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)