As the crimson, burgundy, orange and yellow colours start to grace our tree-lined streets in Australia, cameras all over the country are making their way out of the cupboard and back into hands to capture the beauty of Autumn. This season gives us the warm glowing colours we adore, later sunrises, earlier sunsets and an abundance of photographic opportunities but wait… why are my pictures coming out so cold and blue???
In my workshops I often refer to a camera behaving a little bit like a puppy, they usually have the best intentions to please you but that doesn’t actually mean they get it right. You see, cameras when left in auto modes do their best at calculating things like exposure and white balance but often what they actually end up doing is overcompensating and achieving almost the opposite look to what we are hoping for or at best they average things out creating a photo that is well… average. When it comes to colour I find that cold blue scenes often come out looking a little warm in colour and warm colour scenes like our autumn days can come out looking a little bit flat and grey leaving a lot to be desired on the warm and fuzzy front.
The solution to our colour woes is to play with your manual white balance. Sounds scary but it’s actually a really simple and is the tool in your arsenal that gives you control over how the camera interprets colours. As you can see below, changing this setting gives dramatically different colour results. For those on mirrorless cameras such as the Olympus system, you will actually get a live preview of what the colour is going to look like (before taking the shot) but for those on a DSLR you will need to take part in a little game of trial and error to get the look you want. I’d also like to acknowledge before all of those RAW shooters out there start chiming in on the comments section that, yes, if you shoot RAW you can actually set your white balance after the fact in your editing software, but hey, the better it comes out of camera the less we have to worry about!
White balance examples
Note that the Auto White Balance creates a blueish hue whereas the cloudy white balance brings out the beautiful fern colours?
To change your white balance, you need to be in either of the following modes:
Program Mode, Shutter Priority Mode, Aperture Priority Mode or Manual Mode.
This is the part where I will throw out a warning though… the part where it starts to sound scary but it’s more just something to pop in the memory bank. If you change your white balance to a manual selection, be sure to CHANGE IT BACK TO AUTO when you have finished in that location. One of the biggest errors I see with new photographers is that their white balance is set to Tungsten when it’s actually a cloudy day… or when it’s set to Cloudy when you are indoors with Tungsten lighting.
Auto adapts for each lighting situation so whilst it’s not always correct it’s a good habit to reset to this because if you forget to change it next time your switch your camera on, you might be stuck with some strange looking colours!
So next time you are out and about shooting images and making photography magic, have an experiment with your white balance and see the difference a little tweaking can make to your images!
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