Photography mentoring Week 2 -artistic choices with white balance, metering modes and manual mode

Photography internship week 2 – metering and white balance artistic choices


To be honest a don’t give a lot of thought to setting white balance these days.  The auto white balance on my camera gets it pretty close most of the time and since I shoot mainly in RAW I often tweak it afterwards (in Lightroom) providing that I’ve remembered to stick the grey card in a shot somewhere.

However, Aiden the intern doesn’t have Lightroom (yet!). In fact I was amazed to find that he’s been doing all his editing of the jpegs produced on his Sony A6000 in the Windows 10 Photos ap – I didn’t even know that was possible!

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Screen shot – Windows 10 Photos Ap – Image of cat by Aiden which I rather like


Aiden had already identified colour shifts as an issue in some of his images and we decided to spend our week 2 session together in the back yard looking at the basic camera controls and discussing why they are used.

We started with white balance. Most cameras have a set of white balance options including and auto setting which I reckon most people leave it on 80% of the time.  But if you’re shooting jpegs there are situations in which you’ll want to adjust your white balance to match the light falling on your subject and ensure you get a accurate depiction of the scene in front of you. Photography Life has a great article on white balance so I won’t rehash it here but suffice to say that having a better understanding of the different colours of light and how to manage that for a natural looking image makes a massive difference to both the image and the amount of editing required. I’ve lent Aiden a grey card to use to set custom white balance in camera and I’m confident that this will make a big difference to his images. Compare the image below shot during our exercise with different white balance settings.

Personally I’m a bit less interested in getting accurate colour in my image and more interested in getting a colour that has the feeling I want.  I’m very happy to play with the white balance for effect and often end up with an image with a temperature that’s not at all ‘accurate’. For portraits in particular I tend towards the cooler side and I know landscape photographers that do the same.  So as I told Aiden, it’s another artist’s choice white balance, but just make sure you’re making that choice – whether in camera or in post-processing. Don’t let the camera decide it for you and don’t feel you have to always stick to the rules.

After spending some time playing with white balance and learning to set custom white balance with a grey card we started looking at metering modes – understanding of which is essential for shooting in manual mode which was something Aiden wanted to explore.  I must add here that I used to be told pretty frequently that pro photographers only shoot in manual and you’re not doing it properly if you’re not.  I’ve since learnt that this is bollox!  There are some situations where aperture priority or shutter priority are by far the best options and while it’s true that very few (if any?) good photographers leave it in auto mode all the time – manual mode is not the only good option.  However, since we were talking about artist’s decisions and the fact that ‘perfect’ exposure might not always make the best image and the camera isn’t a perfect judge of what you’re trying to create with it – a look at manual mode was a good idea.

Once we finally figured out how the exposure scale worked in manual on the Sony (I’d heard the menus where ‘tricky’ and the viewfinder ‘informative’ but honestly Sony – get someone to sort it out – there’s no way I’m moving to a Sony system until you fix that mess!) we worked through the different metering modes and how they work.  I’m mainly a spot meter user. I find it easiest to aim my centre focus point at a part of my composition that I want to be medium exposed, and then adjust iso, aperture and shutter speeds from there to get the exposure I want.  There’s a good explanation of metering modes at Photographers Connection so no need for me to waffle on about it but the interesting thing about the discussion was the fact that again I found myself talking about artistic decision making.  I realised how much I deliberately make changes away from what the camera thinks is a perfect exposure, to get the mood or look I’m after.  Don’t get me wrong I need to know what the camera thinks is a good exposure – unlike my father-in-law who taught photography with film, with no in-camera metering and certainly no exposure guide, and who just knows what ratios of shutter speed, aperture and iso will make a correct exposure – I cannot hold all that in my head and I do not own a light meter.  But I rarely leave the little white arrow in the ‘happy place’ on the scale – I find that really dull!

I do subscribe to the idea of exposing to the right to ensure you capture enough data to allow you to make good edits in post-processing and I do this for landscapes routinely, but I don’t always do it.  Sometimes I know I want it dark and moody and I don’t want to spend ages editing it so I just aim for a left leaning histogram.  Again – it’s all about making choices and as you get used to how what the camera tells you relates to your final image, via the processing then you get to a point where you make better choices at the time of shooting.  There’s no substitute for practice with your camera and I dread the thought of a new camera and having to learn it over again – who has time for that!

So Aiden’s next assignment was to get some practice in manual mode, with white balance and trying different metering.  He had a trip to Spain and a gig photographing a local triathlon and he bravely gave the manual a go and felt the terror as clouds passed over the sun and evening started to come on.  I’ve got to say though he did amazingly well and just from talking to him it’s clear he’s learnt a lot about artistic decision making.

Here’s one of my favourites from his trip to Spain, in addition to the cat above which is also pretty cool!


A post shared by Aiden Steele (@steele_imagery) on


Coming up next time – Aiden gets a great opportunity and the hard truth about curating your images!


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