Extreme Underwater Photography: White balance

White Balance. You’ve heard people talk about setting a white balance or that the white balance is off, but what exactly is White Balance? A camera records a picture in RGB (Red, Green, Blue) or some combination of the three to make up the colors of the light spectrum. These are the primary colors of light as the camera sees them. The color white is composed of equal amounts of the three primary colors.

The goal of “white balance” is to allow the camera to know what is the white color of a picture and then allows for the other colors to work together to produce the colors of the photo. This helps the photo to produce a “natural” picture.

If you remember back to Open Water Classes, the order that we lose color in is ROY G BIV… Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet. In the deeper part of the waters, it is best to set a white color so the camera can try to gauge the other colors accordingly that way your white doesn’t have a blue or green cast.

Most cameras now have a built in Auto White Balance which uses algorithms to compensate for what “White” is in a photo and base the pictures off of that. There are also presets seen in the menu settings of a camera where you can select a preset. The third option is to use Kelvin.

Kelvin gauges off of a degree system and you have to memorize the Kelvin number for the different lighting aspects.


  • 5000K is neutral/High noon light
  • Less than 5000K is blue light to dark blue light
  • Greater than 5000K is yellow light to orange light

For most of your dives, using the auto white balance will get you the results you want for underwater pictures. For that once in a blue moon when it doesn’t seem to work, choose the preset white balance.

To do a preset white balance on dry land, your best bet is to buy the white balance card, but most people don’t want to take that underwater with them. In that case, find someone with a gray or white tank or white fins.

When setting your preset, turn off any and all flash so it records the natural white. Turning it away from what you’re shooting won’t work, turn it off completely so it doesn’t light up anything.

And remember, if you do set a preset, if you go up or down 4 feet, you should reset your preset.

But like I said, most cameras now work really well with Auto White Balance!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *