Changing The Colour Of Your Photo – Using White Balance Creatively

If you ever want to improve the colour effects of your digital photos, then I have got some very handy information for you. Most, if not all, digital cameras have a colour amendment feature in them that changes the colour temperatures of your lighting in the photo. You may know how to change your colour in Photoshop, but how is this done on your camera? It’s simple. It is a matter of changing your white balance.

What is white balance? White balance is simple changes that alter the tonal range of colour in your photos. You can always use this feature to “warm up” or “cool down” the colour casts in your photos. In fact, this is called the “colour temperature”. We are able to adjust to the tone of a scene with our eyes, but the camera is built very differently. The camera sometimes needs to be “told” how to process the colour of a scene so that unrealistic colour tones do not become a derogatory artistic feature of the photo.

Many cameras can have difficulty reproducing the colour tone for a particular scene when the photographer chooses auto white balance. Auto white balance is ok, but the camera doesn’t always know what is best. That’s where changing our white balance manually can be a preferred option. By being aware of how your camera sees and interprets light, you can easily select the right white balance for the scene.

You will probably have a few presets in your cameras manual white balance mode. Some of these include Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten etc. Each time you select one of these, the colour tone of that photo will look different. If you have the camera in auto white balance the camera chooses the white balance for you.
The great thing about the manual white balance feature is that you can create some fabulous colour effects for your photos. Without going into the science of colour temperature, here are a few photos that offer different settings.

Let’s now have a look at one scene with all the different white balance tones applied to it. I’ve kept the settings the same each time I shot the photo.

F13, 1/60th of a second, 200 ISO, 88mm Focal length.

Picture 1

White balance mode: Daylight



Picture 2


White Balance mode: Shade



Picture 3



White balance mode: Cloudy

Picture 4



White Balance mode: Tungsten

Picture 5


White Balance Mode: Fluorescent

Picture 6


White Balance Mode: Flash

Picture 7

White Balance Mode: Custom

You can now see the subtle and obvious colour tone changes in each photo as I changed the white balance mode. You may think “why on earth use Tungsten if it turns out so blue?” Sometimes I use Tungsten if I am inside and the colour tone of the photo looks very orange, yellow or red. It may not really look like that to my eyes at the time, but the camera may sometimes interpret some light like that. I know then, that the camera will process the photo that way. In that kind of situation I simply change the white balance to Tungsten and the photo will take on a more naturally warm tone, instead of being overly saturated with orange, yellow or red tones. This is what is meant by “cooling down” the colour tone of the image.

I recommend to experiment with white balance. It is a marvelous feature of your digital camera. Each camera may have the white balance feature in a different spot. Some cameras have individual buttons with “WB” on them. Some have the white balance mode within the menu itself. Wherever it is in your camera, be sure to experiment and familiarise yourself with it. You can get some very creative results.

About the Author

Amy is an multi-award winning photographer from Australia. She teaches enthusiast photographers how to take beautiful, professional photos in easy, plain English. She has a monthly photography emagazine and ebooks to help you create stunning images every time.

Comments (4)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    You’ve got great insights about Learn Digital Photography, keep up the good work!

  2. Joel says:

    Thanks, great article/.

  3. Mandy says:

    Amy, how do you turn the white balance on or off?

  4. White balance can make a huge difference..Knowing how and why your cameras should be adjusted and how to do it can make all the difference in your digital photography.

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