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The human eye can easily adapt to different light conditions so that objects maintain their ‘true’ color. If we look at a blue ball, for example, we see the same shade of blue indoors and outdoors and under cloudy or sunny conditions.
In fact, each type of light amplifies a certain color in the spectrum. What we consider to be ‘white’ light only occurs during the noon hours of a clear day. Sunlight in the early evening or late afternoon gives everything a reddish tint, and cloudy days bring out the blue end of the spectrum.
Each type of artificial light also has a particular color cast. Incandescent lighting is yellowish and fluorescent lighting can be either blue or green.
All of these different lighting conditions affect the color balance in photographs.
Most digital cameras allow you to adjust the color balance for different types of light. This can be done manually or automatically, although the automatic settings can produce uneven results from one picture to another.
Manual settings can be done by selecting a preset such as ‘sunlight’ or ‘cloudy’, but these settings can be fine-tuned to match very specific lighting conditions.
Color balance is achieved by adjusting the camera so that ‘white’ is truly ‘white’. Once the camera is set to correctly reproduce white, the other colors should appear to be their natural shade. This can be quickly checked by looking through the viewfinder of your digital camera. Holding up a piece of white paper in front of the camera will allow you to see whether it is the correct shade or not.
Some cameras can be set this way — place a sheet of white paper in front of the viewfinder and select ‘Auto Correct’.
Remember that the presets are general guidelines and may not be suitable for every type of lighting condition. If your camera has a setting for florescent lights, for example, it may still require further tweaking to get the correct color balance.
Although it is best to try to get the proper color balance when you are taking photographs, the color of an image can also be adjusted using software. This should not be thought of as an alternative to proper color balancing, but it can be used to good effect on some digital images.
Some computer software can automatically adjust color as well as brightness and contrast. Start out with these ‘auto’ settings — sometimes the results can be surprisingly good.
If you wish to adjust the color manually, some knowledge of the physics of color is necessary. All color is made up of the three primary colors — red, green, and blue. Three other colors called the ‘subtractive primary colors’ are obtained by removing one of the primary colors where the other two are mixed. The three subtractive primary colors are yellow, cyan, and magenta.
This knowledge of how colors interact allows you to correct improper color balances. For example, if an image is too red, adding some cyan (the opposite of red) can help to naturalize the color.
Software can also be used to adjust color intensity. Subtle use of imaging software can help to turn good photographs into great photographs.