Do you use the white balance settings in your camera or do you set it in your editing software?

We have compiled a list of the TOP50 questions that we hear on our workshops. From gear, to settings, to composition, and shooting styles, we have decided to post three questions and answers a week till we get through them all.

We hope they answer some of the questions that you may have. Here is today’s question.

Today's Question: Do you use the white balance settings in your camera or do you set it in your editing software?

Today's answer from David Topping: White balance (or colour temperature) is one of the most important settings because it has such a significant impact on how colours appear in your photos. Getting it right is therefore very important. But do you need to get it right in the camera, or can you do it later in your editing software?

If you’re shooting in JPEG format, it’s better to set the correct colour balance when you take a photo (JPEG files don’t allow the same latitude in processing that RAW files do). That means using one of your camera’s colour balance settings, which can include a specific colour temperature or the use of a custom white balance image, if the standard settings aren’t producing the desired results.

If you’re shooting RAW, which is something I generally recommend, you can set the desired colour balance in your editing software, regardless of your camera’s setting when you took the photo. However, it’s still a good idea to use the proper setting (or close to it) on your camera so the preview you see on your camera’s display is fairly accurate; it’s not critical, but it does make it easier to assess your photos when you review them as you’re shooting.

Regardless of which setting you choose on your camera, I recommend avoiding the Auto setting, which can produce inconsistent results (even with the same subject in the same light). Of course, if you’re shooting RAW, you can still select any colour balance when you process your photos, but the different temperatures generated by the Auto setting makes correcting a series of images cumbersome, as they will need to be adjusted one at a time. If you set your camera to a fixed setting, you can determine the optimum colour balance in processing, then apply that setting to an entire series of images.

If you really want to nail the colour balance, take a photo of the scene with a grey card (there are many products available). You can either use it to set a custom white balance in-camera to help you get it right when you take the shot, or you can use it as a reference in your editing software. This can be very helpful because our eyes are good at adapting to colour and light, which can affect your ability to accurately assess an image. It will start to look good even if it’s a bit “off” (coming back to it after taking a break is a great way to determine if you’ve made a good decision with your colour balance setting).

Keep in mind, though, that the “right” colour balance can be subjective, and there’s plenty of room for personal expression in your choice. But once you learn to see the light and how it affects the colour of your subject, it will become much easier to set the white balance for any situation.

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Kevin A Pepper

Kevin is a photographer and educator based in Waterloo, Ontario. His first love is photographing nature, regardless of the season or weather condition; the Ontario landscape and its wildlife are his inspiration. But you will also see other styles of photography in his portfolio. From street photography to urban exploration of abandoned buildings and architecture, he loves to capture it all with his camera for his corporate clients and his growing personal portfolio. Kevin’s images have been featured in Canadian Nature Photographer, PHOTONews Canada, Photo Technique Magazine, The London Free Press, The Weather Network, and National Geographic Online. His diverse client list includes the City of Cambridge, Olympus, GORE Mutual, TVO, and African Lion Safari. Kevin also operates “Northof49 Photography”, a company launched in 2012 dedicated to teaching amateur photographers through International and Canadian-based workshops. In the coming year, Kevin will be leading workshops in Iceland, Mongolia, Tanzania, Venezuela, Provence, and numerous destinations across Canada. Website: www.kevinpepperphotography.com