The white balance definition

To reach the full understanding of the term, we should start with defining colour temperature.

Have you ever noticed that a person or a landscape that looked just perfect while being shot appears bluish or reddish on film? That’s because of the lighting. The trick is that usually people’s brain adjusts the real picture to the “ideal” one, but a camera is much more objective.

Colour temperature

Each source of lighting has its colour temperature, which is measured in Kelvin units (K). The warmer and redder the colour is – the lower is this parameter, and vice versa. For example, a candle flame reaches about 1500 K, while scanty sunlight through a heavily overcast sky measures 9500+ K.

The happy medium is a regular sunlight at about noon, its colour temperature is equal to 5000-5500 K and this is a default setting of modern cams.

The less Kelvin units a light source has – the more orange a frame looks. If this parameter is high, the picture will have blue casts.

Here is a list of approximate colour temperature of different types of light.

  • Candlelight: 1000 – 2000 K
  • Tungsten Bulb/Household light: 2500 – 3500 K
  • Golden Hour: 3000 – 4000 K
  • Fluorescent / LED lamps: 4000 – 5000 K
  • Flash or Midday with the clear sky: 5500 – 6000 K
  • Cloudy weather: 6500 – 8000 K
  • Heavily overcast sky: 9000 – 10000 K

What is white balance

This option, well, balances white in an image, adding more blue or orange casts. If the light is perfect, the white balance may be already good enough, but if you shoot with mixed lighting, in Golden Hour, in the rain or other non-standard conditions, you may have to set it up.

Auto and manual white balance

Before plunging into technical details, you have to answer only one question: what format do you shoot in? On professional cameras or GoPro you have RAW, with it you can not worry about how to set white balance – you can change the colours in post-processing editing, using special software like Photoshop or Lightroom.

But it may not be the case for iPhone or other smartphones, or if you prefer to shoot in a different format. Well, you can still try to apply some filter or play with brightness and contrast but if the problem is too serious, it may not help.


Go to your camera or phone white balance settings and choose AWB, which means that you trust the device to set this parameter up fully automatically.

If you want to help the gadget out, you can also choose one of the presets: incandescent light, fluorescent, daylight, flash, clouds etc., the full list depends on the cam model.


If you shoot with mixed lighting, you can also set a custom white balance in Kelvin units: take several trial shots to find the best solution.

The most “hardcore” option is a manual setting of white balance with a white or grey card. Mind that not all the phones or cameras have such an option.

First of all, you have to take a pic of something white – for example, a sheet of paper or a card – so that it fills the whole frame. Then you go to the custom white balance mode and set this photo as a reference. The exact steps will depend on your gadget model.

Bad white balance examples

A seagull is pinkish because of the wall reflection and poor lighting.

Bad white balance example with gull

The model’s skin has blue and red casts.

Bad white balance example with girl

Mind that white balance may be misused intentionally to make a picture look warmer or cooler.

Bad white balance example with horizon