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There is something about certain pictures that you’ve seen that just doesn’t look right. You know the color is off, but can’t figure out how to fix it. Is it your DSLR lens? Or is the camera’s sensor broken?

No, the color quirks in your photograph are a completely natural, yet undesirable function of your camera and lens. That overly blue tint, or fiery redness consuming your photograph can be dealt with. But first, let’s examine exactly what white balance is and why it’s so important.

Every kind of light in your photograph–and in the real world–has a temperature that makes it appear blue-ish or red-ish. Ordinarily, we expect red things to be hot and blue things to be cold, but color temperature works in exactly the opposite way. So sunlight, a “warmer” temperature light, is actually bluer than household tungsten bulbs, which are cooler in color temperature, yet produce a red light. Both of these temperatures are on the extreme ends of the temperature scale, so your camera tends to misinterpret the colors in both of these areas to the extreme as overly blue (outdoor sunlight) or overly red (indoor light). The trick is to either adjust the lighting on the scene that you want to photograph so that it is a nice, in-between color temperature, or to tell your camera to compensate for the extra blues or reds.

So, the definition of white balance allurs to just what it sounds like. You want to balance or correct the color on in your photograph so that the parts that are white when you look at something in real life are also white in your pictures. Not only that, but you want the blues to be blue (not purple or green) and the reds to be red (not purple or pink). You want every color in your photograph to represent what is truly there is real life.

Why is this so important? Well, whethere you realize it or not, the mood and feel of your photograph (and of your surroundings) is largely determined by the color temperature prevalent. red can give a more cozy, antique, personal, feeling while blues give a colder, static feeling that’s better suited for non-living objects.

So how do you adjust the white balance on your DSLR camera? Some camera’s auto modes have the options within their menu marked “WB” in which you can tell the camera what type of lighting you’re working with so it knows what to adjust for. Or, you may be able to instead change the light in the area you are photographing. If indoor light is casting way to much blue or red, open a window or door, or turn on an extra lamp. Another option is to buy a set of filters for your camera lens that will adjust the light coming in. Or, you can adjust the color temperature in Photoshop or a similar photo editing software.

An good artist, whether by paint, drawing, sculpting, or photography, pays attention to the mood, the feelings, the vibe, the emotions that his/her art throws at those who view it. He/she wants it to truly reflect what it was meant it to. So, whether telling a story with portraits, objects, or just documenting a special events, take the time to consider what your color temperatures are saying to your audience and make adjustments so photographs will tell your story the way you want it told.

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