What is White Balance?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 October 2019
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As a phenomenon that takes place during the process of photography, white balance has to do with the proper adjustment of the lighting contrast so that the best application of natural and artificial light sources takes place. By creating a situation where optimum lighting, or a white balance, is created, it is possible to ensure that the color content of the developed photograph will be exactly as the photographer intended.

The basis for achieving white balance has to do with the implementation of correct color cast. Essentially, color casts are created by taking into consideration the level of light that is available at the time of the photo session. The idea is to enhance or minimize the amount of light so that the balance between the colors and shades of the photograph create an image that meets the expectations of the person taking the photograph. When professional photographers conduct the process of white balance, this may mean relying solely on natural light or artificial light, or a combination of the two.


Different levels of light impact the WB, or white balance, that is achieved. For example, the white balance at noon on a sunny day is such that it allows for the photographic reproduction of true colors and shades. In effect, the white light that is present under those conditions is ideal for exact reproduction. Artificial light, such as incandescent sources, may be used when the desire is to accentuate red and yellow coloring in the subject. The presence of fluorescent light tends to accentuate the presence of shades of green. All these approaches to adjusting the white balance are used in the creation of photographic works that qualify as art forms.

The digital cameras of today tend to automatically adjust, based on the light conditions present. This means that the use of a flash, and in some cases the light level of the flash, are automatically adjusted by the camera itself. Because of the automated adjustment, the white balance more or less equals that of noontime on a sunny day, resulting in true color capture with no enhancements of one color or another. However, it should be noted that the quality of digital photographic equipment varies, so the degree of adjustment that is made may or may not be sufficient to achieve the desired look. In situations of this nature, it may still be necessary to manually use artificial means to enhance the amount of light that is cast in the area of the subject.


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