The term “white balance” is used by photographers to describe the setting in their camera which helps the camera better understand what “white” really looks like. Remember that even though digital cameras are so advanced and have more intelligence than the computer on Apollo 13, the camera still doesn’t fully understand what white really is. A good camera will guess at adjusting colors so that white things look white, but often it fails to get it exactly right. White balance is a problem for all photographers, especially making white wedding dresses look white. Photographers, especially wedding photographers, almost always want white dresses to look white. That’s sometimes a problem as different lighting has different effects on images. For example, if you shoot a photograph under fluorescent lights and the camera is set to daylight (you’re telling it that you’re outside in the daylight) then the images will have a green cast, and if under regular lights, reddish. It’s not the end of the world as your camera can be set for auto-white balance and it will do its best to adjust itself with each shot. And there lies the problem for wedding photographers.
Back in the film days, we may have shot 350 photographs for the entire wedding and used either daylight or artificial light film. In this digital world, its now well over a thousand. And when the camera is constantly adjusting the white balance (imperfectly) the photographer has to spend many hours to adjust each and every photograph in software to make the whites, uniformly white.
An experienced photographer will use a white balance card, or other system to manually set the white balance for each constant scene. For example, during the formals the lighting and scene is almost identical. By setting a camera fixed white balance by photographing a special white, grey and black card, the camera will be stopped from making automatic adjustments as it wants to, requiring more post production work. Although auto white-balance is useful in some circumstances be sure to look for your photographer (preferably me) to have a white balance card or at least knows what you’re talking about. If you ask about this, and they hum and haw, it an omen… a bad omen.
Article used with attribution to Allan Levene Photography.