Using White Balance Settings to Produce Optimum Color Quality

White balance (WB) settings are the key to correct color reproduction. They have to allow for direct and indirect (reflected) light sources.

Analog photographers adjust white balance either by changing the film they use or by attaching colored filters to the camera lens. This compensates for differing lighting conditions (indoors, outdoors, cloudy sky, flash, etc.).

If you shoot in RAW format, you can adjust white balance later during processing. Fine art photographers are not necessarily interested in absolute color reproduction anyway (why else would you want to use Velvia slide film, with its over-the-top candy colors?), but most of us are interested in the subjective mood of a photo, which is often carried by the colors.

DSLRs allow you to select your preferred white balance setting while shooting.* This is a great feature, but it is not always practical to use in reallife situations. We recommend that you set white balance to automatic and correct it later (if necessary) during the workflow.

An alternative method of ensuring consistent white balance is to photograph a gray card** in the same light as your subject and use the resulting image as a reference for your white balance setting.

Getting white balance right is a tricky and largely subjective process, but you will get better at judging color and color settings with increasing experience.

Color value judgements depend on the overall mood of an image. Images that show too many cold (blue) tones can benefit from additional warm (yellow or red) tones, although you may find yourself wishing that a warm image includes more neutral (blue or green) tones. Color experiments and corrections involve time and effort during the image optimization process.

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