Cloudy Light and White Balance - dummies

By Thomas Clark

Light that is diffused through cloud cover casts a blue overtone in photographs just as open-shade lighting does. However, the blue shift in cloudy light is not as prevalent as that in open shade.

Just as the quality and intensity changes, so does the color of this type of natural light. The more directly the sun passes through the clouds, the warmer your light is. The more diffused the light is the cooler, or more blue, it appears.

Inconsistencies in the clouds can provide various lighting opportunities. The photograph on top was taken with thinner clouds; the one on the bottom, with thicker clouds.


100mm, 1/30, f/16, 400100mm, 1/30, f/16, 400

Your digital camera offers a cloudy day color setting that provides a general compensation. This works well in most cases, but if you really want to create images with the correct color balance, use a white balance card (a neutral-colored card that you use as a reference for your camera’s custom white balance feature) and set the color balance for a particular scene yourself.

Read your owner’s manual to determine whether your digital camera has a custom white balance feature and how to locate it. It’s usually available in the menu screen, or among the function settings.

Follow these steps to set a custom white balance:

  1. Place your white balance card in the scene you’re photographing and position the camera so the card fills your entire frame.

  2. Photograph the card with an exposure that reveals it as middle grey.

    Try not to extremely over- or underexpose the card.

  3. Choose the custom white balance feature and select the image of the white balance card as your camera’s reference.

    This step tells your camera what it needs to do in order to adjust the color of your scene properly.

  4. Ensure that your camera is set to the custom white balance shooting mode.

    This mode is sometimes in a separate area than the custom white balance feature. To operate your specific camera correctly, refer to your owner’s manual.

You can use the custom white balance feature and white balance card in any lighting conditions to ensure a proper color representation in your images.