White balance

Take charge of the colors in your photographs

White balance (WB) in a nutshell

Our Online Photography Course for Beginners has helped you master the basics of photography in an interactive form. This lesson’s topic is white balance. We have collected the most important facts for you and also included a few interactive blocks for easier understanding.

So… what is white balance?

To put it simply, white balance determines the colors in your photo.

While our eyes adapt easily to color tints caused by various light sources with differing physical attributes (we don’t even realize that a white sheet of paper seems more bluish in the shade), camera sensors are not that efficient. The resulting images can come out badly discolored if we fail to set “what’s white”.


When discussing white balance, we distinguish between two types of lighting:

Natural light

Usually meaning sunlight 

Artificial light

LED, flash, incandescent bulb, fluorescent tube, etc.

Sometimes fluorescent light sources are easy to mistake for incandescent light, because their shape is often reminiscent of old tungsten light bulbs. But in the 21st century we can safely presume that these are fluorescent tubes, collectively referred to as compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).

These are the most common white balance settings used in photography:

You can go with any of them except AWB (auto white balance). Forget about that setting.

Various light sources will cause the following discolorations (if not corrected by the right WB setting):

 Try to forget the seemingly easy—but definitely incorrectautomatic white balance and learn to set your WB manually! It’s not much more difficult but it will yield much better results. Don’t let your camera’s “automatic eye” define the colors for you.

Scroll down to see how to do it!

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    Attention! This is an interactive block. Follow the instructions and the icons to see where to click! 🙂

    Here is what you should do:

    In the upper row you can set (simulate) the lighting of your photo session. Try each of them >> click on the icons in the upper row and watch what happens to the colors of the photo.

    The icons in the lower row will set your camera’s white balance. Try adjusting your white balance according to the light source you chose in the upper row: this way the colors in the photo will come out accurate.


    Every light source causes a different discoloration. While the human eye can adapt to this, the camera can’t, so you need to set the correct white balance before shooting. Usually we do this at same time as adjusting the ISO (or right afterward).  

    White balance explained:

    Let’s examine why these strange discolorations happen when using different light sources!

    Attention! This is an interactive block. Follow the instructions and the icons to see where to click! 🙂

    Check out the graph below:

    The vertical axis measures the energy emitted. The horizontal axis defines the color of this energy.

    Try a few light types >>

    Click on the “Start” button >> all curves will disappear except for the one showing sunlight.

    The color of sunlight is white, which signifies the simultaneous presence of every color. Also important >> the Sun emits each color with the same amount of energy.

    Another example:

    Switch on the incandescent light by clicking on the right button. Check out how this light source has stronger emission in the yellow and red spectra. This is why an uncorrected photo taken with this type of light appears orange.

    White balance: synopsis

    In this lesson we have discussed why your photos might come out weirdly discolored, how this happens, and what you can do to avoid it.

    It’s generally acknowledged that using auto white balance is a no-go. (Unless you’re a complete amateur who refuses to press a couple of buttons at the start of the photo session…)

    However, in some cases even professional photographers use AWB—but only when they are shooting in RAW format and they plan to set the right white balance during editing.

    You have reached the end of this lesson. Enjoy exploring our other content too! You can always pick the next lesson from the  top menu!

    About the author:

    Bence Gyulai is a photographer and professional photography teacher. Grand Prize-winning photographer of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, regular invited speaker at photography events, founder and host of visualgangster.com.  More info & images >>