When White isn’t White

I recently had a friend tell me they were going to get a different digital camera because the color was never right on theirs. Things just didn't look right to them, everything was too orange, or too blue. That's caused by a setting called 'White Balance'. Most of us see what we think we see, not what's really there. Cameras sometimes show us a reality that isn't quite what we remember (or want to remember!) Our eyes and brain compensate for the color of the light surrounding us by telling us what we should see, so unless we're paying close attention we don't realize that what we recognize as white is actually a bit blue because it's in the shade behind the house. In technical terms, it's called color temperature, and it's measured by something called the 'Kelvin Scale'. You've noticed color temperature before in the last light of the evening, when everything is warm and glowing, or indoors under fluorescent lights, where everyone looks sick. Your camera may just have an auto white balance setting, in which the camera chooses, or settings you can adjust manually. If you forget and need to adjust the pictures you've already taken, you may be able to fix it in your photo editing software. Sometimes you can have different colors of light in the same picture, like light from a window and light from a tungsten bulb that casts a yellow light, or the blue light of a flash. If the different colors really bother you, you can always just make your picture black and white for a simple fix. I'm going to use a picture of some white wildflowers here so you can see the difference in the different settings. This picture was taken in daylight in the sunshine, so the correct setting was direct sunlight.
taken in direct sunlight
The same exact shot taken at the shade setting is very golden, almost sepia, and you could do this on purpose for artistic effect. shade setting in daylight The incandescent setting, on the other hand, makes the picture very blue, because it's designed to compensate for the very yellow light of a tungsten bulb.
same shot, incandescent setting
It used to be that you had to buy various films to enhance certain lighting, or change filters on your camera. Now we have an amazing amount of choices at the push of a button, or with a few clicks of a mouse to fix what we already did. So if the colors look strange in your pictures, look for the white balance setting and give it a spin!