The Color of Light – What is White Balance? 5 Minute Photography Tip

by Marcel

Here’s a quick five minute photography tip. One of the easiest and helpful things you can do is learn how to assign a temperature for your camera to shoot at. Why? Look at the two pictures below. What’s the difference between the two? The color temperature. Why spend hours trying to edit your images when you can fix it right off the bat?

Color of Light
Colors do carry temperature. If you look at a traditional color wheel, colors on one side are considered cool ones and the other half are considered warm tones. Just as colors carry temperatures, so does light.





color wheel


And what is photography? Down to the basics, your camera captures light, reads it, and produces an image.  Varying light sources emit light at different color temperatures, and as a result you will have a color cast to your images. If we can tell the camera what object in the shot is white, then the camera can adjust it’s settings to the appropriate color temperature. This is called “white balance.” Your camera has settings for different light conditions, the most obvious being “sunny, cloudy, etc.”


How do you adjust the white balance on your camera? Again it’s all in the settings. Most Advanced digital cameras allow you to manually set the white balance.Look for a white balance function in your menu. Depending on the make and model of your camera, how to set it will vary (Google your make and model of your camera for exact directions). Many point and shoot cameras will carry no reference to white balance at all, but instead will have icons, a sun for sunny, a cloud for cloudy, etc. Even older point and shoot cameras should have some options of changing the color temperature. It’s really a matter of your spending some time with your camera, doing test shots, and learning what does what.

white balance

Look at these pictures from a Cub Scout dinner I recently attended. I used my Canon Powershot SD 1200 (a $150 point and shoot). The first shot was in Auto and the next was when I changed the settings to Tungsten lighting. All my images that night would have had a lovely yellow look. But by a simple change, I was able to save myself a lot of trouble. Now that we have a little better understanding of how to work our cameras with light, next week I’ll be talking about learning how to recognize and harnass  beautiful natural light. 


Email Author    |    Website About Marcel

I'm a photographer who specializes in modern, unique, signature portraiture. I shoot commercial and personal sessions working along the Wasatch Front and Park City Area. I am also available for travel. If you'd like to learn more about how to use your camera and Photoshop tips and tutorials on my blog at I will also have workshop dates coming soon.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bonnie April 29, 2010 at 8:08 am

Thank you so much for this post. Trying to take pictures in hockey rinks and indoor soccer centre’s while my children are playing is tough and they never turn out. I’m going to give this a shot.


2 Marcel April 30, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Changing your settings should make a big difference! you make need to change up a but, but send us a link when you get some results you are happy with!


3 Jessica H April 29, 2010 at 11:41 am

I really like these posts on taking better pictures. I think they are all so helpful – especially since I want to learn more but can’t afford to take a right now. This will be very helpful to remember! Thank you!


4 Marcel April 30, 2010 at 2:20 pm

I’m so glad they are so helpful for you! If you have anything in particular you want to learn about, please let me know:)


5 Janice April 29, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Thanks Marcel!

I never take the time to adjust my white balance WHILE I am shooting! I always fix it AFTER in Photoshop or Lightroom.

SO I definitely need to practice trying to set it while shooting. :)


6 Marcel April 30, 2010 at 2:22 pm

You can use the presets without doing a custom white balance. But don’t feel bad, I forget too and then kick myself afterwards:)


7 Primal Homemaker April 29, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Great post about white balance. I am a newbie photographer and these tip are great.


8 Marcel April 30, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Well Primal Homemaker, I dig your profile picture and your blog so you are of to a good start!


9 Queen Bee April 30, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Thank you for this tip! It was very easy to understand. I’m going to go play with my camera. I’m always looking for new great camera tips!


10 Marcel May 11, 2010 at 12:45 am

I’m so glad it was easy to understand. If you have any specific questions, please let me know:) Best of luck!


11 Bonnie May 3, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Thank you so much!!! I’m going to try it. I LOOVE taking photos and hate it when them don’t come out right,lol


12 Marcel May 11, 2010 at 12:46 am

I LOOVE taking photos too and also hate it when they don’t come out so we can lol together! It’s a continual learning process:)


13 Alison S. May 3, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Thank you for this tip! I will give it a try. I love the look I get when I turn off my flash. My pictures seem to capture natural light much better. However, I can’t seem to capture my 1 year old son with this setting. My pictures blur, but if I turn on the flash they are super dark. Can you help me? :P


14 Marcel May 11, 2010 at 12:44 am

See if you can put your camera in action or sports mode. This should stop the blur. Check out my post this week on natural lighting and the tips there should help you out! Best of luck!


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