Setting The Mood By Adjusting Your White Balance - Digital Photography School

Setting The Mood By Adjusting Your White Balance

This set of images was taken from a RAW file, with the white balance adjusted using Kelvin white balance in Adobe Camera Raw. The first image was set to Auto in camera. The middle shot was warmed up by setting the white balance to 7500°K, and the third shot was cooled off by setting the white balance to 4000°K. EOS-1D Mark IV with EF 24-105 f/4L IS. 1/200, ISO 100, f/4.

This set of images was taken from a RAW file, with the white balance adjusted using Kelvin white balance in Adobe Camera Raw. The first image was set to Auto in camera. The middle shot was warmed up by setting the white balance to 7500°K, and the third shot was cooled off by setting the white balance to 4000°K. EOS-1D Mark IV with EF 24-105 f/4L IS. 1/200, ISO 100, f/4.

Photographers often deal with a variety of light sources, each of which has it’s own color cast.  When compared to daylight in the middle of the day, tungsten lighting, like that which comes from traditional incandescent bulbs, looks yellow.  Standard fluorescent lighting looks green.  Light in shade, or on a cloudy day will have a bluish cast compared to midday sun.  These color casts are referred to as the color temperature of the light.  Color temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin.  To beginners, color temperature will appear to be a bit backwards.  From 2000°K to about 3000°K are warm tones, and above 5000°K are cooler tones, getting progressively more bluish as the color temperature goes higher.  Midday sun tends to be at around 5500°K – 6000°K, while the sun at the horizon is warmer, at about 5000°K. Overcast daylight will be around 6500°K, and shaded daylight will be around 7000°K.

In this landscape shot, The first shot was processed using the Auto white balance setting, which chose 7500°K.  The second shot was processed to a much cooler tone at 4500°K, and the last shot was processed setting the Kelvin white balance at 11250°K.  EOS-1D X, EF 14mm f/2.8L II. Exposure: 0.5", f/16, ISO 200.

In this landscape shot, The first shot was processed using the Auto white balance setting, which chose 7500°K. The second shot was processed to a much cooler tone at 4500°K, and the last shot was processed setting the Kelvin white balance at 11250°K. EOS-1D X, EF 14mm f/2.8L II. Exposure: 0.5″, f/16, ISO 200.

Thankfully, today’s digital cameras have a tool to correct for the different color casts created by the various light sources we encounter.  For beginners, using the Auto White Balance setting is an excellent start. The camera will try to neutralize the color cast caused by different light sources and give the image a pleasing balance. However, while a neutral color balance is often desirable, there are times when as artists, we may want to use the white balance tool to creative effect.

You can choose what kind of mood you want to set before shooting if you like, by choosing a preset white balance. Most cameras offer Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Fluorescent, Tungsten, Flash, Custom, and Kelvin temperature white balance settings.  These settings will neutralize the color cast from the light source they are designed for. For instance, Fluorescent neutralizes the greenish cast given off by fluorescent light.  Custom white balance is a user defined setting where you tell the camera what in the scene should be white, and the camera corrects to make it so. Finally, the Kelvin white balance setting allows you to choose the color temperature of the light source you are shooting in.  If you choose to use the presets in lighting other than what they are designed for, your image will be warmer or cooler, depending on your setting and the available light.

For all of those settings, the camera is simply looking to make white look white.  While that may be what you want, by intentionally setting a different white balance, you can add to the mood.  Choosing  Shady or Cloudy white balance will warm up your image, and choosing tungsten will cool your image. This type of thing is done constantly in movies and television shows to help set the mood.  Photographers as well choose their white balance to set the mood.  A cooler color cast gives the image a colder, harsher feel, while a warm color cast is generally seen as inviting.

If you shoot only JPEG, you’ll be stuck with whatever white balance you had selected at the time of shooting, so if you want to change the mood by adjusting your white balance, you’ll have to choose to do this beforehand.  However, if you shoot RAW, the white balance can be adjusted after the fact, using whichever RAW converter you choose.  You’ll be able to choose from the presets that are loaded in the camera, click in the image to determine what color should actually be white, or you can simply select Kelvin white balance, and using a slider, adjust the white balance in degrees Kelvin and see what the different color temperatures look like.

By taking control of the white balance, you give yourself another tool that can alter the mood of your images and allow you to better communicate what you want to say with your image.  Not every image will benefit by shifting the white balance setting, and there will be some photographers who will be adamant that you should always shoot to the “correct” white balance.  As the artist, this is your time to exercise your creative license and do what feels right to you.

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Rick Berk is a photographer based in New York, shooting a variety of subjects including landscapes, sports, weddings, and portraits. Rick's work can be seen at RickBerk.com and you can follow him on his Facebook page.

  • Photondulator

    You haven’t posted the photo of the landscape. Nice article though.

  • http://www.rickberk.com Rick Berk

    You can’t see the landscape photo?

  • http://www.conorboyd.info/ Conor Boyd

    Nope, I can’t see it either.

  • http://www.rickberk.com Rick Berk

    I can see it and I’ve looked on two different devices, neither of which were the one I wrote the article on. Hmmm

  • http://photographybychrishoward.com Chris

    Yeah, I think you might need to re-post this…uh…post.

  • hankkkkk

    I’m a beginner and confused by the landscape caption–the first, AWB photo (7500K) was “cooled” by choosing (4500K)?

  • Mads Johansen

    That is strange. Chrome+firefox doesn’t show the landscape, but IE does. I’d say go bug the DPS dev team, rick :)

  • Mike

    I see it…nice little article.

  • http://www.eartickles.com Baxter Tocher

    I can’t see the landscape photo either!

  • Hanif

    cant see the landscape image here nor in the newsletter.

    /h2

  • jvw

    “If you shoot only JPEG, you’ll be stuck with whatever white balance you had selected at the time of shooting, so if you want to change the mood by adjusting your white balance, you’ll have to choose to do this beforehand. However, if you shoot RAW, the white balance can be adjusted after the fact, using whichever RAW converter you choose.”

    After I read this I opened a JPG in my editor, clicked on the color balance tool, and typed in a Kelvin value. Then I moved the purple-green slider to fine tune the effect. Smart select worked too, as did clicking on something that should be white. I call that changing balance and I’ve been doing that to JPG for the better part of 15 years.

    My question is, why do so many people who write about photography keep insisting you can’t do anything about color balance in post if you shoot JPG? Maybe not in your post processing program, but that doesn’t make it a law of photography or post.

  • jvw

    “If you shoot only JPEG, you’ll be stuck with whatever white balance you had selected at the time of shooting, so if you want to change the mood by adjusting your white balance, you’ll have to choose to do this beforehand. However, if you shoot RAW, the white balance can be adjusted after the fact, using whichever RAW converter you choose. ”

    So I opened my program, opened a JPG, clicked on the colour balance tool, and typed in a Kelvin temperature. Then I fine tuned with the purple-green slider. Smart select works too, as well as clicking on something white. In other words, I’m adjusting colour balance, am I not?

    I’ve been doing that for the better part of 15 years. Why do people who write about photography keep insisting that once shot, a JPG can’t be changed or corrected?

  • jvw

    FWIW: The second photo is visible in Internet Explorer 10 but not in Chrome. In Chrome, right click and open link in new tab will show the image.

  • http://www.rickberk.com Rick Berk

    @jvw- The short answer is that correcting a color cast in a JPEG image is NOT the same as correcting the white balance in a RAW file. Jpeg files have already been processed according to what the camera settings are, using the brightness and color information so that each pixel has all of the information baked in, so there is not much room for adjustment. Yes, you can adjust this in Photoshop, to an extent, but editing a jpeg in Photoshop is also destructive editing, and will have consequences to the quality of the file.
    In a RAW file, the pixels contain ONLY brightness information. All of the color data is tagged in a sidecar file. This data can then be changed in RAW processing software, without ever affecting the original pixels, thus, it’s non-destructive in terms of what’s being done to the file. Because you are working with raw data from the camera, there is a lot more room for adjustment, again without any destructive consequences that come with editing a jpeg.

  • Photondulator

    Well, I can’t see wher I can right-click in chrome, so I used Safari. Nice photo.
    And to the advantages of the RAW file: the extrapolation of pixels from real ones is getting better. So you can get a better quality shot if you wait a little more. With a JPEG, you’re stuck with what you have.

    And also, a JPEG is 8-bit. So when changing white balance, you might have some artifacts appearing. A RAW file is 16 bit. So you have a lot more flexibility. If you don’t like RAW, use 16-bit tifs

  • Chris

    I can see it fine – nice shots!

  • DougS

    For those of us who can’t see the landscape picture (chrome users apparently), here is the link to it.

    http://digital-photography-school.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Horton.jpg

    I think it has to do with the dimensions of the pic, and the way the column width is fixed on this site. It just doesn’t have room to fit it in.

    Otherwise, nice article. I’ve played around with this same concept before as well.

  • http://www.softretouch.com Nicholas

    Yeah hard on chrome but on mozzila works fine. I like it.

  • http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/ Mridula

    One day I have to take the RAW plunge, it is editing that scares me :(

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2013/09/taling-chan-floating-market-bangkok.html

  • Ali

    i love the rock images

  • dantefrizzoli

    Wow. I was wondering what white balance was and now I know what I can do. Thank you.

  • Cohen Marjorie

    I love dPS. (Just an aside)

    I ran into this problem just last week. Surprisingly I was able to adjust most of my work in post production, which I really dislike, btw. Much to my surprise, I kept one photo on the cool side, and it added to what I had already captured!!

    Still I’d love to find this preset on my camera. *sigh*

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Some older comments

  • Mridula

    September 17, 2013 08:53 pm

    One day I have to take the RAW plunge, it is editing that scares me :(

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2013/09/taling-chan-floating-market-bangkok.html

  • Nicholas

    September 11, 2013 08:18 am

    Yeah hard on chrome but on mozzila works fine. I like it.

  • DougS

    September 6, 2013 05:28 am

    For those of us who can't see the landscape picture (chrome users apparently), here is the link to it.

    http://digital-photography-school.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Horton.jpg

    I think it has to do with the dimensions of the pic, and the way the column width is fixed on this site. It just doesn't have room to fit it in.

    Otherwise, nice article. I've played around with this same concept before as well.

  • Chris

    September 6, 2013 05:15 am

    I can see it fine - nice shots!

  • Photondulator

    September 5, 2013 07:16 am

    Well, I can't see wher I can right-click in chrome, so I used Safari. Nice photo.
    And to the advantages of the RAW file: the extrapolation of pixels from real ones is getting better. So you can get a better quality shot if you wait a little more. With a JPEG, you're stuck with what you have.

    And also, a JPEG is 8-bit. So when changing white balance, you might have some artifacts appearing. A RAW file is 16 bit. So you have a lot more flexibility. If you don't like RAW, use 16-bit tifs

  • Rick Berk

    September 5, 2013 06:57 am

    @jvw- The short answer is that correcting a color cast in a JPEG image is NOT the same as correcting the white balance in a RAW file. Jpeg files have already been processed according to what the camera settings are, using the brightness and color information so that each pixel has all of the information baked in, so there is not much room for adjustment. Yes, you can adjust this in Photoshop, to an extent, but editing a jpeg in Photoshop is also destructive editing, and will have consequences to the quality of the file.
    In a RAW file, the pixels contain ONLY brightness information. All of the color data is tagged in a sidecar file. This data can then be changed in RAW processing software, without ever affecting the original pixels, thus, it's non-destructive in terms of what's being done to the file. Because you are working with raw data from the camera, there is a lot more room for adjustment, again without any destructive consequences that come with editing a jpeg.

  • jvw

    September 5, 2013 05:20 am

    FWIW: The second photo is visible in Internet Explorer 10 but not in Chrome. In Chrome, right click and open link in new tab will show the image.

  • jvw

    September 5, 2013 05:16 am

    "If you shoot only JPEG, you’ll be stuck with whatever white balance you had selected at the time of shooting, so if you want to change the mood by adjusting your white balance, you’ll have to choose to do this beforehand. However, if you shoot RAW, the white balance can be adjusted after the fact, using whichever RAW converter you choose. "

    So I opened my program, opened a JPG, clicked on the colour balance tool, and typed in a Kelvin temperature. Then I fine tuned with the purple-green slider. Smart select works too, as well as clicking on something white. In other words, I'm adjusting colour balance, am I not?

    I've been doing that for the better part of 15 years. Why do people who write about photography keep insisting that once shot, a JPG can't be changed or corrected?

  • jvw

    September 5, 2013 05:06 am

    "If you shoot only JPEG, you’ll be stuck with whatever white balance you had selected at the time of shooting, so if you want to change the mood by adjusting your white balance, you’ll have to choose to do this beforehand. However, if you shoot RAW, the white balance can be adjusted after the fact, using whichever RAW converter you choose."

    After I read this I opened a JPG in my editor, clicked on the color balance tool, and typed in a Kelvin value. Then I moved the purple-green slider to fine tune the effect. Smart select worked too, as did clicking on something that should be white. I call that changing balance and I've been doing that to JPG for the better part of 15 years.

    My question is, why do so many people who write about photography keep insisting you can't do anything about color balance in post if you shoot JPG? Maybe not in your post processing program, but that doesn't make it a law of photography or post.

  • Hanif

    September 4, 2013 11:26 pm

    cant see the landscape image here nor in the newsletter.

    /h2

  • Baxter Tocher

    September 4, 2013 07:42 pm

    I can't see the landscape photo either!

  • Mike

    September 4, 2013 07:16 pm

    I see it...nice little article.

  • Mads Johansen

    September 4, 2013 05:15 pm

    That is strange. Chrome+firefox doesn't show the landscape, but IE does. I'd say go bug the DPS dev team, rick :)

  • hankkkkk

    September 4, 2013 03:11 pm

    I'm a beginner and confused by the landscape caption--the first, AWB photo (7500K) was "cooled" by choosing (4500K)?

  • Chris

    September 4, 2013 08:22 am

    Yeah, I think you might need to re-post this...uh...post.

  • Rick Berk

    September 4, 2013 08:17 am

    I can see it and I've looked on two different devices, neither of which were the one I wrote the article on. Hmmm

  • Conor Boyd

    September 4, 2013 07:54 am

    Nope, I can't see it either.

  • Rick Berk

    September 4, 2013 06:10 am

    You can't see the landscape photo?

  • Photondulator

    September 4, 2013 05:58 am

    You haven't posted the photo of the landscape. Nice article though.

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