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What’s White Balance? | Day 12

We’re past the 1/3 mark in this series – and it’s been pretty technical so far. I’d like to celebrate the fact that the toughest concepts are behind us! If you can master Days 1 – 11, it’s all downhill from here, baby!

So, what’s white balance anyway?

White balance is the process of letting your camera know what is neutral so white things look white. Custom WB also makes your colors as accurate and crisp as possible.

And sometimes, your camera can do a fair job of guessing neutral – particularly if there is a wide variance of light to dark to samples – true darks and true lights in the same image. But what if you’re shooting a bride on a beach? Or you have very little sampling on either side of the spectrum? With a very quick step you can tell your camera what’s neutral – or at least help it guess based on your light situation.

White Balance Presets
Auto allows your camera to decide how to color your images.
Incandescent / Tungsten a cooling mode for shooting indoors with incandescent, or regular light bulb light. Light bulbs give off yellow light. This lack of cyan/blue is why so many indoor shots on auto look yellow.
Fluorescent flourescents are generally cool. This setting balances this by adding warm tones.
Direct Sunlight shoots similar to auto. Mine tends to add a tinge of magenta to compensate for greens.
Flash flash settings adds a warm filter compared to auto white balance to compensate for cool flash color.
Cloudy adds a bit of yellows and reds for a warmer image. This preset alone can make a big difference.
Shade similar to cloudy. Adds warmth to avoid that gray film look.
K – set your own light temperature, measured in Kelvin.
Pre – the setting you choose to create a custom, incidental white balance.

darcy white balance

For all images: ISO 160 f/3.2 1/320s

If you don’t help your camera figure out what should be considered neutral, it will guess and this is one area where many cameras guess pretty badly. So many photos look like they have a gray film over them – this is often blamed on underexposure, but the root of the problem is often white balance.

The only variation in the above photos is WB presets. This was shot in open shade in mid-afternoon. In each case, the in-camera meter was at zero. The auto WB looks underexposed because of the cool gray – but at the same exposure, the custom WB doesn’t appear to be underexposed.

Now that you know about white balance – come back tomorrow and I’ll show you some tools which make setting custom white balance very easy!


  1. I can’t wait for tomorrow’s post! I need so much help with this and now that see all your examples it might explain a lot. There have been so many pictures that just don’t seem right and I can’t figure out what it is. When I get CC on them I often hear that they are a little underexposed but when I go up I hear they are overexposed. I think I need to work on this.

  2. Your son is so good to stand there for all of those photos! 🙂


  3. I have a setting called Tungsten… what the heck is that?

    • It’s the same thing as incandescent. You mean your science teacher didn’t make you memorize that chant of the elements?

      …. There’s sulfur, californium, and fermium, berkelium,
      And also mendelevium, einsteinium, nobelium,
      And argon, krypton, neon, radon, xenon, zinc, and rhodium,
      And chlorine, carbon, cobalt, copper, tungsten, tin, and sodium.

  4. Hey Darcy, I think you shoot a D700, and I notice your settings for these photos have ISO 160. Is that what Lo-.3 means? I usually shoot at 200, the bottom of the normal scale on the D700 because I wasn’t sure exactly what the Lo ones do or mean. Great tutorials – I’m interested in seeing your post tomorrow, talking about manual WB!

    • Hey Laura!

      Yes Lo -.3 is 1/3 stop down from ISO 200, so about ISO 160. Low .5 is ISO 150, nd Lo .7 is about ISO 130ish and Lo -1 is ISO 100.

      The thing I’ve noticed about shooting there is that the contrast is always needs to be bumped. I tend to get charcoals and pale grays instead of blacks and whites at Lo -1, but it’s nice to be able to shoot there when it’s so so bright.

      But in this case – I put my hubby to work and these were shot with our d200 which does have ISO 100 setting and 1/3 stops in between.

      So good to see you here – I’m a fan of your work!


      • “I tend to get charcoals and pale grays instead of blacks and whites at Lo-1” ….. that is interesting. I am going to have to play around and test that. Never heard that before.

        • It might be my camera specifically. And it’s easy to fix by bumping up contrast, but – personally, I tend to prefer the richness at ISO 200 than Lo -1 on my own d700.

          But I’ll still use it, particularly on bright days.

  5. Wow! I can not belive I learned so much better with your example than with my “Nikon School Book” that came with the camera. Your samples from all the different white balances and the way you explained everything makes perfect sence to me now.
    Do you know what pictures they used to give us an idea? A night cityscape! My reaction to the nikon explanation was: ok…interesting,
    My reactions to your samples above: WOW!!! I DID NOT KNOW THAT!!!
    ~From now on I’m not shooting on Auto WB anymore!! 🙂
    Thanks Darcy!!

  6. Can’t wait to know more!

  7. I have a friend who just bought a new camera and I’ve directed her to your site because I really like your tutorials

  8. Hey! I’m trying to link up for sweet shot Tuesday but can’t find where to do that??

    • Hi Julie – as mentioned at the last two Sweet Shot Tuesdays, SST is on hiatus for 4 weeks during my 31 Days Series for photographers. SST will resume Nov 2. See you then!

  9. Duh..so I just read you are on hiatus for October with Sweet Shot!! Sorry!!
    Love this tutorial…WB can be such a pain!

  10. I think we are getting to the parts where I have to start paying close attention. I know adjusting my white balance changes images. I just never remember to do it!!!

  11. Yes, I have a gray film over my photos a LOT! ….I can hardly wait for tomorrow’s post!!!!

  12. my very first pics I took with my DSLR were kind of grey. the kids were sitting in a very shaded area and im sure its a WB issue… several people on a photog website said they were underexposed (but since I was shooting in auto, im fairly certain that wasnt the case)

    very cool collage to explain things! thanks!


  1. […] more informative articles on WB, try Understanding White Balance from Cambridge in Colour and What is White Balance by Darcy at My 3 Boybarians. Posted Under: Photography Tips | Tags: camera settings, photography, […]

  2. […] White balance becomes increasingly important indoors. How often do you see blue- or orange-tinted images on Facebook or phone snapshots? […]