The Time I Realized the Importance of White Balance on my Phone’s Camera

 

As I stepped into the centuries-old premises of the Modhera Sun Temple in Gujarat, my photography instincts went through a period of ecstasy. I was truly overwhelmed by the visuals of those fine archaic carvings around me. Naturally, I reached out to my pockets, brought my phone up, double-tapped the power button to launch the camera app, and went into an audacious shooting mode (read that as an annoying and feisty to other people near me).

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Teeming with an ambition to garner Instagram likes and followers, I pointed my phone at every angle possible at the sculptures. Ten minutes in, I had more than fifty photographs ready to hit the editing phase. But as soon as I fired up the gallery app to view them, I realized none of them had proper colors and most of them were dramatically different to what my eyes saw. The image attached below is one of the shots I had.

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Now, don’t get me wrong here. I did make sure while shooting that the exposure was spot on and the focus was not off. But since there were too many light sources to consider, the phone’s automatic setting couldn’t figure out the right ambiance for those pictures. That’s when it hit me – my phone’s camera app had a dedicated option for tuning the white balance. I didn’t quite understand at that time which preset should I shoot with. Hence, I tried them all, previewed the shots and settled on one. The manual setting allowed the sensor to yield photographs with significantly more accurate colors. I clicked a similar photograph and this is what I got.

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As clearly apparent from both of these pictures, the latter one precisely represents the actual colors of the temple’s copper-colored interiors. The former shot, on the contrary, has a thick layer of a pale and bright shade which is nowhere close to reality.

So why did this happen? The reason is that different light sources have varying color temperatures based on what object they’re projected on. For instance, a Fluorescent lighting adds a bluish cast to the scene. Our eyes are designed to automatically adjust to this. Camera sensors, while programmed to assist in the best way possible, cannot always produce the most precise output.

 

The process of eliminating these unnatural color casts is what we refer to as “White Balance” (WB). It is devised mainly so that objects which appear white in person are rendered white in your photo. In most scenarios, your camera can evaluate itself and come up with true-to-life shots. However, there are times when the view is being affected by multiple or complicated light sources. To counter such cases, manufacturers offer a manual White Balance setting.

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Most phones include a couple of presets to choose from — Automatic, Cloudy, Sunny, Fluorescent, and Tungsten. The last one — Tungsten is primarily for indoor environments illuminated with a regular bulb and it basically cools down the warm colors in your photos. For the aforementioned shots, I switched from the Automatic mode to Sunny as it was 2 PM and the sun’s acute rays which creating a havoc for the phone’s sensor. Once enabled, the camera was able to tone down the impact of various light sources and fabricate a considerably more realistic picture.

The best way to master these presets is to practice and try each and every one of them next time you fire up the camera. At least, that’s how I did it. Post this incident, I learned the lack of White Balance knowledge had previously too ruined a ton of my shots. Now, along with the exposure and focus, I’ve added White Balance as well to my checkup phase before capturing the photograph and you should too.

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