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A beginners guide to white balance

Almost everyone I see these days has a digital SLR, granted I currently live in Paris, a city filled with tourists armed with cameras everywhere you look. But before the digital explosion I had my trusty Pentax ME Super, an OM1 and a dark room, remember those. Back then I shared this passion with a small handful of people. Now we all have SLR cameras.
So you have this great camera. That is capable of great things. Will that make you a great photographer? The short answer is no. It is a myth that you can fix everything in Photoshop, I do very little post processing. A photograph that has been overly edited does show, even to the untrained eye, you are fooling no one. I was dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age. In fact many of the early photos on this blog were taken with a point and shoot, and you can tell. I still feel that I am exploring the possibilities of this new tool and still feel more comfortable with film. I took far better black and white images on film.
So the camera won’t automatically turn you into Ansel Adams but I will be posting a number of tutorials on here that will hopefully get you to take your camera off the auto setting and really start to exploit the equipment you have. This first lesson is a quickie and one that is really handy for both indoor and outdoor photography.
What I am shooting on is a Canon 60d with a 18-55mm lens, however I shoot mainly using this lens as a 35mm. All of these pictures were shot on the 35mm lens. This is a mid range camera but I will post more about equipment in a separate post.
Back in the day most film that you would buy over the counter was daylight balanced. This is to do with colour temperature. You could also buy tungsten balanced film, which you guessed it was for use in tungsten light. You can recreate this on your camera. Most digital cameras will be set to auto white balance however I find this to be ineffectual in creating great shots.
Lets have a look at some examples, after all photography is a visual art form and what better way to explain myself than with some photographs.

Here is an image of some apples in a tree with the white balance set on tungsten. You see how the image is darker and has a blue hue to it. The same thing would happen using the tungsten film outdoors. Below is a photograph taken moments later with the same settings apart from a change in the white balance. The image below is set to daylight. In fact on the Canon 60D you get a few more options, Sunny, cloudy and Shade. The image below was set on sunny.
The colours here are true to life, and the whole image is brighter. One of the things I used to do with film was to purposely shoot a roll of tungsten outdoors to get the blue effect. Imagine it with an icy scene for example. As a photographer you can take yourself out of the auto setting and shooting holiday snaps to creating more artistic work. After all why have the camera if you are not going to play with the possibilities. Below is a further example of tungsten shot in daylight, however the subject matter lends itself to a bit of artistic licence.
With the apples they looked wrong to the human eye straight way. Many visual messages that jar with what our brain is expecting don’t work. Flowers however we expect less rules from in the colour department therefore if you wanted a dreamy blue tone you could use it and not upset you viewers eyes.
The Canon 60D offers more than film did when it comes to colour temperature as I mentioned earlier. You may find this helpful when you are shooting indoors. The truth is not many of us have tungsten light in our homes anymore, energy saving light bulbs come in a variety of guises and don’t forget LED or halogen. That is why it is useful to play with the options on you camera. As a crafter and blogger I need to take images at all times of the day and cannot be held back by poor daylight. Can you imagine living in Northern Europe and being at the mercy of the sun, I would never get anything done.
Below is an image from a recent craft post of some driftwood on a dark grey surface. The auto white balance could not deal with the sharp contrast effectively and tungsten made it far too bleached. I opted for the White Fluorescent setting. The light for this picture came from some cloudy daylight behind me through a small window and halogen lights in the ceiling, using 35mm lens.
I hope that this was a good introduction to white balance I will do a using white balance part 2 at some point, we haven’t even touched on using candlelight yet. This is a good start and I hope you go and have a play now at what works best indoors and out for your photos. Remember the greatest advantage of digital over film is you can take four shots of the same thing whilst you are learning without worrying about the cost of film, you have already made your big outlay now start to have fun with it!
August 28, 2013



  1. Reply

    Chris Gape

    August 23, 2013

    Nice post Nico! x

  2. Reply

    Nicolette Lafonseca-Hargreaves

    August 24, 2013

    Thanks Chris xo