Light and Lighting is one of the most important aspects of photography. After all, light "creates" the image.

First, lets start with the color of light.  

You have to learn to "see" the color of the light. The brain is tricky in that it will tend to "see" white as white even if it is not, as long as it "knows" that object is supposed to be white.

This is the way this scene "appeared"

This is the way it actually was.

Snow tends to be "blue" because it reflects the color of the sky and because it is a semi translucent form of water. But we tend to see snow as white regardless of it's "actual color".

Morning and evening times tend to be "warm" turning whites "orange". Most would "see" the bird as white and not notice the color until processing the photo later.

White Balance (WB)

If you shoot in raw white balance can easily be set during post processing. If you shoot in Jpeg, then you are going to want to get the white balance "right" in camera when the image is taken because you loose a lot of the color information that was not used in recording the Jpeg.

As a general rule white should be white, and that is what is generally meant by "proper" white balance. 

This image was taken in the same setting and at the same time as the Snowy Egret image above but it has been corrected for white balance.

This is what "auto WB" tries to do. It tries to make whites show as white. This is good if that's what you want. 

You might have noticed that earlier I said "get the white balance "right"". "Right" is in quotes because it is subjective. Maybe you want the temperature of an image "warmer" than it really was. This is very common in portraiture photography.

Maybe you want the "coldness" of the overcast sky to convey in your image. Or maybe "auto" isn't getting it right.

This is where the camera's WB settings come into play. If you set the WB to a specific setting it will apply a "color correction" to the entire scene. For instance, if you select "cloudy" the camera will add orange/warmth. If you are actually in a cloudy/shady/"cold" environment this will neutralize the blue cast. If you are not in a "cold" environment then it will make your image "warm"/orange. If you want to make the image "cold" select a "warm setting" such as "tungsten". 

Common lighting sources/situations and their colors.

Sunrise, Sunset, Fire, Household tungsten bulb, Sodium Vapor bulbs- "very warm"/ orange

"Daylight" incandescent bulb, Continuous studio light- slightly "warm"/ orange

Midday sun, Studio strobes, flashes- "neutral"/ white

Shade, Overcast, "white" LEDs, Halogen/Xenon/Mercury Vapor bulbs-  "cold"/ blue

Fluorescent bulbs- green

*note- bulbs can have all types of "color correction" coatings/filters to change their temperature.

Some cameras allow you to select from the kelvin scale. Lower numbers on the kelvin scale are "warm" and higher numbers are "colder". Sunrise/firelight tends to be around 1800K and Shade/overcast tends to be around 6500K. "Daylight"/neutral is usually considered anything around 5000-6000K.


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