Auto White Balance Vs Presets

Auto White Balance Vs Presets 

When and how to use White Balance Presets.

As discussed in the previous article (White Balance in Digital Photography), our digital cameras do not have a brain to adjust for colour cast. Almost all new digital cameras come with Auto White Balance, some sort of Presets and a Custom White Balance setting.

What is Auto White Balance?

Each digital camera has the data of thousands of images built into its processor. When you use any of the auto modes (Auto White Balance, Auto Exposure, Auto area auto focus, etc.) the camera compares the scene to the data of these images and selects the one that is closest. The result might be close or be quite far from accurate color and exposure.

You may have noticed that the newer digital cameras take better photos. It is not because these cameras are better made, but mainly because the manufacturers added more data to the newer camera to use as references!

When should I use Auto White Balance?

This being said, if you have a newer digital camera and are taking pictures with only one source of light, the Auto White Balance will create a decent image for you. If there is more than one source of light (e.g. daylight from a window and tungsten light of an indoor lamp) the chances are higher that your camera can’t make the right decision, which will result in a heavy color cast in your image.

How do digital cameras measure the White Balance?

Generally speaking, digital camera searches for 18% gray in the scene, and whatever resembles closest to 18% gray will be used as a reference for gray and the colours adjusted accordingly. This is why photos in a forest with no white or gray present in the scene will often end up with a deep green cast over your images.

Auto White Balance Vs Presets
There is no white or grey colour present in this shot, that is why auto white balance couldn’t adjust the colours properly. (notice that the sky is overexposed and camera can not consider it as white or grey colour

What are White Balance Presets?

Almost all digital cameras contain a variety of preset white balances; these presets are tuned to provide a fixed correction for common lighting scenarios. The camera relies on you to choose the right setting for the scene. The most popular presets are:

Direct Sun






The description and symbol for the above white balances are just rough estimates for the actual lighting they work best under. In fact, cloudy could be used in place of daylight depending on the time of day, elevation, or degree of haziness. In general, if your image appears too cool on your LCD screen preview (regardless of the setting), you can quickly increase the color temperature by selecting a setting further down on the list above. White Balance presets are not always accurate: for example the colour temperature for a shade area varies from summer to winter.

Auto White Balance Vs Presets
Auto White Balance vs Cloudy preset. (Notice that the preset did a better job)
Auto White Balance Vs Presets
Auto White Balance vs Fluorescent preset. The preset created a better colour

Any tips on using White Balance presets properly?

As a matter of fact in most cases the Auto White Balance does a better job than Presets, but if you are using a flash as your main source of light, then it is a good idea to set the White Balance to Flash and your camera will provide perfect colour.

That is all for Part II of this discussion. In the next article we are going to explore the amazing possibilities with Custom White Balance.

Did you know that Flash photography can be very creative? We scheduled our next Flash Photography workshop for beginners for October 29 and 31. This two part workshop has classroom sessions and practical experience with shooting with flash as main or fill light. Make plans to join us!

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