If you’ve been following this blog, then you know how much we believe in nailing your images in camera so that you don’t have to spend hours and hours in Photoshop later. Once we learned how to manually expose our camera properly, we still felt like something was missing.

Our images looked better, but they still didn’t look how we wanted them to look — until a videographer friend of ours told us that our problem wasn’t our exposure, it was our white balance. White balance! What’s that? We had the same question, and answering it revolutionized our shooting style and saved us hours of time in post-processing.

We’ll try to break it down in the most non-geeky, non-techy was possible, so that a) it makes sense, and b) you’re convinced to make some big changes in your shooting style approach as soon as you’re done reading this post.

What is white balance?


White balance is the color temperature of a photograph. It ranges from dark blue to dark orange, just like the temperature of a bunsen burner flame in high school chemistry. White balance is measured in a temperature metric called Kelvins. The scale ranges from about 1,000 (dark orange) to 15,000 (dark blue). It’s common to hear photographers use expressions like “Cool it down” when referring to making an image less orange and more blue, or even “Warm it up” when referring to making an image less blue and more orange.

Why does white balance matter?


Think of your photographs like a scale or seesaw. One side is blue. One side is orange. If you tilt too far in one direction, you’ll have more blue than orange, like the image on the right. If you tilt too far in the other direction, you’ll have more orange than blue, like the image on the left. So, the color you see will not be the colors the camera sees — and that’s a problem. Skin tones can make or break your photo.

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Correct white balance makes ALL the difference in the quality of your final photograph. It is one of our top technical priorities, and when you compare this image with correct white balance to the ones above with incorrect white balance, we hope it will become one of yours too!

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What do most new photographers do about white balance?

Most new photographers use the auto white balance feature on their cameras (and we did at first, too!). The camera will attempt to read the colors around it and level out the white balance scale/seesaw, but we’ve found that almost all the time the camera can’t quite figure it out, and it gives images an orange, blue, or even gray tint that takes a lot of time to correct in post-processing — if it can be corrected at all.

Why can’t cameras read white balance correctly?

DSLR cameras are like miniature computers. If you let them think on their own, they’ll do an average job. If you tell them what to do, they’ll do an amazing job. For cameras to achieve perfect white balance and deliver perfect color, you have to tell them what to do.

What do I have to tell them camera to get perfect white balance?

One thing: 18% gray. That’s it. You have to literally show the camera what 18% gray looks like for the camera to be able to interpret all the other colors in the same area. For years, photographers used (and still use) something called a gray card. It’s a thick piece of paper/plastic that’s 18% gray. You hold it in front of your camera, take a picture, and then set a custom white balance instead of relying on auto white balance.

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What do we use?

We use a product called the ExpoDisc Neutral White Balance Filter. For $49.95, it’s a no-brainer and changed our photography forever. Switching to shooting with a custom white balance was such a game changer for us.

How can I start getting my white balance right TODAY?!

We’re so proud of our shooting and editing course students all across the world! They’re shooting better, editing faster and serving their clients better than ever before!

Looking for more resources?

Alisa

 

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26 comments
filed in: Education

    I have been shooting in Arizona for 10 years and I still found this series very helpful! Thanks for all the great info! My only request would be to see some pull-back photos showing exactly what you are talking about regarding the shading or sun on the ground around your couples, and the use of the reflector. Thanks for all the great info. I may be calling you about how to use the expoDisc! :)

    I have been shooting in Arizona for 10 years and I still found this series very helpful! Thanks for all the great info! My only request would be to see some pull-back photos showing exactly what you are talking about regarding the shading or sun on the ground around your couples, and the use of the reflector. Thanks for all the great info. I may be calling you about how to use the expoDisc! :)

    Amy & Jordan

    Thanks for the sweet compliments and helpful feedback, Stacey! We're so glad you were able to get something from the post even as a veteran photographer! Yes! We'd love to coach you through ExpoDisc training in the near future :-)

    Amy & Jordan

    Thanks for the sweet compliments and helpful feedback, Stacey! We're so glad you were able to get something from the post even as a veteran photographer! Yes! We'd love to coach you through ExpoDisc training in the near future :-)

    Daniela Galvez

    It was an amazing series! has helped me a lot. I'm from Chile (South America), where photography isn't the best valued. The workshops doesn't exist here, so I read a LOOOOOOT about photography on blogs and yours has helped me 100%. Thank you guys!

    Amy & Jordan

    So glad it helped, Daniela! Keep up the good work down in South America!

    Randall

    Great tips! My wife and I admire you guys and your work (and your faith). About the expodisc... does it ever seem hit and miss with the consistency of color balance? We use mk III's with it and pretty frequently we find the white balance being pretty orange. I just end up using the white balance tool on that image and then batch editing the following photos but I wish that I could cut that step out and have confidence in that tool. Ever had that?

    Amy & Jordan

    Hey, Randall! Thanks so much! Very sweet of you!

    The ExpoDisc reads a little bit warmer straight of our camera than we prefer, so we just cool it down a bit in post. We use it about 95% of the time, but we'll switch to auto sometimes in rooms with multiple different temperature light sources of different sizes coming from different directions (like in hotel rooms). That is, if we can't turn off all the lights to get one consistent color temperature! With the MKIII, we almost always either meter for the center and then slow down our shutter by 2/3 of a stop, OR we'll overexpose by 2/3 of a stop IN camera. We did that last weekend while shooting some portraits for a family friend in open shade and we didn't have to do anything in post. Nothing. It was incredible. Maybe give that a try! But, yes, we agree that it's a little warmer than we'd like. However, like we've heard Zach Gray explain, it's better to trust the exposure and white balance of a tool that's designed to read 18% than to trust a 3 inch uncalibrated monitor with Kelvin or AWB. Because of the ExpoDisc, our editing in LR is very minimal and non-invasive. Hope that helps!

    Danny

    Hey guys! Your photography, website and blog are truly amazing and so inspiring on every level. I went out and purchased the ExpoDisc after reading about it here and man-oh-man, that thing rocks! The white-balance was just so spot on everytime on my Nikon D700 (yes, sorry, Nikon shooter here, lol) and using it as a light meter also gave me perfect exposure on every shot. This amazing tool has now changed my photography forever! Thanks for this great post; you guys rock and I wish you only the best. God bless!

    brina

    I read all your posts on light, and I've found this as the MOST HELPFUL site that I have come across. Keep posting! I've shared this site with many of my friends.

    Amy & Jordan

    Aw! Thanks so much for letting us know that Brina! And for sharing with your friends! It's people like you that keep us motivated to keep going! :)

    Mel Hostetler

    Hi! I'd love to get ur Mon. Newsletter s. I had seen it on here somewhere n couldn't find it when I went to look! Thank s mel

    Amy & Jordan

    Hi Mel! You can sign up here! bit.ly/ajintheknow :)

    Brandy Hankinson

    This series was SO helpful, Thank you Amy & Jordan! You are the BEST! I am editing right now and adjusting white balance in almost every image, so this is absolutely what I need. I am curious, when using the expo disc, do you need to reset the white balance if you move a few feet to the right or left from your original shooting position?

    Amy & Jordan

    We are so glad!! You should be okay, but it never hurts!

    Meredith Jamison

    I just received my expo disc in the mail and I can not wait to start using it! Thank you so much for these tips and tricks!!

    Amy & Jordan

    So exciting!! You are going to LOVE it!

    Cinda

    I LOVE the look of your photos in this series. Just stunning. Can you explain the basic settings for achieving the "watercolor" shades and milky skin tones? I've been working on capturing them to no avail. 😫
    Also, thanks for the white balance tip!!!!

    Sanne

    Your blog is very helpful...thank you for that! I do have a question though...I just bought the expoDisc, but I can't really see myself making time to pull it out repeatedly to lock WB in a fast paced wedding scenario. Any pointers?

    Susanne

    Thank you for the blog...it is very helpful. I do have a question though...I just bought the expoDisc but I can't see pulling it out repeatedly to lock WB on a fast paced wedding day. Any pointers?

    Lyndsey

    Loved this series! Thank you!

    Amy & Jordan

    Aw!! Thank you so much Lyndsey!!

    April Lusk

    I just found your page and I am so 100% grateful I did! I just wish you lived closer to attend classes by you two! I like you, have scoured the internet, pinterest, fb communities, etc for all info on photography. I had to take time off from college photography classes but still trying to remain active in sessions. Learning from your posts have been sensational for me. I am eager to learn everything I can for my clients to also better myself! Thank you for taking he time to do so. Financially, I am unable to afford classes, so info given by the Pros, really makes a heart sing! God Bless you 2 and thank you for giving us tips & tricks!

    Amy & Jordan

    Hi April! Aw!! Thank you so much!! Keep working hard! We're cheering for you!!

    Sarai Estrada

    Really enjoyed the white balance explanation.

    Amy & Jordan

    Aw! Thanks, Sarai! :)