DSLR White Balance
I think for hobbyists, it’s probably fair to say that DSLR white balance, of all of the settings on your digital camera, is likely to be the most neglected . Most of the hobby photographers that I know (including myself a lot of the time) tend to rely on the automatic WB setting of the camera rather than setting it manually for each occasion. This isn’t a problem if the camera “guesses” the lighting situation correctly, but it can often be a bit of a hit-and-miss scenario for a DSLR. To set your DSLR white balance correctly, obviously we need to understand it, so let’s get started.
What is white balance?
Let’s look a little deeper than that still – what is white? White is what we see when all wavelengths within the visible spectrum are reflected off of an object equally. When an object absorbs some of the wavelengths but reflects others, we see only the wavelengths that are being reflected, and that in turn is the colour that we interpret the object to be.
The problem we have as photographers is that in a given scene, the source of light itself emits its own set of wavelengths within the visible spectrum that are rarely equal (or balanced), so we often end up in a scene where the source of light is biased towards a particular colour. For example: if our light source emits more reds than other wavelengths, then all of the colours in our scene will be interpreted by our camera as being much redder than they really are.
White balance then, is the ability for our cameras to offset the colour bias of our light source, and to record the scene with a relatively flat visible light spectrum. Now, that all sounds exceptionally complicated, but trust me, setting your cameras white balance is a piece of cake.
How to set it:
The first step is to find a neutrally coloured object. Something that is white or grey is ideal, but be careful in your selection here because not all whites are white, they can often have a red or yellow tint. Do your best to find a truly neutral white or grey object. A piece of photocopy paper or the white inside the lid from an ice-cream container will usually be ideal. You can actually buy “grey cards” that have a set of colours printed on them for the purposes of setting or off-setting your camera’s white balance. They can be quite expensive, so for our purposes a white sheet of paper will suffice.
Arrange your neutral object so that it is in front of the camera and completely fills the frame, Now, in your DSLR’s menu, you will find an option to set the white balance (often referred to as “WB” in camera menus) manually. Select this option and you will be prompted to select a neutrally coloured object. Now, shoot your neutral object and your camera will analyse the scene and adjust it’s colour offset accordingly. It really is that easy. Just remember that when your light source changes, you will need to set your white balance again.
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