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Choosing The White Balance Setting To Use

On your DSLR you have, in most cases, two ways to adjust the white balance settings, direct from buttons on the body, or from the menus.

Nikon DSLR cameras except for the D40, D40x and D60, have a button labelled WB, on some in the D2 and D3 family it's below the rear panel under the secondary display, on the D200 and D300 it's located on the top on the left (from rear), on most of the others it's on the left of the rear panel. When you press this button and rotate the main command dial, (rear top right from rear), it goes through a pattern of settings, showing a series of symbols, these run AUTO,  indoor light bulbs, florescent tubes, bright sun, electronic flash, cloudy, shady, K and PRE. With some models you are also able to adjust the colour fractionally to warm or cool with the subcommand dial (top front). The table below shows the symbols you will see on the LCD panel.

(tungsten icon) Tungsten (indoor) Light (fluorescent icon) Florescent
(sun icon) Daylight (flash icon) Flash
(cloud icon) Cloudy (shade icon) Shaded Outdoors
K Colour temperature value PRE Set your own

The options from the menu, allow you to set the same selections and in some cases allow a wider range of options, in some cases too wide an array.

Of these all except the K and Pre are fairy self explanatory.

  • K is the colour temperature of the light set as a value, and there are tables available that give you approximate colour temperatures for different light. We have a table available, click here to see it. You can also measure it with a colour meter, a device similar to a light meter, however we have not found one at an affordable price that produces near enough results to use, and the cost and difficulties can be overcome by using the cameras inbuilt colour analysing ability used with the PRE setting.
  • PRE is used to set the colour at a pre determined value based either on measuring the colour of the light or from the colour balance used on another photograph. This is the most accurate way to set the colour balance on your camera. We have another page specifically explaining how and when to use PRE.

When outside use the auto, sun, cloudy, shady, or PRE

  • Auto is fine where there is a wide range of colours without any dominant item and when you are not too critical about the colour. Most tourism, scenic and wildlife shots come into this category.
  • Sun is used when you have strong sun and defined shadows.
  • Cloudy is used where you are in the open, i.e. not in shadow, and you have a day where the sun is covered by cloud, so no or little shadows show.
  • Shady is for when you are photographing items that are in the shadows, or would be on an overcast day if the sun was making any. If the person or subject you are photographing cannot see the position where the sun is, it is in shadow.
  • PRE the most accurate, and exact measurement of the colour temperature. Use it when you want accurate colours or where you are not sure what setting to use.

When indoors use auto, flash, or the appropriate type of artificial light.

Difficult lighting

In some situations the lighting can be a challenge, for example when photographing a sunset or in a position where there is a lot of reflected light that is carrying some colour. For

  • Sunsets - set the camera at sun.
  • Rainbows - set the camera for the lighting condition usually sun but could be cloudy.
  • Mixed flash and sun - can be used on either of these.
  • Mixed lighting, some flash/daylight and some artificial lighting - then use PRE, or a grey card.
  • Panoramas - any appropriate setting as long as all parts of the panoramas are at the same setting.

Consistent colour

In many situations it is also important to have consistent colour, for example at a wedding we don't want the bridesmaids dresses to change colour, or such similar errors to occur. This can be overcome by:-

  • using PRE
  • using a constant setting i.e. sun when all are in the sun
  • using a grey card system, explained under other steps you can take.

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By: Keith Park  Section: Photography Section Key:
Page Ref: white_bal_settings Topic: Photographic Techniques  Last Updated: 08/2010

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