Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Eeeekkkk! My Picture is Orange!

We have all seen them.  We have probably all taken them at one time or another.  Those pictures of the inside of a home that come out all orange, or those of the outside of the home that turn out all blue.  Now, I realize that it's fall and Halloween is just around the corner and orange is a big color for the season, but it is just plain scary when your photos turn out that color.  So, how to fix this little horror?

Kitchen photo with incandescent bulbs
This kitchen has mostly incandescent bulbs
White balance.  What is this 'white balance' you ask?  Without getting all technical about it, the simplest explanation is that light (sunlight, cloudy day light, incandescent and florescent light, those blasted squiggly bulbs) has different temperatures and different temps photograph different colors.  This is why interior photos have a tendency to turn out orange.  Incandescent lights are a very cool temperature and therefore photograph orange.

Think of a fire in your fireplace.  The hottest part of the flame is closest to the wood and is usually blue in color, but as the flame moves outward, away from the log, it turns to shades of yellow and finally orange at the tip where it is coolest.  Light color is much the same way.  The sun is an extremely hot light source and photographs blue while incandescent bulbs in your house are very cool and photograph orange.  Florescent light is sneaky because its color often depends on the type of gas in the bulb, but most commonly is either green or pink.

So, back to our original question, how to fix it?  Your camera has a setting called White Balance; this is where you want to go.  This setting tells your camera that it needs to adjust the color to compensate for an unusual situation.  Check your owners manual to determine exactly where to find it in your menu, but it should be relatively easy to get to.  In most newer cameras the auto setting is adequate, but there are occasions that it just doesn't get it, like when your photos turn orange or blue.  In this case, there are several options for choosing a white balance based on your conditions.  If you are inside and the room has incandescent bulbs, choose the incandescent setting, if the room has florescent bulbs, choose the florescent setting, etc.  Many cell phones even have some options now.  There will also be settings for outdoors on a sunny day or an overcast day, or for in the shade on a sunny day, as well as some other choices including an option for a custom setting.  Now, if you are serious about photography, then learning to take a custom white balance is important.  But for this post, lets just stick with the preset options.

Staircase with dominate natural light
This was lit with mostly natural light from the opposing windows
Here's the catch.  When you move from inside to outside, or the other way around, make sure you change your white balance back or your photo will turn out really scary!  Also, be aware of whether or not you flash is firing and how much.  Flash adds blue.

So, there you have it.  The fix is simple, just adjust the white balance setting in your camera and wow your friends with your deep photographic knowledge.  Then send them your copy of the picture, cause theirs turned out orange.

If you have questions, or want to know more about custom white balance, leave me a comment or send me a message and I will get back to you.  Hey, if there is enough interest, maybe I will even do a blog!

Check out the previous blog in this series on Digital Zoom.