How to White Balance Your Camera

By Emily Raymond
By , Last updated on: 5/18/2014

There’s an easy way to get rid of that yellowish tint that haunts most of your indoor shots. It’s what camera manufacturers call white balance. Most digital cameras, even cheap, compact ones, have manual white balance that can help you achieve perfect colors in any type of lighting. It’s easy to set, and will immensely improve your pictures.

What Is White Balance?

The white balance essentially tells the camera what color white is, and then the camera’s algorithms set the rest of the colors based on that information.

How Do I Set White Balance?

Many digital cameras either designate a button for white balance or tuck the feature into an easily accessible menu. For instance, it is in the function menu alongside image size and color options on the Canon PowerShot SD790IS that I used.

Almost all digital cameras have white balance presets such as incandescent, fluorescent, sunny, cloudy, and shady. Because there are so many types of lightbulbs that throw off various tints of color, and you don’t always know which type of bulb you’re under, it’s best to skip the presets and use the manual white balance. Just so you get an idea of how different the presets are from one another, here are some sample shots of the white balance presets available on a Canon:




Auto (left) and Cloudy (right) settings.

Daylight (left) and Fluorescent H (right) settings.

Fluorescent (left) and Incandescent (right) settings.
 
Custom setting, just right.

To manually white balance a compact digital camera, you must first find something white. It has to be truly white. Serious photographers sometimes buy and use a “white card,” but the white of a clean T-shirt or a piece of printer paper will do. Frame the white item in the center, like you’re taking its portrait, and snap a shot. The process may be slightly different on some models – some cameras save a white picture as a reference and some set the white balance by simply scrolling to an option on a menu. The process should be intuitive, but if it’s not, look it up in your camera’s user manual: the five minutes that it takes to look it up will be well worth the effort.

Once you’ve figured out how to manually white balance your camera, you can take pictures like a pro. All of the pictures in your photo albums will have realistic colors, with no intervention from photo editing software necessary.

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