In a recent blog post I explained about why I use particular camera settings in the studio.  I deliberately didn’t talk about white balance in the blog post as I wanted to cover it as a separate topic.

I always advise photographers to set white balance to “flash” when they shooting in the studio.  That’s the little lightning symbol on the white balance settings.  I can’t give you a definitive set of instructions for setting white balance as every camera does it different.  For some it is on the menus, on others it is a case of pressing a WB button and using one of the camera dials. If you are not sure how your camera does it check you manual.

Firstly what is White Balance?  Very quickly it is a way to tell your camera how to compensate for the colour of the light that is being used to illuminate a scene, so that colours are reproduced accurately.  Your eyes will compensate for colour casts in the light so you might not realise that daylight has a blue-sh tint to it caused by the blue sky and water in the atmosphere.  Fluorescent strip lights have a green tint to them, and traditional tungsten lights have an orange in colour.

The question I often get asked about setting white balance in the studio is why? Two things typically get asked:

“But AWB (auto white balance) is pretty good isn’t it?”

Yes.  Yes it is.  But it is also very, very stupid.  AWB assumes a certain mix of colours in the light.  If the image we are creating doesn’t have that mix it will assume that the light has a colour to it and instead of removing a colour cast it will add one.  Setting the white balance to flash tells the camera what colour corrections to make and prevents it from making stupid mistakes.  Take a look at the two images below which show the difference between auto white balance and flash white balance.

Rachael F Rachael F

Left: AWB.  Right: Flash White Balance  (click images to enlarge)

“But I shoot in RAW mode – I can sort out white balance in post production”

Yes.  Yes you can.  But the image you see on the back of your camera is an embedded JPG image, that has been generated by the camera using the the white balance setting you have selected.  If you leave white balance set to AWB your preview will look like the image on the left.  By setting it to the flash you will get a much more accurate preview.  This will help you assess the images you are taking more effectively.  Additionally the white balance you set on the camera is the default setting used to process the images in Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW – so setting it in camera means it is one less thing you have to change in post production.

Hope you found that useful.