What is Color Balance?

When shooting photos and editing them on the computer, we adjust the colors to make sure that they are true to life, and pleasing to the eye. So what is color balance in practice? Below, we've outlined how this basic photography concept can have a dramatic effect on your images.  

What is color balance?

Most photo editing applications have global color settings, which measure the amount of red, green, and blue in an image. When trying to achieve color balance, we can adjust these settings to compensate for ambient light conditions, so that the final image is more accurate and realistic. However, we can also use the same color correction tools for more creative and strange results, which look vastly different from the real scene, and this approach is also known as "color balancing". Whether you're going for realism or glamour, this process of adjusting color values all exists under the same umbrella.   

How do sensors capture color? 

When shooting with a film or digital camera, photos are captured with an image sensor. This data may not necessarily match what you see in person, because the human eye will often view conditions differently than a camera sensor. To deal with this discrepancy, we can use color correction to balance an image. When tweaking color values, it's also important to keep neutral colors (i.e. white, gray) balanced as well, which is called "white balance" or "neutral balance". Often, film photographers will adjust their lighting conditions with special filters on the lights or lens, with the goal of producing color balanced images.   

What is color cast? 

Typically, photos that have not been balanced will favor a particular color, and this is known as a "color cast". When you address this asymmetry with color balancing, the color cast is eliminated.  

Learning to See in Color

As conscious photographers, we need to blur the gap between what we see in real life and what our camera sees. Sometimes, it can lead to serendipitous results. For example, we may shoot an outdoor scene at nighttime, and if the streets are bathed in yellow light, we can use that color cast to our advantage. There may be other colors in the frame, but we can adjust our color balance settings to accentuate the yellow light, and reduce the influence of other hues. 

Depending on the time of day, season, and camera settings, the exact same scene can produce wildly different color values. By adjusting the color balance, you can heighten dominant colors, making them look as natural or vibrant as you like!

Need images for your project? Shutterstock’s impressive collection of more than 70 million images can help! See what our library has to offer.

  • Was this article helpful?

Can’t find what you’re looking for?