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White Balance

Can anyone give me some tips on how to set white balance during photo sessions, such as in low light areas?


  • First of all, if you shoot Raw you can change the white balance later, with no loss, and change it back again. Even if you generally prefer to shoot JPG it might pay to do some Raw shots and edit them in View NX-2 or the like so you can play with the white balance and find what you like best. You can then set a custom one if you want, or use one of the presets that pleases you. If you generally shoot in Raw anyway it's probably easiest to stay in Auto WB, and change it when necessary.

    Auto WB works pretty well most of the time, though it tends to go a little cool (blue) in broad daylight. You'll find it a bit warmer and colors a little denser if you switch to daylight, cloudy, or shadow specific in those conditions. But it does a pretty good job of sorting out all the variety of indoor lights, which can be a hassle to do manually.

    A lot of this is a matter of personal taste, and also of what picture control you're using. Even different lenses can have a little different tone. Some people like their colors warm and intense, and others a bit cooler.

    One thing you can do, if you like the basic versatility of auto WB but find it a little off, is to modify it. If you go to the menu, and white balance, and right-arrow on an entry, you'll get a graphic view that you can modify. On my current camera I stick usually with Auto but have it set at "A1," just one click more amber than the default.

    Although it's easy to get carried away and have things look too filtered, you can play around with WB, even in the camera. If you shoot Raw you can alter the WB in the camera, and each version you save will be a separate JPG file, so you can try several and compare them later. A warmer white balance will increase apparent saturation a little and make some colors pop a little more.

    If you take a Raw picture and then modify the white balance (preview > Menu > Raw processing), when you exit the menu it stays at WB, so next time you open the retouch menu you'll be in the right place, and the process is reasonably quick. Whatever modifications you made to a file will persist, so when you open the menu it will default to the same set of changes you made last time. You may reset those, but if not the same modifications will be made to your new file. That's a time saver if you have a whole bunch of shots you want to change the same, but a nuisance if you do only the occasional one, as there is no global reset.

    If you're not sure just what sort of light you're under, and want to set the white balance, one possibility, of course, is to get a piece of white paper or a true photographic neutral gray card, hold it under the light, and use it to set a custom white balance. This is very easy to do, and can be changed readily. Just go to the shooting menu, select White Balance, and arrow down to "Pre." Select "measure" for doing it on the spot, and continue as directed. It will ask if you want to overwrite the existing data, tell you to aim at a white or gray object filling the viewfinder. Snap a picture, and it will say "data acquired," and that's it. You have a new custom white balance tuned to your current light.

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