How To Use White Balance For Colorful Creativity

Color provides one of the best ways to be creative with our photographs. Before you reach for the Saturation or Vibrance sliders in Lightroom, think about how to use white balance for colorful creativity.

The Emotional Impact of Color

Our photos can do much more than document where we were or what happened. They can enlighten and inform, but the deepest impact comes when they also entertain.

Your mind has some visual triggers that make it pay attention. You're naturally drawn to the brightest object. Contrast makes images pop out at us. Complementary colors create a type of contrast that your mind finds satisfying, even if you don't think about the reasons why the colors work together.

Different colors bring about emotional cues.  For example,

  • BLUE – Trust, Tranquility, Integrity, Security, Peace, Intelligence
  • RED – Love, Desire, Passion, Strength, Power, Energy
  • GREEN – Money, Environment, Freshness, Healing
  • YELLOW – Warm, Happy, Bright, Sunny, Joy
  • BLACK – Distinction, Elegance, Classy, Formality
  • WHITE – Innocence, Purity, Clean, Goodness

You experience different moods and emotions based upon color. As a photographer, you have an opportunity to use color as part of your toolkit to make an impactful image.

There's no need to wait until post processing. You can change your white balance in the camera to insert some colorful creativity at the point of capture.

Using White Balance Creatively In Camera

Most of the time, the human eye is better than the camera. One exception comes about during low light. We don't see as many colors as our cameras, which is why we're used to seeing “Blue Hour” photos like this one.

How To Use White Balance For Colorful Creativity

Leave your camera's White Balance settings on Auto and you'll get an image like the one above.

With a quick change to Daylight White Balance, we get something like the image below.

How To Use White Balance For Colorful Creativity

Compare the two photos and think about how they make you feel. One has a cool tone and the other is much warmer.

Use White Balance To Add Energy

As much as we all like to get it right in camera, sometimes your camera just can't deal with the lighting. Stage shows can be a challenge for any photographer.

You have to keep up with the action to make your composition and also deal with constantly changing lighting conditions. It's rewarding and frustrating at the same time.

Here's an example of a photo I took at Club Tropicana in Cuba, as it appeared with the camera's White Balance setting.

How To Use White Balance For Colorful Creativity

The lighting was constantly changing colors. There just wasn't a way to set a white balance that could deal with the changing conditions.

Fortunately, we can still make some changes after the fact in Lightroom. Take a look at the photo after I moved the Temp slider all the way to the right.

How To Use White Balance For Colorful Creativity

We end up with a much better color balance. We effectively cut out the color cast on the dancer's skin and clothing, yet we retain the cool and warm tones in the background.

The result gives us a much better image with contrasting color on both sides of the image.

Two Points of Control With White Balance

As you've seen here, there are two points of control to use white balance for colorful creativity.

The first instance is with your camera settings when you take the shot. This is often your best option. In fact, it may be your only option when you start adding color to your light sources.

Many photographers know how to use color contract by setting a cool White Balance and then adding an orange gell (CTO) over their flash. The idea works great for portraits. Your subject keeps warm skin tones and color contrast helps them pop from the cool background.

The second instance is in post processing. Sometimes we look at our photos as we shot them and they seem a different than we remember. That's OK. It's why we use post processing tools.

White balance can do more than make sure that we have the correct colors of a scene. It can make sure we set the mood in a scene. The correct white balance is the one that tells the story you want to tell, even it doesn't look quite the way your remember it.

Your viewer wasn't there when you captured the photo. Why not explore your options? Use white balance for colorful creativity and show your best work.