White balance for the human eye

JohnJohn Posts: 134Member
edited March 2013 in Nikon DSLR cameras
We all know the use of the white balance feature on our digital cameras.
It’s designed to remove color casts created by colored light sources.
So, the red hue created by a slowly smoldering fire or the orange tint from a incandescent light can be removed and the image will look like it was shot with pure, white light.
(We can also use white balance to artificially alter the tint of our photographs; giving them a warmer or cooler tint)
However, what if we don’t want to remove the color cast but represent it as accurately as possible?

Allow me to illustrate with an example…

Let’s consider a red, smoldering fire in a stove as the only lightsource in our image.
To our eyes, the scene looks a deep, ruby red.
Now if we were to use a grey card and use that to calibrate the white balance of our camera, the red cast would be removed and everything would look like it was lit by white light.
Very handy, but what if we don’t want to remove the color cast? What if we want to recreate what our eyes saw?
How should we then go about setting our white balance?
Another way to put the question would be: “What white balance should I use to reproduce what my eyes see?”.
I myself tend to use daylight white balance as a starting point and do fine adjustments in lightroom/photoshop until I’m happy with the results but I’d like a less arbitrary solution.
(A bit like working with a grey card removes the guess work from removing color casts)


  • CorrelliCorrelli Posts: 135Member
    I don't think you can really set the white balance to what your eyes see as there is a lot of psychology involved as well. We know the fire is red so we link this to what we see - but at the same time we can still see colors mostly as they are because our eyes have done the white balance.

    The best way would be to shoot in RAW format, adjust the first image from your series in post (e.g. LR, ACR or Aperture) and then copy these settings to the rest of your series.

    I also use daylight or flash as default and fix this in post if I want to. The important thing is to use RAW.
  • MsmotoMsmoto Posts: 5,396Moderator
    edited March 2013
    I rarely if ever alter the white balance in camera. I think it is on auto. Instead, i decide on what I want the final image to be. Usually, I tend to the warm side. But, in product shots, the color of the package is important. If shooting under fluorescent lights, the line spectrum of most of these will cause problems requiring post processing correction and as is often the case, even within a single room, the colors of he fluorescent tubes may vary.

    Also, the amount of color, tonal range, all are important in providing an image which looks "Like you saw it". And, our mind's ability to remember a color is almost zero. We may think we can do this, but so many factors are present and lighting conditions are so variable, we just do not have that ability in most cases. This is my experience from hundreds of examples during the time I was asked to produce exact color in prints of various products.

    Oh, yes, RAW, unless HDR in camera is used.
    Post edited by Msmoto on
    Msmoto, mod
  • sevencrossingsevencrossing Posts: 2,800Member
    edited March 2013
    As others have said
    Shoot RAW and adjust in post
    shooting a grey card , at the start of the shoot ,will help you adjust the WB to a know standard, that you can then modify
    Post edited by sevencrossing on
  • JohnJohn Posts: 134Member
    Thanks everyone.
    That's the way how I've been doing it so far (shooting raw with auto or daylight white balance and then adjusting until it looked right/looked the way I want it to look and feel).
  • GabGab Posts: 63Member
    The human eye/brain cheats in ways thats really hard to mimic, when it comes to white balance. What I mean is, white will look/feel white even at dusk, while vegetation and other non whites will have a golden/orange color cast. This effect can be had in post processing, but the white balance slider alone won't cut it.
  • obajobaobajoba Posts: 206Member
    I sometimes use a ColorChecker Passport which allows LightRoom + the plug-in to quickly set the white balance and the color profile, then I can apply that to all of the photos in the set. It literally takes less than 2 minutes total time and has helped me quite a bit.
    D4 | 70-200 2.8 VR | 24-70 2.8 | TC-17e II
  • MikeGunterMikeGunter Posts: 543Member

    The notion of White Balance is to set the color for the human eye in a generic sense.

    If you want to set it to "your human eye", (this works best in Live View) select "K" for White Balance, with the Main Command Dial (on the back), and using the Sub Command Dial (on the front) dial in the color you find most suiting to you. The "K" will remain that color temperature for you until reset or changed.

    My best,

  • mikepmikep Posts: 280Member
    if uve ever been skiing with tinted goggles, you know the human eye certainly does have a color balance of sorts. i had pink goggles, when you put them on everything looked pink, pink snow, pink clouds etc, a very noticeable pink tinge across everything, which would gradually fade to look totally normal after 1 or 2 minutes. taking the goggles off afterwards had the opposite, a kind of green tinge for a minute or so until everything went back to normal

    im sure that our eyes adjust depending on the color of the light just as cameras need to. since light sources have color tints, how could it be any other way ? its all done by brain isnt it ?
  • MikeGunterMikeGunter Posts: 543Member
    Hi all,

    @mikep, I've certainly been skiing and know what you mean, but it's not the same thing. I use to take my students at least twice each semester to make snowboard movies; that was when I had knees.

    And I think you misunderstood what I was saying. Color balance is set for specific color temperatures that are set to a scale of ranges. Those ranges have been in use for as long as color film has been sold.

    Wiki's table of Temperature's is pretty good.


    The fact that the 'quality' of light changes is what makes light exciting.

    You can influence light with filtration, reflection or in post, but temperature has an objective or known quantity not to be confused with it's quality.

    My best,


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