White balance plays an important role in photography, but is commonly ignored by many new photographers as technology improves. It is an advantage to understand white balance to achieve the desire atmosphere and mood of your photographs.
Different white balance setting will achieve different results. Incorrect setting will render a photograph either too warm, too cool or even greenish. Unless deliberate, else these outcome are undesirable. The aim of white balance is to ensure that an object which is white in real life is reproduced as white in your shot.
DSLR nowadays have generally the following settings to select from namely Auto, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Daylight, Flash, Cloudy, Shade and Present. Instead of explaining the technical aspect where you can read them in many books, I will share on the practical applications.
The common question will be what settings to use for different light conditions. Many to-date DSLR have very good algorithms and can deliver good results when Auto white balance is selected. Although this setting provides satisfactory results with convenience, it somehow restricts your creativity. Sometimes you may want a warm or cool look on your photographs to create a mood. Auto white balance may not be able to achieve it, although post processing can. But why do the extra steps when you can achieve what you want from your camera?
To make it simple, if you want a warmer look, you can set the white balance to Daylight, Cloudy or Shade (Daylight having the least intensity while Shade having the most). I will usually select Daylight as my default to create a slight warm look to my photographs.
On the other hand, if you wanted a cooler look in your photographs, you can set your white balance to Fluorescent or Tungsten. Florescent usually delivers a slight green or yellow cast to your photographs when shooting outdoor in a sunny day. I will normally use Fluorescent or Tungsten (depending on the light sources) during indoor, when the results of the photographs gets too “artificially” warm.
When doing flash photography, I will always set my white balance to Daylight for an optimal result. Of course this will depends on individual preference. Sometimes when the light conditions get tricky especially when indoor, I will use Auto to get the optimal results and later correct them in photo-editing software if necessary.
Learning photography is very much like learning to swim. You cannot learn photography by just reading. With the information above, grab your camera now and start experimenting with different white balance and get familiar with them!