The White Balance Difference: how to take pictures at night that aren’t yellow

I can’t tell you the number of times I shouted in glee this holiday season “squee! another great shot! Check out the bokeh!” or “Look at the crisp, vivid color of this shot!” or “Wow! I can’t believe how focused I can be on exactly what I want now!” You get my point, right? Photography lessons with the DSLR brought me a long way this fall. And love all I’ve learned and am learning. Over vacation, I learned something new: how to get the yellow, sierra tone out of pictures taken at night, by setting custom white balance.


But one thing I noticed happened often, my camera wasn’t doing well at night, inside the house. Everything I read said to avoid the flash, but how could I avoid using the flash if everything turned out so dark, so yellow, so brown and blah and colorless? I couldn’t just ignore the night and only take pictures during the day, right?

While wasting time on Pinterest, I clicked through on a few pins with guidance for taking pictures at Christmas. Before long, I took out my camera and began shooting ornaments, needles, gifts and more. But each image looked almost like it had a sierra filter.


This is a tip that wasn’t taught in the introductory course of Clickin’ Moms, but definitely a quick and easy one for a beginner to pick up. Because I’m not super-camera-savvy (yet) I’m going to recommend you pick up your camera manual and do a simple experiment. You’ll also need your DSLR camera, a subject to shoot, interior lighting and a little white piece of paper (I recently used a paper towel. Believe me, anything white will work.)

At night, while inside, with your camera in any mode that isn’t auto (so Program, Av, Manual… whatever is your favorite), take a picture of your subject. Get as close as you’d like, and work on some of the many camera skills you’ve learned in the past (composition, clarity, focus, ISO…) After you’ve taken a few shots, follow the instructions in your camera manual to set up white balance. (Ideally, you’ll switch from AWB–auto white balance– to Custom white balance, or CWB.) Follow the simple steps to switch. You’ll need to take a picture of the white paper and “set” the CWB to recognize that as white. I can’t tell you how to do it, because each camera is different, so rely on your camera instruction guide.

Now that your camera is set for custom white balance, take the same pictures of your subject. Compare your before and after shots and squee with me–wasn’t that simple? No flash and the colors are true to life.

Books for learning more about using your digital camera:

© 2014, Julie Meyers Pron. All rights reserved.

About Julie Meyers Pron

Julie Meyers Pron has written 1572 post at Julieverse.

mom of 3 and wife, Julie is a former elementary school teacher and a Public Relations manager. She is the owner/editor of Julieverse and VlogMom, columnist for Rusty & Rosy, Home Made Simple and P&G Everyday, the Social Media and Child Development Specialist at PlayWow, and a team member of Splash Creative Media. Julie is a PTOer, volunteer, elementary educator and that's just the beginning of the list. A marketing strategist and freelance writer by trade, Julie attempts to carve out time to enjoy playing with her kids, cooking and exercise.


    • says

      Great question. It’s going to depend on your individual camera how to set the CWB, so you really need to refer to your camera guide, but I added this to the next to last paragraph in the post to begin to explain…

      You’ll need to take a picture of the white paper and “set” the CWB to recognize that as white. I can’t tell you how to do it, because each camera is different, so rely on your camera instruction guide.

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