White Balance

Guy Tal explains why neutral is not always natural:

For many years, we’ve been told that color casts—those shifts in color towards blue or yellow—are a bad thing and should be corrected at all costs. In the film days we used color-correction (CC) filters to battle them and, in the digital age, most choose to set their cameras to auto-white-balance (AWB), in effect telling the camera to detect and neutralize color casts automatically. After all, neutral whites and lack of color casts are desirable and natural, right? Wrong!

A couple of years ago, a workshop participant brought with them a little device that mounts to the front of the lens and allows for on-location white balance calibration. The device was still new and in its original packaging, which showed “before” and “after” samples. I had to admit that, to my eye, the “before” sample actually looked better than the “after” one. The subtle color cast added a nice mood that was missing from the sterile “corrected” version.

After a short discussion with the class, it became obvious that many did not, in fact, fully understand the concept of white balance and that color casts are not only perfectly natural but sometimes very desirable.




About marypmadigan

Writer/photographer (profession), foreign policy wonk (hobby).
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