Solving Your Photography Color Woes

BlogHer Original Post

Did you know that different sources of light have varying color temperatures? Does this sound like complete gibberish? I'm happy to admit that until I made a sincere effort to improve my photography skills after the purchase of my first DSLR, these words sounded like a foreign language to me, too. After I uploaded my first batch of photos taken with my fancy (to me) new camera I noticed that they looked a little...Smurf blue?

A few weeks later I took some shots at an outdoor children's garden and was startled when I saw the Oompa Loompa-esque orange tint my shots had to them. I struggled with my camera's settings to no avail. I had no idea what was wrong with my images until I discovered the concept of white balance. It is totally possible to lose precious hours of your life reading about white balance and color temperatures, but what's the point? It's summertime, and you want to get out there shooting.

Here is my minimalist guide to mastering white balance easily and painlessly. No more Smurf or Oompa Loompa shots.

Study your camera's white balance settings & set them appropriately before shooting. Obviously camera settings vary from camera to camera, so I will use my camera as an example. It has the following white balance settings: AWB (auto white balance), Sunny, Shade, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Tungsten, Flash, and CWB (custom white balance).

Most color issues can be solved with a quick adjustment of your WB setting. Shooting in the full sun? Make sure you choose the Sunny WB setting. Easy. Taking pictures indoor under your regular old lightbulbs? Turn to your Tungsten setting. Done. You are probably asking yourself,

"Hmm, Veronica if there is an automatic white balance setting then why not use that to make things even easier?"

It's a great question but the answer is simple. When it comes to photography, the fewer decisions you leave up to your camera, the better your photos will look. I love my camera as much as the next girl but am aware of its limitations. I am smarter than my camera, and my eyes are more advanced than its sensor. I know what my kids' skin tone looks like. Adjusting my camera settings manually allows me to control the temperature of my shots so that I can make sure no one looks like a Smurf (too cool = too blue) or like an Oompa Loompa (too warm = too orange). AWB varies from camera to camera, but on mine it tends to be warmer than I like. It works well if I'm in a huge hurry, but I don't like to depend on it. Getting the color right in camera means less time fixing the issue in post processing. Saving time is a big deal to me.

Go check you current camera settings. Are you habitually shooting in AWB? Spend a day adjusting your WB settings according to the light conditions. You'll be pleasantly surprised with the results.

Buy a gray card and set custom white balance. Once again make sure to refer to your camera-specific manual for step-by-step instructions. Setting custom white balance on my camera is super easy. I have a cheap card I keep in my camera bag. I set my WB to AWB, then using manual focus I take a perfectly exposed shot of the card (meter set to zero), ensuring that I fill the frame (you should only be able to see the gray card through the lens and nothing else) under the exact lighting conditions I will be shooting under (you will have to change your CWB if you switch lighting sources). I then select the CWB option from my second camera menu and set the WB using the image of the gray card I just took. Next up, I choose the CWB option from the white balance setting options and I'm done. Your white balance in all your shots will be perfect.

White balance isn't just for DSLRs. Many point and shoot cameras have white balance options. Pull out your manual and get familiar with them. A simple switch could take your photos to the next level. Also there are now many apps available for phonetographers that include white balance corrections.

Here are some white balance examples to motivate you.

toocoolwhitebalance

The white balance off. The temperature is too cool. See how blue the photo looks?

toowarmwhitebalance

My beautiful baby looks a little like an Oompa Loompa. This shot is too warm, and is a little on the orange side.

goodwhitebalance

Perfect! This is exactly what my little boy should look like. Well, he could smile a little bigger, but thankfully I've got two kids to chase with my camera!

goodwhitebalance

A keeper. Perfect white balance, skin tones, and a gorgeous smile.

No more excuses. Get familiar with white balance and this summer you'll take your best photos yet.

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