If you are familiar with digital cameras at all, you should have at least heard about “white balance.” Your camera’s manual should tell you more about your particular camera’s features. White balance is a feature that allows you to correct the color temperature of the light so that the whites are white.
Outside, at different times of the day, the temperature of the light will be different. In the shade, the color temperature is different than in the sun. At sunrise or sunset, the sun produces warmer light.
Artificial light sources also have different color temperatures. If you have ever taken an indoor picture without flash, the photo will have an orange cast if incandescent bulbs were the primary source of light in the room.
In order for you to produce a beautiful portrait that accurately reflects your subject’s skin tones, you need to have proper color balance. Obviously, if you are using black-and-white film, skin tones won’t be affected too much because of various color temperatures, although your picture’s contrast might.
With digital cameras, color temperature can be changed in-camera using the camera’s white balance settings, or afterward in a photo-editing program. In most point-and-shoot digital cameras the images are saved as JPEG files. Some advanced point-and shoot cameras and all pro digital SLR’s also allow images to be saved in the RAW format. Saving in RAW allows for much more flexibility in editing afterward, but also can add a bit more time in front of the computer.
I highly recommend taking the time to make sure your image is properly white-balanced before you take the picture. In doing this, you will save time later in your photo-editing whether you shoot with JPEG or with RAW. If you have taken a portrait that is severely affected by color temperature and you can’t get it corrected or just don’t know how to fix it, converting the portrait to black-and-white using photo-editing software might be an option.
In natural light portraiture, the color balance varies slightly between shade and sun, so generally there shouldn’t be too many worries over color that can’t be corrected.
Check your camera’s manual on how to do a custom white balance, or choose the automatic white balance settings that match your lighting conditions (shade, sunny, cloudy, etc.). Be aware of changing lighting conditions and adjust your settings accordingly. There are also a number of products that some professionals use to help get accurate color balance/ white balance. Some are “targets” that you aim your camera at, others are held in front of your lens. I’m sure most of these products work fine, but I have had success just being alert to the lighting, adjusting camera settings, and maybe doing a little tweaking on the computer later.
There may be some circumstances where you want a portrait’s color balance to appear warmer or cooler. If you have a full-featured digital camera, you should be able to alter white balance to whichever color temperature you desire.