Balancing Electronic Flash and Ambient Light Color

Over on, I answered a question posed about how to set the white balance on a camera when using electronic flash indoors. Here’s my answer:

There are three possible solutions for you:

1. Just use the Daylight (direct sun) white balance setting. Electronic flash is typically close to the direct sunlight setting for white balance. Advantages: it is simple. Disadvantages: if you are balancing electronic flash with ambient light, you are likely to have an odd mixture of lighting, with the ambient lighting tending toward red (if incandescent) or green (if flourescent).

2. Get a Wratten 85 color correction gel that you can cover your flash’s head with, and use the Tungsten white balance setting. This will bring your flash output into line with existing incandescent light sources. Advantages: almost as simple as (1), and allows you to come close to matching a common indoor lighting situation. This will produce more natural-looking environmental shots if you balance the flash and incandescent ambient light contributions to the exposure. Disadvantages: large gel filters get expensive. You may be able to obtain something close to the Wratten 85 color correction filter from a theater supply house more cheaply. Roscolux #3408 is slightly weaker and #3411 is slightly stronger than the Wratten 85. If you have to balance flash with flourescent light sources, try a Roscolux in the cyan series leading to #4360. Some experimentation is likely to be required. The place I looked online offered the Roscolux in 20×24″ sheets for about $7 per sheet, a bargain compared to the optical-grade Wratten filters.

3. Set a custom white balance. This is not too difficult, and it will definitely provide the best approximation to your desired white balance that you will obtain in the field. Advantages: this will allow you to reproduce white accurately even with mixed lighting sources. Combine with gel over flash of (2) for the very best approach to balanced flash/incandescent lighting situations. Disadvantages: requires a “white” target (can be a neutral gray photo card, for example) and some additional time before a photo session.

You can obtain some striking effects by purposely mixing color temperature light sources. But day in and day out, getting a balanced shot is a skill that it pays to cultivate.

Viewed 36311 times by 7373 viewers


  • James Elsberry

    Just introducing myself…….I’m the unofficial photographer and videographer for the Osage Indian Nation…I am Osage and work out of the Osage Tribal Museum.
    My skill level (technically) is no where near yours….but one thing I have found out…I’m able to view pics and video images in my mind…kinda a 3rd dimension…anyway, I can really feel when something is good…technically though, I do foul it up….sometimes…
    I’ll faithfully read your comments anjd take in as much as I’m able to…..

    Congrats on your skill levels…..James Elsberry

    PS – Found you on “Google” search…

  • Thanks, James, for the kind words.

    Having the ability to visualize what you want the image to be is a gift. Training that vision with discipline in practice was what the Zone System photographers like Ansel Adams were all about.

    Digital techniques have changed the specifics on the technical side, as there is no “push” or “pull” for sensors as there was for film. But everything about keeping the end result in mind as you set up your shot is still just as relevant as ever.

    Some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten is far simpler than the Zone System, though. Evon Streetman taught me that, “The photographer is responsible for everything in the frame.” And whenever I remember that, the pictures come out better.

    I wish I knew more about the Elsberry surname’s history. As far as I know, my ancestors were English immigrants who came (or were transported) to the colony of Georgia, and there is some connection to the Townsend family as well. The name itself perhaps was derived from Aylsbury as a place name. And that’s about all I know.

  • Belford Carver

    Hi! Jamie Elsberry married my son, Kent Carver. Connection w/James??? Belford in Louisiana

  • I’m not sure about a connection, but I can check with my father, who has been looking into genealogy for the Elsberry family.

Leave a Comment

To prove you're a person (not a spam script), type the security word shown in the picture. Click on the picture to hear an audio file of the word.
Anti-spam image

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.