Auto vs. Preset White Balance in Photography


White balance is the method used in digital photography to neutralize the colors of aphotograph. The goal is to have the colors in the photo look the same as their real counterparts. This is done by removing any color bias resulted from the usage of a certain light source.

An incorrect white balance will result in a yellow or blue cast over the whole colors of the photo. These casts are related to the color temperatures of the available light sources. Incandescent light as well as the sun tend to produce a yellowish image due to their low color temperature, while clouds and fluorescent lights produce a blueish image due to their higher color temperatures.

Using automatic white balancing is sometimes the cause of this problem. While it may work well in the outdoors, the results are not as good when you get inside. And since it tries to guess the color cast, the balanced colors are not usually the best. The results may vary from one image to the other, depending on the existing elements. Like when a photograph is full of blue elements, the automatic white balancer will make the photo more warm, which is not desired.

Obviously, the camera cannot automatically differentiate between different light sources. When using automatic white balance settings, all what the camera does is to guess the correct color balance based on the current one. That’s when preset white balance becomes handy. These preset settings correct the colors based on the color temperature of the specified light source. Most digital cameras come with preset white balance options, and they are usually preferred in certain condition when the automatic white balance fails to give acceptable results.

Arranged by increasing color temperature, the most famous preset settings are Tungsten, Fluorescent, Daylight, Clouds, and Shade. Despite the names, these settings are far from giving an optimum color balance too, but still, they can be used to tune it. When your photo seems too cool (blue) in your LCD viewfinder, use a setting of higher color temperature to make it warmer. A similar technique can be used for the opposite situation in which low temperature sources settings make the photograph cooler.

A custom white balance mode, if available, is the best way to get optimum results using your camera by just pointing it to a neutrally colored surface. In advanced camera which support RAW formats, the white balance settings can be adjusted later using special software.

White balance can also be used creatively to distort the colors of your images on purpose. Doing so, you will be able to change the mood of your picture instantly. It all depends on your judgment.

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