Written by Marjorie Dawson

The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to White Balance

The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to White Balance

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Have you looked at your camera settings and wondered what is white balance and it might mean to you and your cat photos? Is it important? Do you need to worry about white balance changes?

Thankfully you will do absolutely fine with an automatic white balance [AWB] setting as a beginner but, I believe that it is definitely worth investigating what your own camera can do for the times disaster nips you in the ankles.

This matters especially when you aim to make an impact on social media, your blog, or to improve your pet’s Instagram image.

What Does White Balance Do?

Let me start with a simple definition of what white balance (WB) is and then show how it might improve your cat photos.

White balance is the process of recreating the colours of a photo so that it looks the way you see it with your own eyes.

So, if you are taking a photo of a white cat inside, the cat might look fine to you. Your human eyes compensate for any strange tone that a tungsten or fluorescent light shows. Your camera will see the same picture without your human filters and when this happens your white cat may have an orange or even blue tint to it.

You can stop your cat’s photo from having a strange tone without understanding the technical complexities of white balance changes. My demonstration model here is Anzu from my local cat cafe. Her first photo has a blue tint that makes the pictures look unpleasantly cold.

You can see the impact of white balance changes on the other photographs I look of her in this post including Cloudy, Daylight and AWB (auto white balance).

White balance changes. Photography white balance example showing a cat
Anzu with the Tungsten Light Setting

Are White Balance Presets useful?

The big plus is that white balance can take a lot of the stress out of judging your own photo’s balance using something called ‘presets‘. They are especially when you are indoors.

Presets are adjustments already created by your camera’s tech folk and added to your camera’s settings. These adjustments give you a good chance of taking a better photo yourself with less pressure.

When they are used, presets automatically judge the lighting conditions and allow you to remove unfriendly tints or tones. It is worth trying them out if you check your viewfinder after a photo and don’t like the results.

The rear buttons of the Canon Rebel T6 to navigate

What White Balance Presets Look Like

Your camera might be slightly different but even smartphones and compacts are beginning to incorporate useful settings to make your pictures better.

You will have some or all of these settings:

  • AWB – your auto white balance setting. If you have no idea what to do, this is the place to start. Take your first photo of your at model. If you are not happy with the results you can explore other presets.
  • Tungsten – This looks like a small shining lightbulb (aka ‘incandescent’ light’). It is meant to be used indoors and ‘cools’ down colours in your photographs.
  • Fluorescent – This works well indoors when you need to compensate for the chilly blueness of fluorescent strip lights or lamps.
  • Sunny/Daylight – I am not 100% sure why you need this if you have AWB but my camera has it and I believe this allows your camera to adjust to a bright or sunny day better than auto white balance.
  • Cloudy/Shade – Clouds can cool down the ambience of your daylight and if this matters, you can use the setting to gently warm the image a little. Useful if you are not happy with a shot taken using ‘daylight’. Worth experimenting if you are unhappy with AWB or your sunny setting.
  • Flash – Pet lovers do not use flash a lot, it startles an animal and the risk of red-eye or a zombie look means a pet can look unpleasant. Using a flashgun (rather than your built-in camera flash) is worth exploring if you need to do plenty of indoor work.

If your cat did turn blue under the auto white balance setting, try the Tungsten or Fluorescent settings to make a difference. The same might apply to a a cat white patches of white which turns blue under fluorescent lights.

Experiment using the settings and remember your success for next time.

Photography white balance example showing a cat
Anzu with the Cloudy Light Setting

Which White Balance Setting is Best for Me?

Camera confidence and using your camera regularly will help you learn whether you need to make white balance adjustments for the conditions you photograph your cats in.

If you are just starting out using AWB

Make expanding your skills with white balance a learning project. Make it fun, not a chore.

Use auto for every photograph you take inside, outside and under more challenging conditions like a shopping mall, evening bedroom or cloudy garden setting.

Review the results on your computer screen or tablet. Try not assess the results in your camera as the screen may be too small and subtle differences can be harder to see.

Ask yourself honestly, what worked? What didn’t? Did the Westie or bunny turn blue or orange? What surprised you by working when you didn’t expect it? Remember what worked for next time.

Photography white balance example showing a cat
Anzu taken with the Daylight Setting

Where Do You find Your Camera’s White Balance Settings

Each camera will be slightly different but a quick check through your computer manual (or a digital pdf) will help you locate the settings option you need.

Look for the letters WB as text or AWB as a small graphic or symbol. My white balance is on the back of my Canon 1300D camera. WB may also be adjustable through a camera menu as well.

Photography white balance example showing a cat
Anzu taken with Automatic White Balance

If You Are a Confident Photographer

You will have several options including manual settings, white balance presets or using a grey card (which I am investigating). You can also use a light temperature meter (expensive).

A confident or intermediate photographer can also shoot in RAW. Does white balance matter when you shoot in RAW? No, because RAW is an uncompressed file format and you can adjust your settings in ‘post-production’ after you download the images to an editing program like Affinity Photo or Abode Lightroom.

The one disadvantage I discovered? If you shoot in RAW you do not have an accurate record of the light conditions at the time. If I forget I have nothing to refer to. So I try to shoot Raw+JPEG on my Canon so I have a record in the JPEG image.

NOTE: RAW images can be processed in software such as Affinity Photo or Adobe Lightroom. Check your software as it might/might not handle RAW files.

White Balance on Your Smartphone

Spot in the sun Neko Ngeru Cat Adoption Cafe
Auto White Balance Works Well on a Smartphone

Smartphones take good photos thanks to their internal auto white balance and I have taken some great cat photos simply by pointing my smartphone and letting it do the rest.

But, both Android and iPhone have various options that allow control beyond simply pointing and hoping. These are in the form of an ‘app’, rather than controls on your smartphone itself.

Many smartphone apps are very sophisticated. They allow white balance adjustment and shooting in RAW format. For the enthusiast this allows a lot more adjustment in ‘post-production’ but the files takes up more storage space.

BONUS: Although not White Balance, it is worth investigating to see if your new smartphone has Portrait mode. This introduces a ‘bokeh’ effect, the soft focus that makes portraits look so effective.

iPhone

  • Camera +2 Allows JPEG & RAW shooting and white balance changes. Highly regarded app. Budget $5.00 US.
  • Google Snapseed. Free
  • Lightroom CC Mobile – needs Lightroom (paid) or trial edition to download images to a computer. Shoots JPEG & RAW

Android

The Kelvin Scale for Photographers

Finally, you may come across something called the Kelvin scale when checking out photography sites online. Kelvin’s are not essential for beginner’s to know but the figures are fun to see.

The kelvin is a complex science-based measurement but can be utilised by photographers. It is fun to see how many K’s mean how much in the real world. Check out my table for an idea of how many kelvin’s make a lightbulb or a sunny day.

  • The kelvin is often used as a measure of the colour temperature of light sources.

Candlelight 1,000 – 2,000

Clear Sky 3,000 4,000

Flash 5,000 – 5,000

Cloudy Day 6,500 – 8,000

Lightbulb 2,500- 3,500

Fluorescent 4,000-5,000

Sunshine – 5,000 – 6,500

Shade 9,000 – 10,000

I hope this information is helpful. White balance is not hard to master and I know you will improve your pictures if you explore your settings just a little.

PHOTO RESOURCES

Bokeh

In photography, bokeh (/?bo?k?/ BOH-k? or /?bo?ke?/ BOH-kay Japanese [boke]) is the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in out-of-focus parts of an image. Bokeh has also been defined as “the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light”. Differences in lens aberrations and aperture shape cause very different bokeh effects. Wikipedia

Marjorie Dawson

Marjorie is a motorbike riding blogger and award winning cat photographer who believes that everyone can shoot and edit wonderful pictures they love regardless of the camera they use.

She is a Professional member of the Cat Writers Association, Kuykendall Image Award winner and published photographer at the Guardian newspaper.

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20 thoughts on “The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to White Balance”

  1. This post is a keeper! White balance is one of those things I just don’t get – but I see the difference here.

    Reply
  2. I believe I have more settings on my new iPhone to help with the white balance. One of these days I’m going to learn how to use my Nikon.

    Reply
  3. I have an old iPhone so I’m in the hope I luck out and maybe can fix in some editing program later club lol. I’m really impressed by all the technical learning you’ve done to figure all this out. I find it overwhelming.

    Reply
  4. When I was photographing weddings there was more than one occasion that I forgot to change the white balance when we moved inside and switched to off camera flash. Luckily, I usually figured it out pretty quickly.

    Reply
  5. I, too, rarely shoot in RAW. They also are very large photo files. I do use white balance, along with shadows. It’s funny how you can shoot a photo and it can come out needing some adjusting to look “authenic!” Love your tips for shutterbugs! As a photographer, I so enjoy your photos and thrilled your sharing this camera knowledge with others!

    Reply
  6. Great advice. I remember how confused I was when I first started trying to understand white balance. I was taking pictures for an event that I attended and the lighting in the room was turning my picture yellow… It took a lot of experimenting to start understanding exactlyl what I was doing. I wish I had a guide that explained it as clear as this at the time!

    Reply
  7. Checking my camera to see what I am doing wrong now, I just take the photos and pray they come out LOL. Now you have put me on a mission, thanks

    Reply
  8. Great stuff, Marjorie. I work with some pretty high-end Nikons and that company is known for pretty accurate sensors for white balance. I tend to leave my WB on auto but I do carry a grey card with me wherever I go. More often that not, I will use that for client shoots to ensure I get the best images possible.

    Reply
  9. Such a useful information for anybody who is into pet photography. Me, I cheat–I point and shoot and then fix my dog’s photos in Photoshop.

    Reply
  10. Very interesting, especially since I have a dog who is mostly white! Unfortunately I still don’t have a nice camera, and take most of my photos on my cell phone. I’ve never looked to see if my phone has white balance options, I’ll have to do that. I will say, however, that my white dog, Kitsune, thankfully always looks show white in my photos. Perhaps I already have decent white balance settings and I didn’t even know it.

    Reply
  11. That was interesting. Now I truly know what that WB is.
    I have a Canon point & shoot camera, I don’t think I can do that WB until I get to the photoediting program on my computer. (There is no WB on the back of my camera.)

    Reply
    • Thank you. I am hoping to add more information and images when our dark (and ‘cloudy’ setting) can be adjusted here in Middle Earth!

      Reply
  12. my phone is an older model and the only thing it really does besides crop and saturate etc is give you the ability to set the “setting” before the photo is snapped; for example “original” or “dramatic” or “B/W”

    I need a phone update { I hate the thing anyway 🙂 ♥♥

    hope everyone’s safe happy and healthy 🙂 ♥♥

    Reply
  13. Once again a great and informative post!

    On my Canon I shoot RAW + JPEG.

    On my iPhone I don’t really check my settings but I know I should. I just like to keep things natural and edit a little if it’s needed before posting.

    Reply

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