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Simple Photo Tips: Get creative with white balance

36

Ever take a photo where the colors seem clinically cold, washed out or just plain bland? It's probably because the white balance was inaccurate. White balance simply refers to the overall color cast of a photograph. If the white balance is too "cool", your image will appear blue-ish. Too "warm" and everything will look like it was taken at sunset. 

Android phones, since version 2.0, have offered built-in color balance options. This allows you to get the color cast that you want. On iOS devices, white balance settings are entirely automatic, but there are numerous third party camera apps that allow you to deviate from Apple's choice of a correct color balance in your pictures.

On the HTC One X, you can tap the Settings icon, select White Balance from the scrollable list and choose from one of the presets. The screen updates in real time to preview your chosen setting.

By default, even if it offers manual white balance settings, your camera will be set to Auto, where it analyzes the scene and chooses what it deems to be the most appropriate white balance parameters. If your camera has manual control, you can override this by choosing from a list of built-in presets. The screenshot above is from an HTC One X running Android's Ice Cream Sandwich and HTC Sense 4.0. Note that various flavors of Android and manufacturer UIs will differ in appearance but will have similar functions.

If you're going for a realistic effect, start by selecting the preset whose name best describes your current lighting conditions and try taking a picture with that setting.

Shooting this scene on the HTC One X with the white balance set to Auto led to a very cold, dull image.
Changing the white balance to Cloudy and re-shooting gave a much warmer result.

And you don't have to limit yourself to just producing a more realistic result. Get creative and try out presets that add a wildly different mood or feeling of your photograph. In the examples below, we photographed the same scene four times using the HTC One X, changing the white balance between shots. The differences are dramatic.

White balance: Auto
White balance: Daylight
White balance: Fluorescent
White balance: Incandescent

Whether your aim is a more accurate image or one that creates a striking mood, white balance presets can be a quick and easy way to get there.

Comments

Total comments: 36
xiod_crlx
By xiod_crlx (Oct 31, 2012)

I always thought all phone cameras must have one button - take a shot. It compromises idea to have a simple device. When you start thinking to change shooting parameters on you phone... it means you do care about picture quality and you'd better take a camera instead.

What I am about? =) Auto WB should work better =)

1 upvote
Amadou Diallo
By Amadou Diallo (Oct 31, 2012)

AWB is one of those things we all just expect to "work". In reality, the algorithms behind it are actually quite complex, and involve a lot of trade-offs, particularly so with smartphone-size image sensors.

1 upvote
xiod_crlx
By xiod_crlx (Nov 1, 2012)

there are many WB estimation algorithms
they are well known and manufacturers know about them (or should know)

it is not clear to me how the sensor size affects estimation of WB

0 upvotes
Bruce McL
By Bruce McL (Nov 1, 2012)

"When you start thinking to change shooting parameters on you phone... it means you do care about picture quality and you'd better take a camera instead."

The purpose of the article is to help people take better pictures with relatively poor cameras. You are commenting on an article that you think nobody should read.

"it is not clear to me how the sensor size affects estimation of WB"

I have seen many cameras with poor auto white balance that have larger sensors than cell phone cameras do.

"there are many WB estimation algorithms
they are well known and manufacturers know about them (or should know)"

Then, theoretically, there is no need for dpreview to include white balance testing in their camera reviews. Is that what you are saying?

0 upvotes
Amadou Diallo
By Amadou Diallo (Nov 1, 2012)

---"it is not clear to me how the sensor size affects estimation of WB"---

When presented with an overly warm scene, ie one lit by indoor tungsten/incandescent light, the blue channel of the sensor data has to be amplified in order to "cool down" the color tint. Unfortunately, this blue channel is prone to noise, so amplifying it increases visible image noise.
All else being equal, smaller sensors display more noise than larger ones (since they capture less light by volume), so camera makers have to balance the need for accurate white balance with the desire for relatively noise free images.

Comment edited 32 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
xiod_crlx
By xiod_crlx (Nov 2, 2012)

2Bruce

... dpreview test of WB shows manufacturer preferences in image processing. If you are using 3rd party RAW converter you should get similar results in auto mode for different cameras (therefore removing "manufacturer vision" of image processing)

0 upvotes
xiod_crlx
By xiod_crlx (Nov 2, 2012)

2Amandy

Blue channel usually multiplied by larger factor then others. But first of all we need to decide - do we want to keep noise levels as low as possible or to have more pleasant WB? Answering previous question might lead to different strategies of calculating WB. Personally I like the idea to have 3-5 presets in camera (like Daylight-Cloudy-incandescent) then camera calculates estimation and chooses fixed preset nearest to known preset. This will help to avoid fluctuations from shot to shot and will prevent shots made in a good light conditions to have any color cast.

But the problem is 99% of mobile phone camera users are happy with what they have and care about resolution only. Wrong colors? Make then even more wrong with cross processing (which is a mainstream today, sad to say... it is booooring already)

Comment edited 4 times, last edit 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
Robert Steinman
By Robert Steinman (Oct 31, 2012)

The "recent Android models" regarding white balance support should be corrected since all Android phones shipped with Android 2.0 Eclair (2009) have adjustable white balance presets, and since then camera applications are able to adjust that. Therefore, almost all Android phones running around have this option available. The fact that the built-in camera by the manufacturer doesn't let the white balance to be adjusted doesn't mean that the OS doesn't let third party apps to change that, in fact, Camera FV-5 and ProCapture for Android, the apps I use, let you adjust the white balance in my two+ year old phone, but surely there will be others as well.

1 upvote
Amadou Diallo
By Amadou Diallo (Oct 31, 2012)

Excellent point. I've updated the article.

0 upvotes
ginosega
By ginosega (Oct 31, 2012)

"Smartphone photographers?" I take a lot of pictures with my phone, but I would not call that photography. DPReview, I feel you are pushing this new site to be something more than is warranted, and this is damaging your credibility to the DPReview crowd. This Connect site is geared towards a much different audience than DPReview, but by advertising these articles on the main DPReview site you are bringing a set of viewers here who expect something other than what they find and end up having a negative experience (which shows in these comments). I think you should try to build a readership by advertising elsewhere, on a site with a more receptive audience.

2 upvotes
Tan68
By Tan68 (Oct 31, 2012)

if i remember correctly, some DPR person mentioned they are linking from the mother site to promote awareness. i gathered they may transition from this after traffic here picks up.

i imagine they are advertising at other sites. i think it would be risky to expect to pick up readers only from the parent site.

0 upvotes
Doug Pardee
By Doug Pardee (Oct 31, 2012)

DPReview lets you select which news articles you want to see. If you don't want to see the Connect articles, do this:

1. Go to the main DPReview home page http://www.dpreview.com
2. Go to the top of the news articles and click on the "Filter news" choices
3. Click the "Advanced Mode link"
4. Uncheck "CONNECT" and anything else you don't want to see
5. Click "Make Default".

3 upvotes
Tan68
By Tan68 (Nov 1, 2012)

you can also just collapse the individual panels as you can collapse pallets in Lightroom. this way, they remain available if you get curious but aren't always there to.. be always visible.

i wasn't aware of this feature until i read By Doug Pardee's tip about removing the panels altogether.

0 upvotes
elkarrde
By elkarrde (Oct 31, 2012)

AFAIK, all Android phones with HTC Sense have selectable white-balance.

0 upvotes
Amadou Diallo
By Amadou Diallo (Oct 30, 2012)

This is a beginner level, 'tips' article. Longtime visitors to dpreview will know what white balance is and may likely even be aware of its existence as an option on some native smartphone camera apps.

There is, however, a large audience of newcomers whose introduction to the craft of photography is increasingly through use of a smartphone. We think it's important for those potential photo enthusiasts to have the same understanding of basic principles and features that underly photography, as those who learned these lessons using compact, mirrorless or DSLR cameras. That's one of the many aims here at Connect.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 1 minute after posting
4 upvotes
guinness2
By guinness2 (Oct 31, 2012)

Thanks for reply. I see your point. Beginners articles are welcome, that's obvious, even not enough from my reply, I must confess.
What I criticise is, someone linked it to DPreview News, not the article itself.
All the times I was considering DPreview News as the most competent place for breaking photography news just on time. My fault to swallow the bait.
Good luck, anyway, I like the idea of Connect pages, otherwise I wouldn't follow the link. No problem, I can use the color labels or filters on Dpreview in the future. :-(

Comment edited 7 minutes after posting
1 upvote
Tan68
By Tan68 (Oct 31, 2012)

is there yet a tip for using Exposure Compensation? i think i recall one for metering different parts of a scene.. oh, it may have been part of Tap To Focus and so not expressly about metering different areas.

an index to the tips grouped by some rational might be useful. if this exists, i have missed it. each tip could have a link back to the index/tree.

i thought the first image in the article was an example of some effect [applied with some post processing appl]. it took me a while to realise it is an example of different white balance presets as they would affect the same image. it might be helpful to label the color bar at the bottom with the presets that give, roughly, the effect or just 'warm' --> 'cool'.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
IKB
By IKB (Oct 30, 2012)

Not everyone reading this will be a smartphone photography expert. This article is obviously (well, you would think that it was obvious) not aimed at those experts, but at readers lower down the ladder of expertise to whom this will be useful.

4 upvotes
Erin Lodi
By Erin Lodi (Oct 30, 2012)

We couldn't have said it better ourselves.

0 upvotes
xMichaelx
By xMichaelx (Oct 30, 2012)

Would love to see a camera phone that can take RAW pics. White balance would not be a factor until PP, and I could probably squeeze out a little more dynamic range.

0 upvotes
crizcroz
By crizcroz (Oct 31, 2012)

With Nokia N900, N950 & N9 you can see a camera phone that can take raw pics:
http://nokiagadgets.com/2012/07/22/pcam-raw-image-capture-manual-exposure-control-for-n9-12mp-photo-mode-for-n950/

0 upvotes
AnHund
By AnHund (Oct 30, 2012)

Why so angry. There are beginners out there too, so cheer up "angry old men" :-)

7 upvotes
guinness2
By guinness2 (Oct 31, 2012)

:-) :-) :-) deserved

1 upvote
joe6pack
By joe6pack (Oct 30, 2012)

I wonder how dpreview decides which CONNECT article to post?

1 upvote
Doug Pardee
By Doug Pardee (Oct 31, 2012)

DPReview lets you select which news articles you want to see. If you don't want to see the Connect articles, do this:

1. Go to the main DPReview home page http://www.dpreview.com
2. Go to the top of the news articles and click on the "Filter news" choices
3. Click the "Advanced Mode link"
4. Uncheck "CONNECT" and anything else you don't want to see
5. Click "Make Default".

0 upvotes
bearshare
By bearshare (Oct 30, 2012)

HI,

I have a Nokia C6-01, a model launched in 2010. My phone is currently running the latest Belle software and has the same color balance setting as the HTC One X. Besides, the native camera app has the following settings: exposure (-2 EV to + 2 EV); color tone (normal, sephia, black & white, vivid); sharpness; contrast.

0 upvotes
westcoastmatt
By westcoastmatt (Oct 30, 2012)

DPreview, I love you guys but this article insults me. It says "this guy has time to waste". I don't. But even though I don't have time, I'll provide some constructive feedback here.

Unlike many DPReview readers, I'm not a pro shooter or even a proper "enthusiast". I don't even own a DSLR. And yet still this article is beyond useless. I clicked through thinking "oh, ok this will tell me the best apps for my iPhone to adjust white balance. Maybe it will tell me the difference between adjusting white balance in an app while shooting, vs adjusting it post shot with an app". No dice. This article just said "Adjusting white balance makes the colours different". wow.

Might unsubscribe to DPreview if this is the new standard :(

8 upvotes
Erin Lodi
By Erin Lodi (Oct 30, 2012)

We offer these "Simple Photo Tips" to appeal to readers who may be interested at that level. Thanks for your input.

1 upvote
Tan68
By Tan68 (Oct 31, 2012)

a few articles seem like landing pages (if that is the correct term..?). i figure detail will increase. the Simple Tips are just that. i did learn my Gingerbread Samsung sold through T-Mobile in May 2011 has white balance (WB) presets. i had never bothered to check before ;)

i think general consensus is that WB, should be changed during shooting unless you are using RAW. even so, WB can be changed after the fact with JPG. color gradations or etc. might be better with RAW, but it can be done.

you asked about the best app to adjust WB. my first thought was that no app is needed because WB adjustment, if available, is built into the camera settings... then it occurred to me you may be asking what is the best camera app to use. i don't know about iPhone, but there are different camera interfaces/apps that can be purchased to use on Android phones.

a review of different camera software might be interesting. at the Android store, Photo Zoom fx & Pudding Camera look popular.

0 upvotes
Tan68
By Tan68 (Oct 31, 2012)

i took a look at the developer page for a couple of the Android software packages. the information available isn't much different from other software developer pages...

i had wanted to see if they allowed Manual WB to be set rather than only Auto or Presets. I don't anticipate using Manual WB on my phone.. i wanted to see what they offered over my 'stock' software.

one uses the accelerometers in the camera to judge whether or not i am holding the camera steady. it includes an intervelometer for taking time lapse pictures. so there are some added features that relate directly to picture taking.

they also offer a slew of post processing stuff. one touts 'random effects'. this must be different from 'randum' results.

i think it would a good bit of time to review everything some of these software packages include. they have several types of sinks and not just kitchen.

on a positive note, this articalette has comments. most others i have read do not. so things are picking up.

Comment edited 51 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Slynky
By Slynky (Nov 1, 2012)

"This article just said "Adjusting white balance makes the colours different". wow."

That's a bit over-simplified. I'm much more than a novice and I found the article to be useful (especially for beginners wanting to move beyond pointing and clicking their cell phone cameras). As to content, It touched on white balance difference between Android and iOS, posted some useful examples, and even suggested thinking "out of the box" for creativity.

It was a short article and took just a few minutes to read. You must be really busy and important. (now, just where IS that "NOT like" button...?)

0 upvotes
Peter_H_77
By Peter_H_77 (Oct 30, 2012)

Wow - white balance adjustment. Groundbreaking stuff. Possibly one of the more useful 'CONNECT' articles. ;-)

0 upvotes
EmmanuelStarchild
By EmmanuelStarchild (Oct 30, 2012)

Canon should make a smarthphone, or at least make a camera for smartphones. I'd buy one.

0 upvotes
Erin Lodi
By Erin Lodi (Nov 1, 2012)

Interesting idea! I think some other Canon lovers would too.

0 upvotes
bill hansen
By bill hansen (Oct 30, 2012)

This is not new information to most photographers who use smart phones. It should be pointed out that not all Android phones permit manipulation of WB, aside from their pre-sets, which are often pretty poor. It would be very helpful if the programs which permit manual tweaking of WB were listed, and even better if they were discussed. Smart phones have a very long way to go before their cameras are at all "smart". As it is now, most smart phone images should be run through a dedicated photo editing program like Photo Shop, Elements, or Lightroom if they're going to be presentable.

2 upvotes
Doug Pardee
By Doug Pardee (Oct 31, 2012)

The Android camera driver does not, as of API 16 (Jelly Bean, Android 4.1) provide any way to "tweak" white balance. Android has provided the same set of WB presets since WB was introduced in API 5 (Eclair, 2.0):
* Auto
* Daylight
* Cloudy-Daylight
* Shade
* Twilight
* Incandescent
* Fluorescent
* Warm Fluorescent

It's possible that some camera-makers have modified the camera driver to provide other alternatives.

All of the camera apps that I have that support WB presets on my LG Lucid with ICS 4.0.4 support only Auto, Daylight, Cloudy-Daylight, Incandescent, and Fluorescent. The apps I have with WB control are:
* the built-in Android camera app
* Camera360 Ultimate
* Vignette
* Camera FV-5 Lite
* ProCapture Free

This universal agreement makes me wonder if the Shade, Twilight, and Warm-Fluorescent options don't work properly in Android's camera driver.

0 upvotes
Total comments: 36
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