Animals, Birds, Canon 50D, Nature, Photo Editing, Photography

Thinking about White Balance Settings

Having a strategy regarding how you use your white balance settings in your camera can be a good way to insure that you get the photo you want later.  Many, but not all, cameras give you options, and being aware of when to take advantage of those options can save you some time in your post editing process.  I think it is worth the time to look through the manual of your camera and think about how you might use the different settings.  Today, I am going to talk about the two options I use most frequently, auto and custom.

Here is my defense of auto white balance, and when I say defense I say that because almost every photographer is made to feel like using an auto version of anything on their camera makes them less of a “real” photographer.  So, here it goes, my auto white balance setting works pretty well.  That’s the short version.  The longer version is that pretty much any photo I am taking for my artistic work I am going to at least consider changing the white balance in my post editing process.  Auto tends to give me a good solid starting point.  This photo was taken with the white balance set to auto:

ISO 400 160mm 0ev f/5.6 1/400

ISO 400 160mm 0ev f/5.6 1/400

Custom white balance is a setting I use all the time when I am taking photos inside ice arenas.  I spend a lot of time shooting hockey games.  When I started using custom white balance in those situations, I used a grey card.  I would prop it up on the side of the glass and take a photo of it.  My camera then allows me to choose that photo and use it to set the white balance setting of other photos from it.  That worked pretty well.  Then it was suggested to me that I try and shoot a photo of the ice and use that photo as a base for my white balance settings.  I like the way that works, here is an example:

ISO 2500 0ev f/1.8 1/2000

ISO 2500 0ev f/1.8 1/2000

This isn’t such a great photograph, but you can see detail in both the white and blacks of the uniform, and that is because the white balance here is set pretty well.  If you have ever shot in a hockey arena, you know the lighting is horrible and that getting a good exposure can be pretty tough.  Having your white balance set properly is a step in the right direction.

How about you? do you have a white balance setting you use frequently? maybe you don’t consider white balance at all?  Feel free to leave a comment below, and if you have written a blog post about it, feel free to leave a link.



14 thoughts on “Thinking about White Balance Settings

  1. I am lazier than I should be with white balance…I used to use the camera settings for daylight cloudy etc, but lately I have been using auto setting… I used to find I frequently had to change the setting in post1processing, so decided I might just as well use the auto setting. I have been quite pleasantly surprised. What I really should do is set custom white balance with a grey card, or on my list of wants is a colour checker passport…probably won’t ever get one!


    • I do have a grey card and I use it sometimes. Usually if I am shooting something very specific and I suspect white balance might be an issue. I agree with you though that I did find myself changing white balance in post processing so auto just seemed like a good way to go.


      • She calls it being lazy, but I like to think of it as going with what works. Why take extra steps if in the end it doesn’t work for what you are doing? I’m all for trying new things and changing how you take photos, but in the end you have to like what you are producing. I’m glad you like my tips and I appreciate the time you take to chat with me about them 🙂


  2. kirkistan says:

    I’m glad you wrote about this. I tend to gravitate toward auto white balance but always feel like i should be doing more. I like how you see it as a good solid starting point.


  3. The light conditions in ice arenas is horrible. During matches the lights also change, so it can be difficult. I always have my white balance set to auto and if it needs adjusting, I’ll do that in the post-processing in Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop.

    I have a couple of ice hockey related posts. One of them is shot during a match, but the photos aren’t that good. A little under exposed and so on…


    • Yes, I remember that post from last year. I double checked just to make sure it was the post I was thinking of but I remember when I first saw it thinking I was glad I wasn’t the only one who found ice arenas tough. This year, the difference in the home and away uniforms of the team I shoot is really striking, adding just another layer of difficulty.


  4. KBL3S says:

    WB is difficult in hockey. I have tried many different custom settings, I have used awb, I have used presets for 4000K. So far nothings works consistently. So here is my next WB experiment, please chime in if you have any experience with this….I got ahold of what seems to be a neutral gray paint, something that can hopefully mimic an 18% card. I am going to pain a small swatch on my sons skate. I plan on shooting awb and then in post, zooming in on my sons skate and setting the wb based on the gray paint. Think this will work?


    • It’s an interesting idea, but seems like a lot of work. Also, would you have to re-paint every time he gets he skates sharpened? I’m currently taking a photo using AWB then using it to create a custom white balance in the camera for that particular game. In post-process I open all the photos I am going to process in Photoshop’s Camera Raw. I adjust the white balance again using the eye dropper and then synchronize all the photos. Also, these days I am using a 70-200 IS lens. I like the results I am getting.


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