An essential component to ensuring quality nature images is monitoring your camera’s white balance. Since the majority of wildlife and landscape photographers are using natural light, it’s important to showcase that in your photography, or else risk your images appearing unnatural in their coloring. This can be managed with proper white balance, and, if done correctly, can really make or break an image. So what is white balance? And how does it affect your photography? Let’s take a look.
What is White Balance?
White balance is a method for managing your camera’s interpretation of the color (or temperature) of various light sources. This is measured in degrees kelvin on a range from about 2500 to 10000 (depending on your camera). Varying light sources produce different colors of light. Natural sunlight is typically between 5000 and 5500. Light sources that cast a blue hue, such as fluorescent bulbs or shadows are referred to as “colder” and carry a lower number. “Warmer” light, like candles, tungsten bulbs or even sunsets and sunrises carry a higher number, and tend to be more orange or red. If you only ever shoot under natural, direct sunlight, then white balance would be a non-issue, just set it once and move on. However, since light changes frequently and we often like to take photos during a wide variety of conditions, it is important to balance the color of your light source to ensure proper exposure.
Why do we need to use white balance?
If you ever get a headache after sitting under fluorescent lighting for too long, it’s often a result of the prolonged exposure to an unnatural light source that is causing your eyes to tell your brain to modify your interpretation of your surroundings and the colors of various items. As a result, a sheet of white paper will still look white under fluorescent lighting, even though the light source actually casts a bluish tint to the white paper. Your eyes do this on their own to help you naturally interpret what is considered “white.” In the same way, your camera can also tell its brain to modify its interpretation of the surrounding lights through the use of white balance. The problem is, the “brain” in your camera is in no way as precise as the human brain when it comes to white balance. This is where your abilities as a photographer come into play and you can begin to utilize your artistic license to make an image exactly what you want it to be.
How do I use white balance?
There are a few different ways to utilize white balance in your camera to get the most out of your images. What I most commonly do when managing my camera’s white balance is I’ll just shoot on Auto. This is one of the only automated settings I use in camera, and it works great, because I also shoot in RAW. If you find yourself taking images in JPEG format, your white balance will be more deeply ingrained into your photograph, and will give you less wiggle room when it comes to adjusting your image with post processing software. The nice thing (and perhaps one of the biggest arguments for shooting in RAW) is that the adjustment that your camera makes to white balance is on the same plane as the adjustment made in Lightroom or Photoshop. Your camera uses very similar software to adjust color and white balance on the temperature spectrum as the majority of post processing software, so as long as you’re shooting in RAW, your adjustments can be made either in camera, or in post processing, with the same results. An image with a white balance of 7500k in your camera will look the same as if you were to manually adjust your white balance to 7500k in Lightroom after shooting at 5000k.