There are many things that can affect how the scene is represented and how your products are pictured in photographs. You can have a great background, master the settings on your camera for depth-of-field and focus, and still find that something isn’t quite right. The colors don’t seem to quite fit the mood. Chances are you are experiencing the sort of issue that can arise when your white balance is off.
What is White Balance?
White balance, at it’s simplest, refers to the temperature of any given light source. Light sources of different types have different temperatures. The temperature of a light source affects how it renders colors accurately and can range from “cool” to “warm”.
Your digital camera likely has several white balance settings that are meant to make it easy on you. These presets will cover the most likely lighting sources you will encounter. Using these automatic or semi-automatic presets should be your first step in ensuring your colors are accurate. The different type of light sources that should be represented are:
- Auto – In the auto setting the camera will try to figure out the white balance on its own. However, it can sometimes be inaccurate and it’s good to know the other settings to compensate.
- Daylight – What would be considered a “normal” white balance. Good for shooting outdoors with no shade and in natural light settings. It’s a good measure to begin with this setting and then see if you need a warmer or cooler setting.
- Shade – Light in shade is cooler and this setting will warm the scene a little.
- Cloudy – Takes the sun being blocked by clouds into account and warms the scene more than the “Daylight” setting.
- Tungsten – Indoor lighting tends to be warmer than natural daylight and this setting cools the scene for more natural colors.
- Fluorescent – Fluorescent lighting is generally cooler than daylight or tungsten lighting and this setting will warm the scene to more accurately represent colors.
- Flash – The light from a built-in flash is cool so this setting will warm the scene to compensate. Off-camera flashes like speedlights are often daylight-balanced so the “Daylight” setting should be used.
Finding the Right Balance
Sometimes you may find that your camera is struggling to find the proper white balance. Fortunately, there is a very simple method for making sure you are capturing proper color in your photo. Using this method will allow you to make sure your products are presented accurately for buyers.
Professional photographers will often make use of a white card to make sure they are capturing accurate colors in their photographs. A white card is simply a piece of white paper or board that is a pure white. Your digital camera will have settings to affect white balance manually. Use the LCD to change the white balance until your white card appears to be white with any color cast (color cast can be a tint of color, usually blue, yellow, or red).
Some cameras will allow you to set the temperature of the white balance manually. Measured in Kelvins you can follow the general guidelines that the higher the Kelvin temperature of the light the cooler the source is. The sun on a bright day is between 5,200 to 6,000 Kelvin, indoor lighting 2,500 to 3,000 Kelvin (warmer than daylight), a cloudy overcast day is between 6,500 to 8,000 Kelvin (cooler than sunlight). These are ranges that will allow to manually set your white balance to suit the scene.
Using White Balance to Affect Mood
Creatively white balance can be used to affect the mood of an image. Additionally, different types of products can benefit from being photographed with white balance as a creative tool.
For example, hand-crafted items that use natural materials like wood or bamboo would benefit from a warmer tone. Jewelry and metal-worked items can benefit from a cooler white balance that enhances their appearance. The main thing is to set a white balance that maintains accuracy in your product’s colors while also establishing a suitable mood.
A Few Real-World Examples
To give a better idea on how the proper white balance can determine how an image is perceived, let’s look at this pair of hand-crafted wind chimes. The chimes were photographed hanging outside, to better represent how they would look in use. A good white balance will give a feeling for the deep grain of the wood used, and emphasize the warmth of the materials used.
And now we will follow some examples with other white balances. You will be able to see how each balance affects the look and feel of the image.
It’s very clear that each white balance achieves a different look.
Auto – Auto white balance left the image too warm so that there is a reddish-brown cast to the image that is distracting. It is not a very accurate color rendition of the chimes and a prospective buyer might be annoyed at the difference.
Tungsten/Incandescent – A white balance setting for tungsten light sources has cooled the scene down far too much. All the colors have shifted to the blue and the warm brown tones of the wood have been lost.
Fluorescent – Though it hasn’t done as drastic a job as the tungsten setting the fluorescent setting has also cooled the image down too much. It isn’t possible to call these colors accurate by any stretch of the imagination.
Flash – Setting for a flash white balance the camera has tried to warm things up, but because the image was taken in daylight it has gone a bit overboard in a way similar to the Auto setting.
Once you know your way around white balance, you have yet another tool to turn toward making the best possible photographs with the most accurate colors that can increase buyer interest. Further, you can make fine adjustments to your white balance that does a lot to enhance an image for any purpose.
Click here to read about advanced lighting on lamps and speedlights