How to Get Superb Color in Your Photography

Color accuracy is one of the most important aspects of photography. A big part of this is getting accurate white balance. White balance relates to the overall color hue in your images. Even a minor modification of color tone can mean a huge impact on all your photos.

White balance is important in portraiture, because it means accurate skin tones. If it is not set to an accurate setting then skin tones may seem slightly blue, greenish, or pink. It does not matter whether or not skin tone is light or dark. If your white balance is inappropriate for your shoot, you will find dissatisfying results.

color photography tips

Photo by Valerie.

White Balance Presets

There are different white balance settings on your digital camera. These are called presets. Presets are designed to adjust your photos to a certain hue. For example, there is a preset called daylight. Daylight is designed to reproduce the color temperature at noon. The light at midday looks very different from the light in the late hours of daylight. If you would like a color temperature consistent with daylight hue then simply change the white balance preset to the daylight setting. If you like your images to look warm then you may select cloudy or shade in your white balance presets.

Color Temperature

Before I go on any further let me delve a little deeper. White balance is connected with color temperature. Color temperature is related to the certain type of hue in your photos. The light at various times of day will give you different hues. Some of these hues are appropriate for particular subjects and not others. That’s why, when you select differences in your white balance presets, your whole photograph looks distinctive to the one before.

colorful photos

Photo by Bardia Photography; f/8, 1/320-second exposure.

Color temperature does not mean Celsius or Fahrenheit. color temperature relates to the color of light. When the light seems to be fairly white you can say it is reminiscent of daylight color temperature. Camera manufacturers created a white balance preset to mimic this daylight temperature. Color temperature simply relates to the color of the light you are shooting in.

To simplify this, let’s just say you are photographing a scene at 2:30 in the afternoon. There is a strong breeze that’s pushing the clouds across the sky quite rapidly. As a result, the light changes every few minutes. One minute you are photographing in full sunlight. The next minute you are working in overcast light. The color temperature of these two lighting conditions is very different. So how can you get precise color in different light? The answer is to do a custom white balance.

Custom White Balance

Custom white balance is designed for the unique light you are photographing in. This means that even if you have varying light, you can still have very accurate color. Creating custom white balance is done using a color checker reference tool, such as a gray card. A gray card is simply a small card that communicates to the camera where middle gray is. Once the camera knows where middle gray is, it understands where all the other colors are. By photographing in this way, you are telling it to locate all the other colors around this spot. The way to set white balance is to shoot your gray card.

Once you photograph the gray card you can then adjust your white balance setting to custom. The camera will then ask you if you want to use that image as a color reference for all the photos from now on. Once you select yes, the magic begins. You will see authentic color in all your photos.

Changing your white balance may differ from camera to camera. It’s crucial to check your camera instruction manual to see how to do this. I know where the controls are on the Canon 5D but I am unfamiliar with where they are on a Nikon. I trust that the process is quite alike from manufacturer to manufacturer.

Shooting with a gray card is an essential part of your color management workflow. Color management is one of the unsung heroes of photography. It is vital with all the photographing that you do. You will be able to get correct color in your brighter areas, midtones, and shadows. No longer will your whites look off-white or your deep blacks look dark gray.

If you set white balance to suit the available light, you will find that white actually appears like a sharp and crisp white. Once you find that your color management has been done properly, achieving accurate, clear, and beautiful color will become as simple as pressing the shutter button.

About the Author:
Amy Renfrey writes for She’s photographed many things from famous musicians (Drummers for Prince and Anastasia) to weddings and portraits of babies. Amy also teaches photography online to her students.

Like This Article?

Don't Miss The Next One!

Join over 100,000 photographers of all experience levels who receive our free photography tips and articles to stay current:


  1. Lenny says:

    Why not shoot RAW and set the WB in LR or Photoshop?

  2. I’ve read about the mysterious “gray card” years ago but did not understand the importance as you explained so well. The only part you left out of the discussion was “where do I get the gray card”. If it were so important (and I think it is) one would think there would be one provided with the camera as an accessory. For example – a lense cover that doubles as a gray card.

  3. Jeffe Portland says:

    “For example – a lense cover that doubles as a gray card.”


  4. Dear AMY,
    Thanks for a good & helpful article.
    I wish to add that as a rule I always shoot with ISO preset at Color Temperature 5500K and I get very ‘true to life’ colors. Even the black & white images come out very good at this setting.

    Krishna Kumar

  5. Tea says:

    computer monitor might also play a role

Leave a Comment

Personalize your comment with an avatar from!

Prove Your Humanity * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

New! Want more photography tips? We now offer a free newsletter for photographers:

No, my photos are the best, close this forever