Have you ever taken a picture only to find that it is too yellow or too blue? Maybe the colors just look off and not quite how they looked when you took the picture. Most of the time this is due to a white balance issue. When you shoot in manual you get to choose the white balance settings. So let's see how white balance can affect your photos!
1. What is white balance?
White balance is the color temperature of light, or as I like to think of it the color tone of light. Different light sources have different temperatures. Indoor lighting like household lamps are often tungsten - they put off a yellow tone. Fluorescent lights put off a blue/purple tone.
2. When shooting in manual, try setting your camera to AWB (auto white balance)
Just like ISO, cameras handle white balance differently. Keeping your camera in AWB (auto white balance) works well especially if you shoot in RAW. I almost always keep my camera's white balance set to AWB for a few reasons...
1) my camera handles white balance well
2) I'm usually shooting fast and don't want to fuss with setting my white balance constantly
3) I shoot in RAW and edit white balance later, if needed
But that is just me, everyone will have a different preference when it comes to white balance. In the photo example above, the image is shot in AWB.
3. If AWB doesn't cut it, you're shooting in JPG or working in a specific light, pick a specific white balance setting
Sometimes you need to set the white balance for the situation you're in (like low light, inside with tungsten, etc.) Just remember to reset to AWB when done - otherwise you may take a ton of pictures out in the sun only to realize later that everything is blue. This is very important if you're shooting in JPG - because it's hard (and often impossible) to fix white balance in editing. If you're shooting RAW files, you have the ability and flexibility to fix things like white balance after the fact.
4. Cameras feature custom white balance settings
These advanced settings can be created using a grey card. Honestly I have never fussed with custom white balance.
Here are examples of how different white balance settings can affect your photo:
Piggy was photographed outside in even shade and for this, AWB worked pretty good. To give you an idea how WB settings in camera can affect your picture, I took a picture of piggy with the different WB settings on my camera. Some will look really bad because that wasn't the proper WB for the light situation I was shooting in. Notice that in this example the "shade" setting looks best. That was the lighting I was shooting in. Flash comes up a close second but is slightly more blue in tone.
So remember the next time you are shooting in manual, take into consideration the white balance setting. If your camera handles AWB (auto white balance) well and you decide to shoot in RAW then great. If it doesn't (or you want to shoot in JPG) simply choose the proper white balance setting for the light you're shooting in. Don't forget to keep an eye on your white balance settings - when you set it, it stays that way until you change it again.