White Balance

Kate Pullen
By Kate Pullen / April 25, 2017
[Photography Tip] Getting to grips with white balance. Specifically I’m thinking about anyone shooting their product photos with a smart phone. When you’ve added a number of product photos to a page, have you ever noticed that the images don’t feel consistent? As if the tone is a bit off between them.

This is often down to the images having slightly different color casts due to the white balance being a bit different between them. A digital camera’s white balance control is designed to ensure that white always appears to be white. In practice that isn’t always the case and whites in photos may appear a little cool and blue or warm and yellow. There can also be slight green and red tints too.

If you’ve ever replaced a bulb in a room with an LED bulb while an adjoining room has an incandescent bulb, you will likely have noticed that the two light sources look different. LED bulbs generally appear cooler (though you can get warmer versions) and when compared to an incandescent bulb, it can appear almost blue.

Cameras try to compensate for both warm and cool light so that regardless of the light source, the photos look like they’ve been lit by pure white light. If your camera doesn’t get it quite right, your photos may look as if they are slightly different colors.

There are a couple of ways that we can try and address this issue. Firstly we can take control when capturing the photo and secondly we can change the white balance when editing the photo.

The main photo (#1) shows the result of both. The strong blue colored part of the image was the result of manually changing the white balance to deliberately cause a color cast. I made it much stronger than we’d normally see to make it absolutely obvious. The more neutral side was the result of editing that photo and resetting the white balance. It’s not perfect, but the white balance was very, very off. In most normal cases, any color casts will usually be quite minor. They may not even be noticeable until you place two photos alongside each other.

There are plenty of photo apps to choose from, but I’m going to highlight VSCO Cam and Snapseed. Both are free and available for iOS and Android, though some of the controls and features may not be available on older versions of those operating systems.

VSCO Cam first. From the camera, tapping on the WB icon (#2) opens the white balance settings.

Then it’s just a case of dragging the slider left to make the image cooler or right to make the image warmer (#3). Leave it set where the color of the image looks most natural. You can tap the A icon and the camera will return to automatically setting the white balance. Newer versions of Android may have a similar control in the standard photo app.

That covers how you can control the white balance when taking a photo. Next we can use Snapseed to correct bad white balance after a photo has been taken.

When you tap the edit button in Snapseed, you’ll see there’s a White Balance entry in the list of controls. Tapping that opens the control in #4. You can tap the eye-dropper icon and then pick a point in the image that you know was white when you took the photo and Snapseed will automatically correct the color temperature and tint for you.

Alternatively, tapping the settings icon to the left of the eye-dropper allows you to manually set the two settings. You just slide on the screen to the left or right. You can see a scale at the top of the screen that displays the current settings as you slide. As in VSCO Cam, in temperature, sliding left makes the photo cooler and right makes it warmer. In tint, sliding left adds green and sliding right adds magenta.

Most of the time, your camera will do a great job of setting white balance automatically. However, if you’ve got a selection of photos that don’t seem to match as a set, manually tweaking the white balance may help to make them feel like a more coherent group of images.

Do you have any handy tips for shooting product photos with your phone or are there any other other problems that you encounter when taking your photos?

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About the author

Kate Pullen

Kate is a long term marketing professional who made a lifestyle change and moved to Spain to follow her dream. She learned how to apply her business skills to her creative skills to grow a business. Her goal is to help others follow their dreams too.