When you look outside at the sky, what colour is the light?..
WRONG, IT IS GREEN – the reason for this is that 66% of the light in the atmosphere is green .
This is due to the yellow light from the sun travelling through a the atmosphere and hitting the oceans which are blue yellow + blue = green
This is reflected in our camera sensors, as the basic Bayer array design used by most digital cameras has 2/3 of the pixels sensitised to green light, by virtue of the micro-filters over each photo-site on the chip.
It is only our human interpretation of the colours that allows us to “see” the light as white, our camera does not have this ability so we need to help it along, and in the process help to give our images a big helping hand, this helping hand is our…
White Balance Control
In 1955 based on the Kelvin scale devised by William Thomson, (later Lord Kelvin 1824-1907) Kodak decided to standardise the colour rendition of films and took light readings at their headquarters in Rochester, New York .
Based on their calculations, the readings were used by kodak to create a definitive structure for film colour rendition, these were called Daylight and Tungsten, the daylight films were designed to give their ultimate performance at 5500 degrees Kelvin and the Tungsten 3500 degrees kelvin .
These figures were then adopted by all film manufacturers in order to achieve a common framework for colour reproduction.
However when working outside these parameters Photographers would need a selection of “Colour Correction” Filters.
From Bright pink for florescent lighting to orange and brown for working in the height of the sun during the day to deep blue to remove the orange cast of night time scenes lit by Tungsten & Sodium (orange) street lamps and the green cast of mercury lamps.
Now we have the power to control the colour of our images with the camera itself , and can tune the rendition of these colours even to suit our own preferences.This is achieved through the White Balance control. As you will see from the illustration the control this gives us us much greater creative control of how our images look .
White balance -Auto in this example the camera was left to decide what the white balance should be and has come up with a compromise somewhere between the Temperature and Cloudy settings with neither being correct lets try again.
White balance cloudy/shade setting ,this has introduced a yellow cast to the image making the image look Gold, used creatively this removes the blue haze from winter landscapes when the colour temperature is much lower giving a “blue” cast even on a sunny day and in portraits will make complexions look warmer and a little tanned .
White balance Tungsten – This has introduced a heavy blue cast which when used in tungsten light removes the bright orange glow that the human eye sees as white, however use with caution as many photos of buildings or people lit with tungsten or candle light often look much better when the orange glow is not corrected, in this instance I would use the daylight setting .
White balance Fluorescent, this has introduced a magenta (pink) colour to the image this would normally counteract the deep green colours of fluorescent but in this example has rendered the Portrait an unnatural Pink colour.
White balance Flash, this time the image has a slight yellow tone, this is to correct the overly “blue “ light from the flash guns.
In the field knowing what colour white balance to use can save a lot of time in post processing.
In this shot of the Barbary ape on AUTO WB has the cool wintery look even though shot on a sunny day in March has rendered the grass & animal with a blue cast
In this shot taken using the “cloudy” setting the blue cast is much reduced and the colour of the grass and animals coat is more what we would expect to see.
When shooting portraits I err on the side of a warmer colour balance to give face a rosy glow and, get a tanned look this works well with outdoor portraits where the use of the “cloudy “ setting can have a nice effect similar to an 81a warm up filter used on a film camera .
However when shooting night-scenes I set the daylight setting to give a recognisable rendition to street illumination and signs.
In this character portrait, the use of the “cloudy setting” has removed the blue cast from the shot on what was a bright, sunny, but bitterly cold February day.
In this colourful night time shot the colours in the sky and the reflection from the glitter-ball are created by using the “daylight “ white balance setting.
Again in this shot of an abandoned church the sky and illumination colours are seen as correct by using the “daylight” setting.
In this twilight cityscape, taken in december the “daylight” setting has rendered the lights from the stores & hotels as correct letting the cool winter sky tint the snow a light blue colour adding to the winter feel of the image .
Interiors can create the biggest challenge to photographers as there may be 2 or even 3 different light sources in the room, from tungsten, to mercury vapour (energy saving lamps are full of the stuff), to halogen & daylight.
Again I use the daylight setting and let the other light sources come through as colour variations
When shooting aquatic life through glass the use of the “daylight” setting can be used to filter out the “blue” of the water & flash and give a better colour to our images . When shooting through glass, place your lens hood against the glass and this will protect your lens from flash flare reflected off the surface .
When shooting Sunsets I often use the cloudy setting to enhance the orange glow of the low sun in the image
Use these tips to get your white balance right and save time in post-processing! Plus you’ll have the added bonus of being able to show your subject a better photo right away, meaning they’re happier before they even leave the sitting!
This article was written by Photographer Anthony Offen-James. He’s a highly knowledgable and respected photography teacher with almost half a century of experience and you can look forward to more informative content from him soon! Check out his site and portfolio at www.AnthonyOffen-James.co.uk