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What is White Balance and how it affects your DSLR photos

Ever took a photo that looked either too blue or too orange? This is a very common problem faced by DSLR photography folks when choosing a white balance setting.  Measured in degree kelvins, white balance helps to make a real-life white object look white in photos too.  In more layman terms, it makes the image colour temperature taken by the camera match closely and accurately with the real scene outside as seen by human eyes. White balance will not change your image exposure in any way, and varying the exposure settings will not impact the colour temperature of the image. 
In order to get a realistic looking image which matches what we actually see, DSLR cameras allow us to adjust the white balance. Some of the commonly available preset white balance settings available in DSLR cameras are:
These preset values work amazingly well only if you are sure of the lighting. If not, there is always automatic white balance mode which leaves the decision up to the camera to decide. This means the camera will make the best guess to adjust the white balance according to the lighting environment. Lastly, there is custom white balance mode which involves taking full manual control of white balance temperature. Photographs below show how white balance impacts the overall image output. All these images were taken with same exposure settings and camera-lens set up, white-balance being the only value changed. 

White Balance: 2500

White Balance: 3500

White Balance: 4500

White Balance: 5500

White Balance: 6500

White Balance: 7500

White Balance: 8500

White Balance: 10000
Setting custom white balance:
In this option, I would like to talk a little bit about the manual temperature adjustment instead of the grey card technique. Grey card technique to be discussed in a separate post. As the Kelvin temperature of light source goes higher, it turns bluer. There is a bit of science involved here, but I will try to calm down my nerd side for now with a simple example:  Candle flame innermost part looks blue, and it is the hottest region of the total flame area. For custom white balance, here is a general range of temperatures for various lighting conditions based on my experience:
1600-1900 Kelvin - Candle/Flame/Match
2000-3000 - Sunset/Sunrise
3100- Halogen
4000- CFL
5500- Flash or daylight
5600-7000 - Shadow or Cloudy
7200-10000 - the night sky
Let' consider a simple example. Assuming it is a really sunny afternoon and I am out exploring or having a walk, white balance temperature would be around 5500 Kelvin. Let's say I turn on my DSLR and set white balance manually to 2500K before hitting the shutter. What would happen? The output photo would look blue in this case because camera thinks the temperature is really low (2500= Orangish), so it adds blue thinking it will make the final image look neutral. 

RAW file format:
If shooting RAW format photos, the white balance can always be adjusted later in a program like Lightroom or Photoshop. This setting is used very commonly by photographers these days as post-processing is seen as an important part of digital photography workflow. All we need to do is keep the white balance to auto and adjust later during post-processing. There can be situations where automatic white balance might get thrown off a bit, one common example being a warm scene with high contrast and warm coloured objects. Unless you want to get everything right in the camera, shooting in RAW format is always a safe option.

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