Mastering Color Part I: White Balance-The Most Powerful Color Tool

I promised at the beginning of the year that I would write a series on color. Here is part I of the series. Come back tomorrow for part II.

At our walk on Saturday, I loved the look of my images because of the pink, orange, and purple hues in the sky. It sure was interesting to see other images from the walk of the same subject at the same time have a completely different feel to them. Changing the white balance has tremendous effect on the feel of your images. Check out a few variations on today’s image changing only the white balance.


Daylight White Balance


Cloudy White Balance


Shade White Balance


Tungsten White Balance

Fluorescent White Balance

Fluorescent White Balance


Before you do any other editing to your image, make sure that your white balance is what you want it to be. For these types of shots, there is no “right” answer. Choose the white balance that gives the feel that you’re looking for. And I hope you’re shooting in RAW. If you’re not, I want you to try something. Try making drastic changes to your white balance on one image. Then try doing this with a RAW image. You will be astounded by the difference. When you shoot in jpeg, the white balance gets “burned in” to the image. You can’t change it later. You can change the color shift, but you’ll never get back to the data before the white balance was applied. So shoot RAW.

Come back tomorrow for part II of the Mastering Color Series.



Post Tags
Share Post
Written by

When I’m not staying up all night figuring out the details of our next Out of Chicago Conference, you’ll find me at the park with our son and daughter, playing my guitar, out on the golf course, or following my favorite (Detroit) sports teams. I love Chicago, but I’ll always root for my Tigers, Red Wings, Lions, Michigan sports, and Pistons.

Latest comments
  • Hi. I have lived in the Chicago area for all of my life and enjoy taking Pictures. You have great web site.
    Guy Cates

    • Thanks, Guy! That means a lot. You should join us on our next photo walk! If you subscribe to the site, you will be notified when the next walk is announced.

  • Hi Chris, Thank you for the words of encouragement on the HDROne site. All of these images are great. The “right” one is the one that reflects the mood you are after. The tungsten and fluorescent give a nice twilight effect. I look forward to the rest of the series!

    • Thanks, Don. Yeah it was crazy. I saw someone’t LCD screen and the sky was yellow and green. It’s amazing the effect white balance has on these shots.

  • a great article, looking forward to the second part!

  • What is the difference between messing with the white balance in camera v. messing with the white balance via editing software? Does the in-camera white balance do things that the editing software does not in terms of white balance?

    • Hey Steven! We missed you at the last walk. Great question that I should have addressed in the article. If you’re shooting in jpeg, then the white balance setting is burned into the file and can never be fully recovered. If you’re shooting in RAW then the only thing the white balance setting does is change how the preview image looks on your LCD. And it may be how the image first looks when you bring it into your software. So I shoot in cloudy or auto white balance, but I’m always in RAW so it doesn’t effect the data that I’m getting.

      • I wasn’t on Google+ at the time so I didn’t know about the walk. I’m on Google+ now so I shouldn’t miss any future walks. But, my camera broke that night in the middle of a “solo” walk, and is now in the shop. The sensor just died in the middle of shooting.

        It sounds like photo editing software can have the same effect as a white balance adjustment in the camera. I’ve read recently that using the “auto-white balance” setting in camera can make the camera go wiggidy whack, and that setting the white balance in the camera properly can make subjects “pop.” I don’t understand why.

        • I did put something on Flickr, but I didn’t really promote it there.

          Yes. Photo editing software can have the effect for sure. I don’t see why setting it in camera would make it pop more than if you set it in something like Lightroom.

          Sorry to hear about your camera. Time for a D800 or 5D Mark III now, huh?


Subscribe to our Newsletter!