White Balance in Photography

Why do we need white balance in photography?

The main purpose of white balance is to ensure that the colors are natural.

What is natural?

Natural colors of objects are those that occur under the light of our sun, which has been radiating since millions of years. In this case it cannot be expected that the sky is yellow or green or that the leaves that do photosynthesis are purple or that the human faces are lilac. In other words, the things that exist in the environment in which we have evolved, are what is natural for us. Perhaps these standards can change in another planet in another region of the universe.

How can we understand in a photograph that it doesn’t have the correct white balance?

One day you are walking in a forest all by yourself. Moreover it is midnight. It is pitch black. Suddenly an alien appears before you. Luckily you happen to have your camera with you. Moreover with flash. However your camera remains in the settings you have done during the shooting yesterday. You take a completely isolated photo of the alien in the middle of the darkness. But the white balance is not adjusted for the flash so the photo ends up being greener that it should be. You disclose the photo to the press before you can edit the photo in the computer. All of a sudden your photo is in the cover pages of all newspapers in the world. After that incident, would you get any criticism regarding the colors of the alien in the photo are not as they should be, or in other words regarding the erroneous white balance?

The base color we choose determines whether the colors in the photograph are natural or not. This base is usually the human face. Human face is a figure that we see as the first thing as a baby, something that we make an effort to see and that we seek in every representation. For this reason when we look at complex objects, on a bark, on a rock or on any possible surface, we tend to see human faces. The human skin that doesn’t have a true color evokes negative feelings, because due to natural selection we have it instinctively that the things that are beyond our expectations are warning signs. Therefore we say “I dislike it” to the erroneous photos we see, which are responsible for the negative feelings we have. Even if not as striking as the human face can be, the other natural references can be listed as the blue sea and the blue sky. Within this context, the correct white balance is a feature that is looked for in nature and portrait photography.

Is it necessary for all photos to have a correct white balance?

If we consider the photo as an artwork, the word “necessary” becomes out of place because art is to go beyond the rules, it is batting up the beehive. Within this context, unless we intend to use the photo especially for documentary purposes or for a contest with predetermined rules, and if we also have artistic concerns, the white balance doesn’t have to be absolutely correct. From this point on, what matters is the feelings that are evoked. Whatever feelings a lilac human face can evoke, they also have a place in life and all feelings that exists are subject to art.

I took the photo below on Phuket island. It depicts the anemone creature living in tropical seas, and the clownfish that benefits from the anemone’s protective function. The first photo is seen as it was shot and does not contain any edits. You might have guessed that the white balance in this photo is erroneous. Because as we see in the movie “Finding Nemo”, the clownfish should have white stripes on it. However that is not the case in this photo.

Raw image. White balance is incorrect.

After using the Camera Raw application for the photo, I corrected the white balance and obtained the second photo. This time the colors are correct however there are still some things that don’t satisfy me. The colors of the anemone and the fish are close to each other so the fish are not in the foreground enough as they should be.

White balance corrected image

Best thing to do would be to change the color of the anemone with a cool color so that the fish with warm colors will come into the foreground. However the anemones are not blue. Who cares. Nobody having seen a blue anemone doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no blue anemone somewhere in the ocean. Maybe this anemone came from outer space.

Final image
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1 Comment White Balance in Photography

  1. Kelly October 9, 2015 at 6:38 pm

    White balance is something that always confused me. I can never get it right when I take a picture. But I’m going to keep trying until I can figure it out. Thanks for the examples and comparing them it helped.


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