About White Balance

This cross process look is made possible by a White Balance adjustment.

I get asked regularly about White Balance. My film simulation recipes require various White Balance adjustments, and sometimes, in different light situations, the results can be unusual, which can be good or bad, depending on what you are trying to achieve. So let’s discuss this, and figure out what you can do if the results aren’t what you want.

White Balance is the adjustment of color temperature (measured in Kelvin) to account for various light conditions, so that white objects appear white, and not yellow or blue or some other color. White Balance Shift is a tool to precisely fine-tune the White Balance. The intention of White Balance and White Balance Shift is to achieve a natural color balance that matches what the eye sees. But you can give your photographs whatever color balance you’d like—this is art; there are no rules.

Back when I shot film, I don’t remember hearing the term “white balance” spoken even once. There were two options: daylight film and tungsten film. The former was most common and was used in natural light situations, the the latter was less common and used in artificial light situations. I carried with me a warming filter and cooling filter to compensate for various light conditions, essentially to adjust the “white balance” when the light changed. You can actually still do this with digital photography, but the White Balance tools on your camera make it unnecessary to carry around warming and cooling filters.

Different film simulation recipes require different White Balance settings. Some use Auto, but many use Daylight or a specific Kelvin temperature or some other option. Most have a shift, as well. Often they are intended for natural light, and a few for artificial light, but when the light changes, the results can look strange sometimes. Occasionally that “strange” result might be something you really like, but often it’s probably not. When that happens, what can you do?

The White Balance in this picture is intended to produce good results at night.

I’ve said for a few years now that film simulation recipes can be seasoned to taste. This means that if you aren’t getting the look you want, don’t be afraid to adjust the parameters to achieve desired results. For White Balance, this might mean selecting something different than what the recipe calls for. Will this make it look more like the film that it’s based off of? Probably not, but if it gets you the look that you want, then that’s good, right? The next time you are in some light situation that’s giving you too warm or too cool results, see if simply selecting a different White Balance (maybe even simply using Auto White Balance) fixes the issue for you.

Another option is to use a different recipe. Some film simulation recipes are intended to work well in certain light conditions. Look for one that might be a better fit for the situation. If you read the articles and view the sample pictures, that might provide a clue of when a certain recipe will work well; however, it’ll probably take some trial and error to really figure out which recipes to use when.

Other than either adjusting the White Balance to something different than what the recipe calls for or selecting a different recipe altogether, your options are to use a warming or cooling filter like in the film days or to simply embrace the unusual results. There’s not a whole lot else that you can do. My advice is to consider beforehand if the recipe will be a good fit for the light; if it’s not but you still want to use it, either accept the results for what they are or adjust the White Balance to something that will give you the results that you want. Don’t be afraid to make an adjustment to the White Balance if that’s what the situation calls for.

4 comments

  1. Jeremy Stris · 10 Days Ago

    Hi Ritchie,

    Nice post about something that I am facing often. As a huge fan of your Kodachrome 64 recipe, it appears that this recipe result in too yellow colors when shooting inside a flat with mainly artificial lights.
    In my case, if WB change does not help, I simply try to find a recipe that fits better. By the way, the new Color Negative 400 recipe looks great in the same articial lights.

    NB: Can’t wait to become a Patron on the Android app!

    Take care.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ritchie Roesch · 8 Days Ago

      Awesome! I’m so glad to read this, Jeremy! Progress is going well on the Android app, shouldn’t be too much longer now.

      Like

  2. Khürt Williams · 9 Days Ago

    Good advice. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you choose another recipe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ritchie Roesch · 8 Days Ago

      I appreciate the input! That’s how it is with film, too–you gotta pick the right one for the situation.

      Like

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