How to Get Great Colors With Your DSLR?

Did you skip the section about ‘White Balance’ in your digital SLR’s manual when you bought it?

I definitely did, but I want to show you how an understanding of white balance can make a huge difference in the way your digital photos turn out.
<h2 class=”content-page”>White Balance and the Blue Lagoon</h2>
I’ll use the photo above as an example. This shot was taken at one of the most beautiful lagoons I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world. My friends and I were on a sea kayaking trip in Palawan and we stopped here for lunch and to do a bit of snorkeling.

As Kristen and Kris (pictured above) were swimming around in the sapphire-blue water, I was trying to capture the scene. I thought the shots had turned out great until I got them home to my computer. The colors just didn’t match the brilliance of what I remembered from being there. At the time, I thought it was because I was using a relatively inexpensive digital SLR (the Canon Rebel XT).
<h2 class=”content-page”>Why RAW Format Matters for White Balance</h2>
In fact, the problem was white balance, but I didn’t take the time to learn about it for another two years. Luckily for me, everything I shot during that time with my Canon Rebel XT was captured in the camera RAW format, and I was able to go back to all those photos and correct the white balance as if I was still standing there in the lagoon with Kris and Kristen.

Then I could see what a huge difference white balance can make. When you compare the two versions, the original (shot with the camera’s auto white balance setting) looks like it has a layer of sickly yellow cellophane over it. The white-balanced version captures the amazing colors of the gin-clear water and the cobalt sky.
Today, I still shoot only RAW format with the white balance on my camera set to ‘auto’. Once I import the new shots into Adobe Lightroom, I adjust the white balance to bring out the colors that I envisioned in the shot.

Pretty simple, but for me it’s one of the most important reasons to shoot in the RAW format. Yes, you can make white balance adjustments to a JPEG, but the results will never be as good. When you’re working with a RAW image, it is literally as if you’re back at the location of your photo and customizing the white balance on your camera. The quality of your final image exported from RAW will be much, much better than if you started with a JPEG that has already had white balance adjustments permanently saved to it by the camera.

<h2 class=”content-page”>Learning more about Post-Production</h2>

And if you’re new to post-processing of your images, I’d recommend you check out some of the great Photoshop and Lightroom tutorials at And as a member of my site, you can sign up for a free 24-hour pass if you visit this link. I’d recommend Chris Orwig’s “<a href=””>Photoshop CS5 for Photographers</a>” or “<a href=””>Photoshop CS4 for Photographers</a>”. I’d also recommend checking out Chris Orwig’s “<a href=””>Photoshop Lightroom 2 Essential Training</a>” to get a great overview of Lightroom and how to use white balance to get the best colors from your photos.

What about you? Do you adjust the white balance in your photos?


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