Setting a proper White Balance (WB)

Setting the proper White Balance for a shot is a vital key to get a photo that does justice for the “captured moment”.

Getting to the White Balance menu on your camera is going to vary between brands and even models. To save you from having to weed through each brand and model I will share some general and basic things to look for as you learn you camera.

White Balance speaks to the color of light that is used in the surrounds where you are shooting the photo. Most common consumer model cameras will have a pictorial icon of the light source. Listed below are some of the common White Balance icons:

Cloudy:       Cloudy icon

Custom:     Custom icon

Flash:         Flash icon

Fluorescent: Fluorescent icon

Shade:        Shade icon

Sunlight:     Sunlight icon

Tungsten:   Tungsten icon

Thanks to for their great help page on the “common camera symbols”.

All but one of these names make sense. When I first came across the “Tungsten” White Balance, I was thoroughly confused. Every time I have spoken with a hobbyist or new amateur photographer I see my reaction all over their face.

There is no reason for panic or worry. “Tungsten” is simply the normal incandescent light bulb setting. It is a great help to have the icon images next to the names of these White Balance settings, but it still doesn’t really explain why there are so many options and when or where they should be used.

Most of the light bulb options are simple enough to figure out except where the are two types in use. The best way to find which White Balance setting gives the best ambiance in your photo is to take a picture with each setting. Find your preference in ambiance and make a note! Do keep in mind this may change between rooms or if more of one kinda of light is added!

Flashes: if your flash is activated be aware that it almost always will over power every other light source and therefore you will want to have your White Balance set to “Flash”. If you do not have a “Flash” White Balance setting, use the “Custom” White Balance setting.

Some cameras may have an “Automatic” White Balance setting, but it is always best to match the lighting situation as best you can at each location where you are shooting!

A visual reminder of how your photo may come out without using the proper White Balance setting is below.

White Balance Illustration

White Balance setting in image order: Sunlight; Automatic; Tungsten

There are a few questions that come up as you begin to become proficient with your White Balance settings.

For instance, you may be taking a picture of a friend sitting in the shade of a building, but you are standing in the sunlight, should you use the “Shade” or “Sunlight” White Balance setting? The answer comes by what you can see through your view finder or digital display. If the shot is framed inside the shadowed area, your best is to use the “Shadow” White Balance setting.

The best thing is to get to know your camera! Learn how it views the subject you are shooting. You may find out that you prefer other White Balance setting to what most photographers suggest.

Happy Photo Shooting!