This morning, as a dull sun creeps without warmth across the garden, the rain is coming down in noisy jets, crashing and dashing indiscriminately, and air isn’t so much full of moisture but decidedly drinkable. Yesterday was much calmer, an ice-edge broken with twinkling afternoon sunbeams. And I took myself off to the wonderful, glorious, colour-laden Cannizaro Park, on the farside of the Common to learn how to balance white or, as I discovered, for a science lesson in the temperature of colour. I had envisaged sitting on the pretty terrace at the back of the elegant hotel, Cannizaro House, being served strong coffee and sheltered from the wind, the vista over the Park laid out before me, but only two steps from roaring fire and well-stocked bar but my luck was out. The terrace was closed, the ubiquitous summer parasols each rendered pointless by leather strapping around their furls and the tables and chairs stacked and packed away against the wall. Disappointed but undeterred I stomped over the gentle rise of the lawns, cornered round the lakes and, after taking a small detour through the Italian garden, found myself on a bench in a clearing in a wild garden area, overlooked by trees but no people, other than perhaps the occasional golfer: the Royal Wimbledon Golf Course kisses the edges of Cannizaro.

Down to work. Camera installed on tripod, notebook in hand, I turned to the second Chapter One assignment in Jeff Revel’s From Snapshots to Great Shots, which is specifically written for those who dream of their Canon EOS 600D (Rebel T3i) turning them into a proper photographer.

The book says “Take your camera outside”. Check! Then “Use a daylight environment”. Check! (doing well so far, confidence growing…). Then “Photograph the same scene twice using different white balance settings”, paying close attention to how each setting affects the overall colour cast. Okay, confidence shattered as a brief refresher on how to adjust the white balance settings is required. Then after than I stick my camera into “P mode” and go for it. This is what I got.

This first shot was taken with the white balance set to “auto”.

Obviously, “auto”, the setting with which the first shot was taken, is the default for my camera. Looks okay-ish. At this point I realise I could have chosen a more appealing, better composed, picture. But, recalling the advice of another digital photography book to persist and practice, I decide that as I’ve started now, I’m not going to stop. The second image was taken with a “daylight” setting.

Same shot using the daylight setting

I confess, I can’t see much difference and I can see a change, I prefer the first image, which is strange because “daylight” would seem to be the ‘right’ setting the shot was taken in daylight. But press on (pun intended). Perhaps the “shade” setting will be better. I am, after all, surrounded by trees, although sunlight remains the dominant light source.

Taken in P mode with White Balance set to “shade”

This third shot, taken using the “shade” white balance setting, seems much more pleasing to me, capturing far more accurately the dying autumn colours I’m seeing around me. Perhaps I am in shade after all, and this is setting I should use in this sort of semi-sunlight. Although not directly in the shade of Cannizaro’s trees, it is a dull day and we’re long way from bright sunlight. Okay, confidence eeking back.

According to Revell, the Cloudy setting is best for overcast and very cloudy days. So flick the white balance to cloudy, and a fourth image arrives on the little screen.

Cloudy White Balance

I struggle to detect a tonal difference between the image taken with the “shady” setting and that taken with the “cloudy” setting, but perhaps there is a little more depth to the yellow of the leaves. I flick the settings to “tungsten white balance” for the next one, hopeful of achieving greater differentiation so that I can begin to get to grips with this colour cast stuff.

Using Tungsten White Balance

Wow! What a difference. Even my uneducated eye can see that this setting has given a cold, blueish wash to my picture. It makes it look as though the picture was taken in the depths of winter rather than in fading autumnal afternoon sunlight. Clearly not the right setting to capture fall colours. It’s harsh, chilly, colourless and dull.

White Fluorescent produces an unpleasant blueish tinge

I get a similar, blueish, almost grainy result with the White Fluorescent setting and while yellows are rendered truer than in the tungsten shot, the greens are too opaque. Finally, I set the White Balance to “flash” (despite the fact that much of the shot will be beyond the range of the in-camera flash).

The result surprises me. Back is the green grass and yellow leaves. And after much deliberation I decide I like the last one best, as is captures most closely what I’m actually seeing in front of me.

The images shown here are as they were downloaded from the camera. I haven’t done any processing or editing in ACDSee.

White Balance set to Flash

I then changed location and moved deeper into the woods and repeated the exercise with the autumn leaves I found there.  

The thumbnails below show the results.

Taken with White Balance set to Auto

Taken with White Balance set to Daylight

Taken with White Balance Shade



White Fluorescent