Ever wondered why your photographs have a strange colour cast? Do they occasionally look too warm or too cold? This is usually down to the white balance setting and in this sixty-second tip Ill cover what it is and how it affects your images.

Understanding colour temperature

To understand white balance (WB) we need a crash-course in colour temperature. Colour temperature is a physical property of light measured in Kelvin (K). Different sources of light have different values. To the naked eye these different sources might appear the same temperature but there is actually a significant variance.

The warmer the light the lower the Kelvin rating. For example, the flame of a candle might have a temperature of around 2,000K; midday sunlight is around 5,200K; and standing in the shade might have a temperature of around 8,000K.

Where does white balance come in?

The role of WB on your camera is to balance the colour temperate in your image dependening on the particular light source. It essentially adds the opposite colour to the image in order to bring the scene as close to neutral as possible.

Changing WB on your camera is easy. These days most digital cameras come with a selection of pre-determined conditions to choose from such as: Sunlight, Cloud, Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent, or Auto. There may even be a manual mode where you can select the exact Kelvin rating you want.

Does it really matter?

WB is often overlooked because: i) Auto WB is extremely accurate; and ii) it is one of the easiest things to change when you process your images. In fact I have to confess I nearly always leave mine set to Auto and tweak as necessary in Lightroom.

The caveat to this is that I shoot almost exclusively in RAW, where the latitude to make such changes when processing is greater. You can still change the WB if you shoot JPEGs but there is slightly less scope so you might want to attempt to get it right (or as close as possible) in-camera.

But whether you set the WB in camera or amend it when processing it is important to always ensure it is accurate, otherwise it will lead to strange colour casts or result in your images looking overly cool or warm. And don’t forget to experiment. If you have a slightly drab, grey scene then try setting the WB to Cloudy or Shade and notice how it immediately warms up the image.

Enjoying these sixty-second tips? Click here to read more posts in this series covering topics like focal length, ISO, depth of field, and more.