. In other situations, like mixed light, it may perform poorly.
In most camera brands, I’ve noticed the auto white balance seems to err on the blue side. That might be more noticeable to me because I prefer a warmer (red or orange) cast with a bit more contrast. Really, the proper white balance is in the eye of the photographer and not all brands are alike and can even vary between camera models within a brand.
Almost every camera, from point and shoot models to the highest end DSLRs, has a way to manually select white balance. Your user manual, which you should be reading anyway, will have a section on how to manually adjust white balance.
For some cameras, like the Canon 7D, you’ll have to select a shooting mode other than Auto or Creative Auto, to get access to the white balance controls.
You’ll notice many cameras don’t have a “daylight” or “sunny” setting for white balance. That’s because everything about your camera is optimized for shooting in daylight and everything else is an adjustment.
Once there you have a lot of options for getting different results. Even on a sunny day try selecting the “cloudy” setting and notice that your photos look noticeably warmer. Basically you’re fooling the camera into thinking the light is shifted more to the blue end of the spectrum than it really is.
You can experiment and try the fluorescent setting under tungsten lights, or the tungsten setting in daylight. Mix it up, try different combinations of lighting and white balance settings. You may even discover that you want to leave your camera on the “cloudy” setting all the time.
The great thing about digital photography is if you don’t like the results, you can push a button and start over.