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Learn Photography

Beecher's Handouts >

18 – White Balance

1 – The Problem

Most beginning photographers have little awareness of the color of the light they're using when photographing.

The main reason for this is called chromatic adaptation.

Our eyes adapt to the color of the illumination.

For example, fluorescent tube lights, unless they're full spectrum, produce green light.

However, we perceive the light as being white.

2 – LED Lights & CFL Bulbs

LED lights, especially, and CFL bulbs, are often close to the color of daylight.

3 – Setting White Balance

Set the white balance to correct for different colors of light.

These are the common presets for this feature:



Automatic (AWB)

Averages the color

Daylight Use on a sunny day at midday.


Removes excess orange of old-fashion light bulbs

Fluorescent tubes

Removes the excess green of fluorescent tubes (except full-spectrum tubes)

Cloudy Use on a sunny day, to remove cyan (blue/green), in the shade
Shade Use on a sunny day, to remove cyan, in the shade
Custom preset See below

4 – Custom Preset White Balance

A custom white balance is a preset that you create with your camera.

Your camera measures the color of the light, and creates a corrective setting.

Use a custom preset white balance when:

• There are different-colored light sources, mixed together, illuminating the subject.

• You want more precise color than that provided by the above white balance icons.

5 – Is AWB the Best?

Many photographers use the automatic white balance (AWB) setting all of the time.

The AWB setting averages the color in a scene.

It's easy to use AWB.

But averaging the color doesn't work well when the color in a scene isn't average.

Two Examples

Red Barns

Lets' say you're photographing something that's all one color, such as a red barn.

If you use AWB, the red of the barn will be muted in the photograph.

Use a preset, such as the daylight preset (sun icon) if you're in the sun.


If you photograph a sunset using the AWB setting, the camera will decrease the intensity of the oranges and reds in the photograph.

Set the white balance to the daylight preset (sun icon) to retain the color of sunsets.