The 4 Camera Controls for Perfect Color

Preset icons

The 4 Camera Controls for Perfect Color

Getting the color right in camera saves a lot of Photoshop time later. Plus the right color makes your images sparkle while enriching the mood. It can be confusing since your camera has a few options that might not be intuitive for you for setting the color.

Essentially, getting the right color is about getting the right colour temperature, which is measured in Kelvins. The higher the Kelvin the bluer the light, the lower it goes the more yellowy-orange it goes. In between we have set expectation of temperature color.

For example, Tungsten lights are at 3200K, Fluorescents 4,000K, camera flash units 5,900K. These are what your camera presets aim for.

To take control of the color temperatures, the white balance, you just need to understand the camera’s controls for doing this.

Cameras have 4 approaches to setting the color or white balance of your camera. There is the built-in Auto White Balance, the presets, the manual Kelvin setting dial and a white balance creation setting. What they all aim to do is correct the color so that a sheet of white paper looks white. Hence the term white balance.

The Auto White Balance, like most things auto, has the camera’s brains looking at the average color or the dominant color and deciding how to adjust the Kelvin to give a white light. Slight shifts in the light or what you aim your camera at, can cause occasional radical shifts in your color. Your camera probably comes from the store set to that. Not usually mentioned is this auto feature has a fixed area it can work in between 3000K and 7000K.

The Auto White Balance is the setting I hope to get you off of, for better color and personal control.

The Presets are actually fairly accurate. You usually find them on Menu or through the top of camera control settings. They are set for fixed lighting conditions, but will not take into account cross contamination of lighting. For example, a room lit by tungsten lights but with a window adding daylight to the room, a face lit this way will be a mix of blue and yellow light, most noticeable in the shadows.

Color balance samples

Mixed lighting aside, just look at your light source then set the dial. I use this in my studio; I have daylight balanced Profoto lights so my camera is set for Daylight. Just remember to change the dial as you change lighting conditions.

The challenge with the Presets is they are good for a very narrow conditions. If the Tungsten light is old or weak it will be more yellow than the Preset Tungsten can deal with. Daylight is good for the bright part of the day, but early morn or late evening when the colors are shifting will cause the camera to correct for the wrong color.

You see the color shifting more in the shadows than anywhere else. Still, Presets are way better than the Auto White Balance choice.

Usually, in that same dial is a Kelvin setting. When you turn to that preset your camera dial moves the temperature selection. Usually the photographer will use a Kelvin meter for setting the Kelvin to the metered number. You can also use this for a creative tool. For example if you want to saturate a sunset color, shift the dial to a cooler temperature and anything warm is intensified.

Finally, you have the Custom White Balance. This setting is usually found in your camera’s menu system. The way this works is you photograph either a grey card or some other white balance device. There is a huge number of offerings to choose from. Try searching for grey cards or white balance. Popular ones are WhiBal, X-rite Color Balance Passport, ExpoDisc and the Photovision One Shot Digital Calibration Target.

Here are the steps to setting up a Custom White Balance Setting

  • Set your camera to Custom White Balance.
  • Place your grey card beside or just in front of your subject. If you use something like ExpoDisc which caps the lens, aim it at your subject’s lights source from their position.
  • Put your lens on manual focus then fill your viewfinder with the grey card. Only the grey card should be in the frame. It can also be out of focus.
  • Press your Menu button then navigate into your Custom White Balance settings. Navigate to your captured image if it is not the image visible.
  • Press set then the OK. You might have to press set again.
  • You now have a custom white balance so shoot away. The Custom White Balance will stay in effect as long as you have the Custom White Balance selected.

Remember to turn the autofocus back on. The camera adjusts its setting so it “sees” that color as white. Keep in mind; it will continue to see that color as white until you take it off that white balance. This is the most accurate way to set the correct color balance.

You will need to change the setting with each color temperature change. You can have several as references though for lighting conditions you return to.

It is by far the most exacting way to approach getting the color temperature right when it really matters.

For the most part, if you take control of color temperature with the Presets, you should be in pretty good shape. The nice thing about shooting in Camera Raw is you can go back after the fact and change the light settings in camera raw. Not something you can do with JPG captures.

Using these controls and mastering them, you will see a vast improvement to the color of your images. All without much effort.


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