Make colors pop! (white balance tutorial)

Wow, the response to whether or not y’all would like to see some photo tips and tricks has been amazing!  Thank you so much! I’m not an expert or anything, but I’d love to share what I have figured out over the years.

I thought I’d start out the tutorials by talking about something basic that sounds complicated, but will really make a HUGE difference in your picture taking: white balance.  Everyone always asks how I get colors that really pop — and this is it!

What’s white balance, you ask? White balance is a setting on just about all cameras that lets you control the color of the white in your photos — and if your whites aren’t right, the rest of your colors won’t be right either.   If you take your photos outside or in natural light you don’t have to worry about white balance quite as much.  But, suppose it’s 11 pm at night and you want to take a photo of a card that you finished just in the nick of time for a challenge?  That’s where white balance comes in!

Check out the following photos — both taken on my kitchen counter — one was taken at 9 am using natural sunlight, and the other was taken at 11 pm using a mixture of fluorescent + daylight balanced compact fluorescent lights.  Can you guess which is which?


If you guessed that the one on the right was taken at 11 pm at night, you’re right!  Here it is again:


Now for the tips and tricks!  I got these true-to-life whites by setting a custom white balance.  Check your camera manual for how this is done — most all cameras let you do this —  if you’ve lost it, just do a search as nowadays you can usually find a pdf of the manual online.  I used my Canon Rebel XTi for these photos, so I’ll give you the low-down on how I did it so that you can see just how simple it is:

  1. Get a piece of  blank white paper — I usually just grab a piece of copy paper.
  2. Take a picture of the paper under the lighting that you will be using, making sure that it completely fills the frame.  Note that the paper doesn’t have to be in focus, it just has to fill the frame.  Here’s a tip: if your camera won’t focus on the paper, try turning off the auto focus.  The main thing is to get the white paper to fill the frame so that the camera picks up the color.
  3. On the back of the camera, press the MENU button, then use the right arrow to move over to the second camera icon.  Use the down arrow to highlight “Custom WB” and press the middle button to select it.
  4. The camera will ask you to chose a picture — and will show the last one that you took — in this case, the picture of the white piece of paper.  Chose it.  Now you’re almost done!
  5. On the back of the camera there’s a button that says WB (it’s also the down arrow).  Press the button,  and use the right arrow to move all the way over to the right and select the custom setting. Press the middle button to set it and  ta dah, you are done!

Don’t have a custom white balance setting?  Most cameras let you chose from a variety of pre-sets! To use a pre-set on the Rebel XTi:

  1. On the back of the camera there’s a button that says WB (it’s also the down arrow).  Press the button, and then use the right arrow to move over to the icon that you want (auto (AWB), cloudy, tungsten, etc).
  2. Press the middle button to set it and you are done!

Here’s the fluorescent setting on mine — not too bad at all!


It can be fun to play around with different white balance settings — even if they’re not the “correct” ones — sometimes you get neato effects!  Should have written down which was which, but it was midnight when I got done playing, doh!  Anyhow, here they are so you can see — this first one looks like an antique shabby flower to me:


This one almost looks black and white:


Here’s one that looks kinda modern — I think this was the tungsten setting:


And, finally, here’s a closeup in morning light using the auto white balance setting — note that when the light changes, you should do redo the custom white balance setting — or you can get some pretty wonky results, ha ha!


And, I couldn’t resist sharing this one with the shadow!  That’s one of the things I love about photography — you can experiment + play:


Want to see some more pictures where I really made use of the custom white balance feature?  Check out this post of a sneak peek at the Hero Arts booth at Winter CHA, and this one of some more sneak peeks from other booths.  Both times I just grabbed a piece of white copy paper to set it up — so handy using copy paper because you can find it anywhere!

And!  I’ll be announcing a challenge to go along with this tutorial as soon I have time to get Mr. Linky setup. If you’d like to get started early, it will be to create a card with lots of white and to learn about your camera’s white balance settings.

Oh and!  If you’d like to be notified when there’s a new blog post,  you can get email notifications using Feedburner, or if you use Google reader you can sign up for the RSS feed.  All the linkys are up at the top right of the blog.

Oh and one last thing!  The wildflowers in the photos are  rain lilies (Cooperia drummondii).  I just love them because they bloom whenever we get rain — a pretty rare event here in Central Texas — always to be celebrated!  The flowers only last a day or so, so you gotta be quick with your camera.

Hope you liked the tutorial!  I’m already working on the next one — how you can fix up your photos in Photoshop or The Gimp (free software with similar controls as Photoshop) if you forgot to set your white balance or your camera doesn’t let you set it.

40 Replies to “Make colors pop! (white balance tutorial)”

  1. Awesome tutorial! I have been playing around taking all kinds of pics of my messy stamp desk.  Who knew my camera had features? LOL! Thanks Lisa!

  2. WOW! Thanks so much for the tutorial – it was fabulosa! I have seen that setting on my camera but wasn’t sure what it did.  Now I will get to practicing with it!  Thanks again!

  3. Oh my goodness, I just may learn something about photography. Thanks for the great tutorial, I’m already looking forward to the next one!

  4. So…that what that feature is for! Thanks so much for your explanation! I’ve learned so much already!

  5. […] the first Scribble This! tutorial, we learned about setting the camera’s white balance to make colors pop and  whites look […]

  6. I cant seem to find the WB icon at the menu for my camera. I am using cannon digital ixus 55. Can you recommend me a model of a good camera? Thanks. Gladys

    1. Hi Gladys — I’m not familiar with that camera, did you try to search for the manual? Google knows everything, ha ha! :)

  7. […] I have came across this website and found it very useful for newbies like me in photograhpy session. These are very simple and […]

  8. Hi Lisa!
    I have an older Canon Rebel EOS.
    In my menu with the camera icon there is no WB option and when I click the arrow next to WB nothing happens.

    Can you post a quick tip on where I can put my camera manual so that I can find it when I am looking for it?
    I know it’s here somewhere!!!


    1. Hi Lynn, to put your camera in manual, just take it off of the auto settings sections in the top dial — I use Tv (shutter priority), but you can also use P, Av, M, etc. Hope that helps!

  9. Nice! I have a Rebel and never knew that I could do that! Sweet- – my photography life is now much better :)

  10. Thank you so much for this tutorial! I didn’t know how to do this, and I tried it tonight and LOVED the results. I’m always waiting until daytime and good weather to photograph my cards outside, but this will change all that. :-)

  11. I love these tips!  I have been having trouble getting the lighting set right and really need the help.  Thanks a million.  Donna

  12. […] is the photo after using some of the other tutorials from Lisa, white balance and adjusting lighting […]

  13. This is great info and I love your writing style!  Thank you so much!

  14. Oh! and I live just outside Austin!  Practically neighbors!

  15. […] look white? If not, trying playing with your camera’s white balance settings. Here’s a tutorial that I’ve written before on white […]

  16. Hi Lisa! Thank you so much for your tutorials! This is a fantastic opportunity for me to finally learn something about photography!! I love the way you are teaching us, everything is explained so well!!

  17. Thanks for these tips Lisa! Figuring out white balance has been such a struggle for me ever since I got my Canon T3i, sometimes the photos turn out perfectly, but most of the time the white balance makes my photos blue and trying to fix that is such a nuisance. I’m definitely going to try out your tips :-)

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