Photo Tip: Get Awesome Color by Setting the White Balance

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KC Oconnor really enjoyring his new Canon G9 - almost to a fault. My buddy Bobby once declared to me, "My pictures suck. I want a better camera."

[By the way, that's not Bobby to the right.  That's K.C. practically moaning on his new Canon G9.]

Like many hopeful lensmen weighing their first camera against their first 8 gigs-worth of digital photos, he was thinking man, I didn't spend enough money on a quality camera. He was shooting a Fuji S700; a decent point-n-shoot unit with the capacity for shooting manually and with some advanced features.

Naturally, though, he equated the problem he saw in his photos with his camera.

I just had to tell him that the problem wasn't the camera, but him. We're friends.  I can take that risk.

The Problem

"Ever consider that you're so freaking dumb that it would have never occurred to you to just man-up and buy a Canon G9/G10/G11 [note: where does it end?]?  Okay, just kidding.  Your camera's fine.  The problem is you." I gave it to him flat out and it's a wonder I'm able to type this right now because of it.

He took a swing at me like he was Pete and I was Everett in Oh Brother! Where Art Thou?: "The hell you say!"

So I offered to take him out one afternoon to take pictures of cactus with his own camera. Turns out, he hadn't a clue what aperture was or did, or why he should care.  Same goes for ISO.  And white balance?  Yep, that one too. Auto settings, yikes, they'll do a hit-and-miss job on any camera - high-end or not - and ultimately return a lot of mediocre photos.

white balance - the magical camera setting for nailing the color just rightWe had to get this squared away, step by step.  Let's start with white balance - the magical setting for nailing the color just right.  The short story is this: bright sunlight, shade, your kitchen at home, and where ever all have different temperatures of light.  Your camera has a setting somewhere for you to tell it, "Hey, it's a full on sunny day with blue skies."  Or "It's crazy cloudy today, I think it's going to rain."  Or "I'm taking pics of my child in the bathtub."  If you set the white balance on your camera, your odds of being more pleased with your pictures goes up.

Examples of White Balance

What do you think of this color?

Kind of a trick question because to most eyes, it's not all that hideous.  Simon steals the show here, anyway.  What a cool kid.

But, here's a prime example of my white balance set to "auto." It set the temperature to about 7000 Kelvin. The camera did a reasonable job considering I was relying on a machine to see what I saw.  The camera interpreted too much shade (which is a very blue colored light), and therefore "warmed" it up a bit trying to achieve a good balance.  The quintessential trouble with "auto."

 

See, I should have set the white balance to "daylight." It would have come much closer like this.

Remember that.  If you're outside on a bright sunny day, set your white balance for it.  For that matter, set the white balance for the condition your shooting in; your camera has a setting for it and it's not too hard to find.

 

Different example. What is this?  Are they entranced by a really really big flashlight?  A television screen?  Are they watching Veggie Tales?

Of course not.  It's a real campfire.  The color temperature of a candle is very red, so the camera might want to cool the color off and bring it down to about 2000 Kelvin.  And therefore totally destroy the mood lighting set by a warm campfire.

 

Funny.  Set the camera for "daylight" and this is the result.  The campfire is emitting light much like a Sonoran Desert sunset would.

The camera and I agree this time.

 

How To Set White Balance on a Digital Camera for Awesome Color

Simple.  Your camera has a menu somewhere for white balance.  Locate it, and you'll see some icons just like this to the left.  Select and shoot some photos.

A good resource for more about white balance and other photography basics is Basic Essentials Photography in the Outdoors.  It's short and sweet (65 pages), written with the novice in mind, and you can read it in one sitting cover to cover.  It's only about $9.00 - get the book.

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