The white balance setting is the way we adjust the temperature of the color images.
Color temperature is measured in Kelvin (K). Higher numbers are bluer in color and lower numbers yellow to reddish. White is in the middle at around 4,500 K.
The infographic on the right shows the association of common photography lighting with its temperature in Kelvin.
Auto White Balance (AWB)
There is a sensor in modern digital cameras that detects the color temperature of the scene you are photographing and sets the white balance accordingly. This sensor is usually correct and AWB can be used most of the time. It is not perfect though.
A large area of a single color can fool the sensor into the incorrect white balance. For example, a bright red firetruck might make the sensor think the image is redder than it really is. It will then set the white balance to a high level and make the image too blue.
When you don’t think AWB is cutting it, what do you do? Tell your camera what the lighting is like in your scene by using a preset setting. Every brand of camera is different, but you will likely have these presets to choose from.
AWB- This is what the camera chose for white balance.
Daylight- Use when there is daylight.
Tungsten/Lightbulb- Use indoors or when your light source is very warm (Low Kelvin value).
Shade- Use in the shade.
Cloudy- Use when it is cloudy or overcast.
Flash- Use this preset when you use your camera’s flash.
Using these presets in the way described above is to get a more accurate color in your photograph. Maybe you don’t want that. Try using each preset in different lighting situations. You may like what you find.
Should you use manual? Maybe. Between AWB and all the presets, you might have all the white balance control you need. But if you want the most accurate color you can get or want that extra bit of creative power, use manual.
These composition rules are at the heart of great photography. Understanding how they can be effectively followed (and broken) will make you a better photographer.