The Power of White Balance Shift

Truck Stop Cross Process – Bowie, TX – Fujifilm X100F

My Fujifilm film simulation recipes often call for a white balance shift. A couple of weeks ago I was thinking that I’ve never explained what a white balance shift is, how it changes an image, and how to use it. Then last week a Fuji X Weekly reader asked if I would write an article on this topic, so I knew it was time to demonstrate what this is.

White balance is the Kelvin temperature of an image. There are different temperatures so that the image color matches the light in the scene. If the white balance temperature is too cool, your photograph will have a blue cast. If the white balance temperature is too warm, your photograph will have a yellow cast. Most people use auto white balance and let the camera figure it out, but you can set it manually. In fact, some photographers purposefully use a “wrong” white balance to make their images have a cool or warm feel. I could write a whole article explaining white balance, but what I want to talk about in this post is white balance shift, which is related but different.

Many cameras, including Fujifilm, have an option to customize the white balance by shifting the color cast. In fact, Fujifilm allows you to choose between over 300 different color casts! You can shift the colors quite subtlety or obviously. White balance shift is a great tool for creating a specific look, and that’s why I rely on it for creating my film simulation recipes.

Different color films had different color casts. Different films showed color differently, and, because of this, some films were better for landscapes and some were better for portraits. Some people preferred one film over another because of how it rendered images. Not every film is for everyone or every purpose, but one can create a variety of looks depending on which films they choose and how they process those films.

Taos Umbrella – Taos, NM – Fujifilm X100F

White balance shift allows one to create a variety of different looks for different purposes and situations, much like one would choose different films for different looks and purposes. It’s simple to give a photograph an orange cast or green cast or blue cast, etc., etc., which will alter how the image renders colors, by using white balance shift. It’s possible to mimic film aesthetics or create something new using the tools that Fujifilm provides on their cameras.

When you change the color cast, you do a couple of different things to your pictures. The first is that you give your image feeling, either warm or cool. A warm image will portray happiness, like an inviting warm light inside a house at dusk. A cool image will portray sadness, like endless grey skies on a lonely winter day. You can change the emotional response from viewers by adjusting the color cast to either a warm or cool color. The side effect of adjusting the color cast is that it changes how different colors are rendered. Blues, reds, greens–every color–changes slightly to a new shade as one shifts the white balance. You may want to pick a certain color cast because of how it shifts the colors in an image.

I created the image above to demonstrate all of this. The middle picture has the white balance shift set directly in the middle: 0 red and 0 blue. Each of the other pictures show what happens when you pick the extremes of white balance shift. Starting at the top-center and moving clockwise around: 0 red & +9 blue, +9 red & +9 blue, +9 red & 0 blue, +9 red & -9 blue, 0 red & -9 blue, -9 red & -9 blue, -9 red & 0 blue, and -9 red & +9 blue. Normally you wouldn’t choose to adjust the white balance shift to the degrees shown here, but choose something a little more subtle instead. Typically you want it to be barely or at most moderately perceivable. However, there might be times that an image would benefit from a wild white balance shift. You have a lot of color cast options, which allows you to be as creative and crazy as you’d like.

White balance shift is a great tool for customizing the look of your photographs by changing the color cast. You can control the emotion and color shade by adding or subtracting blue and red. You can create looks that mimic classic film stock or you could invent something unique. Unfortunately you cannot save anymore than one white balance shift preset. I hope that someday Fujifilm will allow you to make many different ones that can be assigned to the quick recall presets, because white balance shift is a powerful tool that I use frequently.