April 16, 2007 HelpLine
Balancing White Balance
Q) I'm starting to pay more attention to white balance in my photography. I've read some of what you and others in PCPhoto have said about not forgetting white balance when shooting RAW. So now I've been trying some photography while keeping the dial off of AWB. For the most part, it has been working well. But there have been some situations where I haven't been satisfied. So I'm wondering about custom white balance and whether I should always be using that?
Sean D., via the Internet
A) I've been recommending that people pay attention to white balance even when shooting RAW for a couple of reasons. First, during capture, the closer you get the image to what you want, the more time you'll have to work on your images. Second, bad white balance can be distracting when you try to select the images you want to process. Lastly, if you want to batch process a group of images, automatic white balance can make for varying white balance settings among sequential shots.
Of course, there will be times when auto white balance will do a good job and it might be the best choice in a rapid shooting environment. But custom white balance can really make a difference. There are times when I'm shooting outdoors and then have to move quickly indoors and shoot in fluorescent lighting. By setting up a custom white balance ahead of time, I'm easily able to have the proper color balance going between the two locations.
Here are a couple of tips when using custom white balance:
• The process usually involves shooting a white card in the light you're trying to balance for. Make sure the card is exposed properly; if overexposed, the photosites on the image sensor will be oversaturated and the camera will have a difficult time calculating white balance.
• Make sure the card isn't being influenced by strong colors nearby that may reflect on the card. For example, when shooting indoors, don't set the card on a red table cloth or your white balance will be cooler than you might want.
That second tip brings up a useful suggestion for getting creative with white balance. You can try using faintly colored cards in order to warm up or cool down your image. A faintly blue-tinted paper will make your images warmer as opposed to the neutral of a pure white card. You can also use this kind of creative technique with preset white balance by using the "wrong" preset white balance setting. For example, you can try using shade preset to warm up images that aren't in the shade.
While I'm not recommending that everyone shoot with custom white balance, knowing how and when to use it, paying attention to white balance, and using preset white balance settings can help you make great images.