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Photography is all about light, reflected light, color of light, temperature of light, and intensity of light. The word photography comes from the Greek photo which means light and graph which is a numeric representation of things which are somehow related.
So Frank what does all this have to do with white balance?
Have you ever been to a beautiful white sandy beach or a snow covered valley and taken a picture? Then when you looked at the images on your computer the sand or snow looked gray or dingy. Or have you ever taken a picture inside your house only to find that everything including family members have a blue, orange or green hue? This is all caused because your cameraís white balance was incorrectly set for the scene you were photographing. I donít even want to talk about a brideís wedding dress coming out the wrong color, you will never hear the end of it.
Now letís break down the fundamentals of white balance. The main light source on the planet is the sun, can we all agree on that much. When you go out into the sun and stand in direct sun light you feel the warmth of the sun bearing down on your body, depending on where you are on Earth and what time of year, but for arguments sake letís say at 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Now letís say you walk over and stand in the shade of a tree which allows some light to penetrate down to where you are. What happens? Thatís right it gets cooler it might drop down to 75 or 70. Now letís consider a cloudy day just before a huge rain storm and the sun is blocked out, now the temperature may drop from 80 to 60.
If you are one of those folks who like to play around with the white balance adjustment and you forget to change the white balance from the sunny setting to the shade or cloudy setting, your white balance will be off and your images will look slightly off color. By the same token, if you are shooting outside in the sunshine and move inside to fluorescent or incandescent lighting and you forget to change the white balance your colors will be all screwed up. The same thing happens when you go from inside settings to the outside. Take a look at the image to the left I purposefully set the white balance setting to incandescent even though it was a bright sunny day outside.
So how do I fix this Frank?
Most digital cameras come with an automatic white balance setting which for most lighting situations works great, about 99% of the time, keep it there. The only time you will run into a problem is when you are in mixed lighting situations such as a reception hall, or a sports arena which has different types of lights on at the same time, such as mercury vapor lights, incandescent lights and fluorescent lights. This requires a different strategy.
The first thing you can do which is the cheapest, is go to a local camera shop and purchase an 18% ďgray cardĒ. Then when you find yourself in one of these mixed lighting situations and before the action starts or after the action is over, take a picture of something in that room with the gray card in it. Make sure you are in the same lighting as the majority of your images. That will be used to set the white balance in your computer once you load the images into your computer. In Photoshop, Bridge all you have to do is bring up the group of images go to the one with the gray card, in the tool bar select the eye dropper for correcting the white balance then click on the gray card and you can select all and synchronize all the white balance to all the images which were taken in the same lighting situation. You can also do the same thing with a white card or even a white item in one of your images. Just make sure whatever you use that it is white and not some of white color.
There are many color cards and gadgets out there and I donít want to be endorsing any of them, but go to the internet and shop around for white balance adjustment tools and cards. Now just remember that if the lighting source changes, the white balance will change with the change in temperature and you will have to take another image for your white balance adjustment.