What is White Balance?

White balance offers an easy way to improve your shots, even if you tend to use automatic settings on a digital point-and-shoot. So what is white balance, exactly? Almost every camera will have this setting, and it's used to adjust images so the colors are more accurate. Below, we've outlined the basics of white balance, and how anyone can adjust it for more precise results. 

Color Temperature

Sometimes, photos can have a distinct tint to them, where one color is dominating the frame. This is called a "color cast", and every light source in a photo has a particular cast (or temperature) to it. For example, fluorescent bulbs generally create a bluish cast, while candlelight produces a reddish, natural cast. All of these light sources fall on a temperature scale, which ranges from candlelight (around 2000 Kelvin) to a perfectly blue sky (15,000K and up). The average household bulb produces about 2500K, and it creates an orangish color cast.         

How to Adjust White Balance

In many cases, it's difficult to tell a photo's color temperature because our eyes adjust to whatever we're currently looking at. In order to make accurate adjustments and balance the temperature, you'll need to warm up an overly cool scene, or cool down a warm scene. Ultimately, there is no "perfect" white balance, and it all depends on your creative goals. Here are some common WB settings to get you started: 

  • Auto: Start by playing around with your camera's auto white balance (AWB) function. This is best for a typical daytime scene. Once the color temperature gets more extreme, though, your camera will just assume what the white balance should be. This is where manual white balance is important. 
  • Shade: AWB will usually overcompensate in shady scenes, making the light seem a little cold and unforgiving. Instead, use the Shade setting for a more nuanced approach. 
  • Daylight: The difference between AWB and Daylight mode is made obvious when moving between outdoor and indoor scenes. While AWB can do a passable job in most lighting situations, Daylight mode is designed specifically for natural sunlight. We recommend using this setting over AWB for a more accurate daytime cast. 
  • Cloudy: If your sky is not quite "daylight blue", it may have a color temperature around 7000K, lending your images a cool, blueish cast. To deal with this overcast lighting, use the Cloudy mode. 
  • Flash: If you're shooting a dark scene that requires a flash, you can enable this WB setting to make up for the bulb's cool cast. 
  • Fluorescent: For most viewers, fluorescent light has a cold and sterile look that can make an otherwise pleasant scene look ugly. To compensate for this harsh light source, we recommend using the Fluorescent WB setting. 
  • Tungsten: The typical household bulb has an orange hue, and if you shoot in AWB mode, this color cast can pervade an entire scene. Use the Tungsten mode to counteract those incandescent colors. 

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?