White balance is one of those settings that came along with digital cameras. People shooting film didn't really stress that much about it and professionals knew what film to buy for each specific job.
With that said, let's make things a little clearer for all you beginners learning about white balance and how to get it right.
(Success Tip: Can you guess how to nail white balance? Here’s what the pros use to nail white balance )
White balance is directly related to the color of light, which ultimately will have a major influence on the colors in your photographs. We can't see the differences with the naked eye because our brain is constantly making the necessary adjustments.
Light has a lot of different temperatures that are measured in Kelvin degrees. That's why if you dive into your camera's menu and select the custom white balance option, you will see a bunch of numbers ranging in the thousands.
If you try out different values, you will notice dramatic differences in color cast and tint on your photos. The lower values, like 3000k will produce a blue, cold tint, while values close to the other end will produce much warmer images.
Daylight white balance is around 5000k, give or take a few degrees.
The tricky part comes when you have to select the appropriate white balance for each situation. Most of the photographers I know, amateurs and quite a few professionals, take the easy way and rely on the camera to do all the work in this department. The Auto white balance setting is by far the most commonly used, but I have to disagree with using it all the time. No matter how much money you paid for your camera, it is still a machine that gets things wrong often. Auto white balance was created to even things out and achieve 18% gray, but it cannot cope with frequent changes of light and sometimes, even in decent conditions it will produce totally unsatisfactory results.
Getting accurate colors is crucial, especially if you're a wedding or portrait photographer and you have to deal with skin tones regularly. The amount of time you spend on post-processing and color correction can be greatly reduced if you get the color balance right in the first place.
Apart from the Auto mode, most cameras have a list of presets for specific situations. These include sunlight, daylight, tungsten and fluorescent light. Again, they are fixed values that should work in those types of lighting, but it doesn't necessarily mean they do.
Customizing your white balance according to each specific situation is hands down the best option and the professional way of doing things. There are multiple ways of doing this. You can try changing the color temperature gradually until you get the look you want, but there's a catch that kind of makes this method useless. Most LCD screens on digital cameras are inaccurate from a chromatic point of view. While they are great for evaluating your exposure, when it comes to white balance and color cast, it's best not to trust them. You can use grey cards, but again they aren't always effective.
Our favorite way of getting a custom, accurate white balance for each specific situation is to use an ExpoDisc. The ExpoDisc is a filter that is mounted on the front of your lens. After mounting it, you walk over to the exact spot you're going to have your model stand and take a photo with the camera pointed in the direction you plan to shoot from. Set the white balance while the camera measures the exact same light that will fall on your model, and you're done.
It is quick and accurate, and you can use it every time the light changes to get results that will save you hours of editing time.
Here's a great video that demonstrates how the Expo Disc works.
Learn more about ExpoDisc here .