Lights! Color! Balance!

The information in this column is intended to assist digital camera users, and attempts to look at those items that are common on all digital camera’s such as point-and-shoot, DSLR’s, mirror- less, and yes, even your cell phone.


From Wikipedia:

Color is the element of art that is produced when light, striking an object, is reflected back to the eye. There are three properties to color. The first is hue, which simply means the name we give to a color (red, yellow, blue, green, etc.). The second property is intensity, which refers to the vividness of the color. A color's intensity is sometimes referred to as its "colorfulness", its "saturation", its "purity" or its "strength". The third and final property of color is its value, meaning how light or dark it is. The terms shade and tint refer to value changes in colors.


Your brain interprets what your eyes see and the sunlight provides the color. Sunlight is mixture of all colors; the ones you see and the ones that are beyond our ability to see. If you have ever seen light passing through a prism, the colors are plainly visible. A rainbow works in exactly the same way.



Not all light is created equal. I’m not talking about the quality of light, but rather the color of light. What you might see as white light from different sources can actually have different colors, or what are referred to as color temperatures. Direct sunlight at noon (which I’ll just refer to as sunlight) is considered to be a “normal” color temperature, so all light sources are compared to this as the standard. For example, light from an incandescent light bulb appears to be more orange than sunlight. On the opposite side of the spectrum, shady areas appear to be bluer than sunlight. In photography, we refer to these differences as being “warmer” (or more orange) and “cooler” (or more blue) than our neutral sunlight reference point.


Your camera, on the other hand doesn’t have your brain to tell it what colors are what. However it does have a computer that you can “set” to tell it what colors are what. This is called “White Balance”.


All cameras have white balance settings available to you, even your cell phone camera. Most the time it is set on “auto”. In fact, one of the settings you may see is “AWB” that stands for Auto White Balance. AWB attempts to ensure that there is a balance of color between pure white and pure black.


The controls for setting this vary greatly. Some are menu based that you may need to go through layers of menus to get at and others have a handy dial right on the camera. They have symbols to indicate what the setting is, but these also vary greatly across the different types of cameras. You may need to go to your manual to understand how to access and control these settings.


You may see little icons like a sunburst [daylight], a cloud [cloudy], a light bulb [tungsten], a zig zag arrow [flash] and many more. Take the time to learn and understand what each of these settings [and the icons that represent them] do.


You are smarter than your camera, and the AWB setting doesn’t always produce the best settings. There are a number of other settings you can, and should, use depending on what your eyes are telling you about the scene.



Take a look at the images here. The two lightning images are the same with the exception of the White Balance settings; you decide which one you like better. The tree was taken with white balance set to “daylight” and then changed on the computer to “lower the light temperature”, by adding blue and purple.


These are some of the more common settings and a brief explanation of what they do.


Auto White Balance (AWB): By default, DSLRs and point-and-shoots alike are set to this setting. Based on the surroundings, natural light, aperture settings, etc., the camera calculates and sets the white balance based on what the camera is “seeing”. Pretty straight forward.


Daylight – This mode is for the normal day light setting, while shooting outdoors. It does a slightly better job of telling the camera what to do than the auto mode. If you are outside in direct sunlight this is the setting you want.

Cloudy: Cloudy settings tend to be plain and whitewashed under AWB. Using this function you can add some additional warmth (usually a more golden touch) and depth to your photo. Cloudy also works well for indoor photos that are lackluster and need a bit of a natural boost. So under our normal grey skies, this is the better choice.

Shade: This also adds warm, yellow tones to a photo, but it’s to combat the natural blue tones often found in the shade.

Tungsten: If there is too much warmth (and perhaps a lot of yellow tones when shooting indoors), you can reduce this with Tungsten, which adds cooler tones, enhances white shades and generally makes photos a whole lot brighter.

Fluorescent: Fluorescent adds warm tones as well, but there is usually a bit more red or purple. It could be fun to use for parties, or if there happens to be a lot of red tones in your setting but your camera isn’t capturing them very well.

Flash: A camera’s built-in flash tends to produce a lot of cool tones on its own, so to combat it, partner your flash with the flash white balance setting to bring in some warm hues and produce a more balanced photo. If you use a flash, use this setting!


If anybody has any questions they would to see discussed, please contact me through our FaceBook page @LakeCountryEcho or my page at @MrEPhotographer.

This article and all previous columns can be seen on my web site: mrefoto.com. I also have multiple galleries of Finger Lakes Region images available on the web site

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