Light has a colour and the colour of light changes according to the temperature of the light source. Even daylight changes colour as the sun rises and falls during the day. Our eyes don't notice the colour of light because our brain filters it out, but the camera will see the colour of the light. This is why pictures taken indoors may look a little yellow, because artificial light bulbs operate at a different temperature and produce a more yellow light.
Most digital cameras have a range of different white balance settings so that you can tell the camera what kind of light source you are shooting in and it can then correct any colour cast that may be caused by the light itself.
The white balance control can also be use creatively, to deliberately alter the colour tones of your pictures. Taking a picture outdoors using the setting for fluorescent light, for example, will give a cooler, bluer look, while the 'cloudy' or 'shade' setting will warm your colours up on a dull or rainy day.
A Digital SLR will have a default or auto white balance setting, so there is no need for you to change white balance each time you take a picture. In most cases you may find that auto white balance gives you the colours you want in your pictures or you may opt to default white balance to one of the other standard settings. Over time you are likely to be able to recognise the type of photograph and the conditions where your photos would benefit from you changing the white balance setting.
A typical set of white balance settings for an entry level Digital SLR are Auto White Balance, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, White Fluorescent light and flash. That list covers the different types of lighting you are likely to encounter when taking photographs.
A further white balance option may give you the chance to fine tune the balance of colours within your photo. This is referred to as white balance compensation. For example you maybe able to adjust the balance of blue and amber to add extra coolness or warmth to your photograph depending on the exact look you are attempting to create. When you begin to work with white balance at this level you can start to appreciate the level of creativity it can add to your photo.
More expensive models may also allow the user to set a specific colour temperature, so, for example, if you know the operating temperature of your studio lights, you can enter that value and the camera will adjust the colours accordingly.
Digital SLR Basics
Digital SLRs and Digital Cameras Key Differences
Digital SLR or Compact System Cameras
Digital SLR Handling
Help for Beginners
Lenses and Accessories
Buying a Camera Lens
Digital SLR Accessories
Learn More About Features
Resolution and Sensor Size
Manual Exposure Modes
Help With Tricky Lighting
Live View and Articulated Screens
Depth of Field Preview Button
Current and Recommended Models
Summary of Current Models
Recommended Digital SLRs
Digital SLR Guide Author
This guide was written by Ian Younger
Digital SLRs also typically offer a custom white balance setting. You can use this when you feel the camera is struggling to get the colours spot on for your photos. This involves taking a picture of a white or grey card or other neutral subject to use as a reference shot, as a way of telling the camera exactly what colours look like under the specific light source being used. Your Digital SLR is than able to calculate how the other colours in the scene relate to white. This should ensure more accurate colour representation.
White Balance set to Shade
White Balance set to Fluorescent