Skip to main content

photo & video

How to Shoot with your First Flash

Lesson 8 of 28

Camera Setup: White Balance

Mike Hagen

How to Shoot with your First Flash

Mike Hagen

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2000+ more >

Lesson Info

8. Camera Setup: White Balance

Lesson Info

Camera Setup: White Balance

Let's talk about white balance. So, let's say that you are photographing a scene, and the only shining on the subject is coming from your flash. What white balance should you choose? Flash! I know. They're all pointing at the screen. (laughing) That's why studying with Mike Hagen is super easy. Like, if I ever did exams, you'd just have to look at the, it's all open book. So the answers are all there. So you wanna use flash white balance. It's that easy! Let's say you're combining ambient light and flash. Well, in that case, custom white balance. So, custom white balance is a little bit different. With custom white balance, you're taking a color measurement of the scene, you're analyzing what are all the light components, and then the camera tries to give you kind of a good white balance or a good color balance for all of those different lights, for all of those scenarios. I just realized I didn't really define what white balance is. White balance is color. You know, all this other stu...

ff we've been talking about is brightness control. White balance is color control. And flash has a certain color temperature. Flash's color temperature is very close to the color temperature of sunlight, K. And in terms of a Kelvin value, that's around 5,000 Kelvin, 5,400 Kelvin. And that's just techie speak for the color temperature. Here's another thing we need to think about. Let's say that your ambient light is really yellow, okay. So remember back, let's all go back, back to the good old days, back to 1970. Remember those days, green carpet, green shag carpet? Yeah, and so all of the photos that your parents took of you back in the 1970s, they all were, like, really yellowy, and warm, and washed out. Well, the reason why is because the film they were using in their camera was balanced, color-balanced, for daylight. It wasn't color-balanced for incandescent or tungsten bulbs. So sometimes, even in digital photography, sometimes you have to use the house lights. And let's say the house lights, and when I say house, I mean anything that's in the building that you're in. So, sometimes those house lights are very warm. Well, what color of light comes from your flash? It's very blue. Well, much bluer, I should say. So now let's say that you're taking a picture of me. And on this side, it's, like, orangey-yellowy, and on this side with the flash it comes out blue, and now I look like some, I dunno, freak show. It's weird! It's like, no one looks like that! Unless you're tryin' to do it on purpose. But you know, if you don't want it to look funky, like this side of my face is this color, and this side of my face is blue, you have to use something called a gel, K, a gel. And let me just show you these gels. (clattering) I'll show you a couple of options for gels. There's a number of manufacturers of these gels. You can go to any big camera store in your hometown, or even online. B&H and Adorama, all these companies, they'll sell gels or filters. If you buy a Nikon or Canon flash, a lot of times they ship it out with a gel pack, or a filter pack, K. So these are gels. And so, like this one is a tungsten gel. Can the camera see that fine? So this is tungsten. So back to our 1970 photo example, or it's not 1970, more. But wherever you are, if you look and you see that the color of light in the house is very warm, then you take one of these gels, and you just, you can just tape it to the front with Scotch tape, or you can sometimes, these are designed to actually slide underneath the little (rattling) diffusion panel. (click) And now guess what? The color of light from your flash is exactly the same as the color of light in the house. And now you've matched the color so that this side of my face is yellow, and now this side of my face is yellow. Okay! Well, we don't want a yellow photo of Mike, 'cause everyone knows Mike does not look good yellow. So what do you set your white balance for? Tungsten, bingo! You did it! You just solved one of, like, the most mentally confusing problems in flash photography. If the house lights are a tungsten and you gel your flash to tungsten, then your white balance has to be tungsten. It's that simple! There is nothing more complicated to gels and color balance than that. It's as simple as that. So just remember, house lights is this color, you put the gel on for the same color. Okay, now that you know the answer to tungsten, let's do the same thing with fluorescent, K. So here's a fluorescent gel. Okay, so if the house lights are fluorescent (laughing) and you use a fluorescent gel, what's your white balance? Fluorescent, yes! These little gels are very helpful. And I don't want you to be afraid of using these gels. There's all kinds of solutions to gels. This little gel pack that I have here, this is a freebie. I actually got this for free from the camera store, and there's just all these different colors. So some of them are creative, like this red. Like, there's really no light out there that's that color. Or maybe this blue. But others of 'em are actually balanced to a specific type of light bulb. So you get these little gel packs, you literally tear out the tungsten gel, and you just tape it to the front of your flash, and you're in business, and it costs you nothing. Now that I said that, I'm sure B&H and Adorama are gonna stop their free giveaways. But even if they don't give these away free, these little sample packs are often cheap, under five bucks. Most of the time when you buy these, you buy 'em in big sheets, and they're designed for studio lighting or movie sets, that type a thing. Also, (clattering) most, or not most, but a lot, of flash manufacturers sell these kind of plastic snap-on filters for your flashes too. So, like, this one's for the Nikon SB-900 or and it just snaps onto the front, so you don't have to use the little plasticy gels anymore. So it just snaps on there. So don't be afraid of using these, and they actually help out a lot. (clattering) Back to white balance, high level. If you're just using flash, you're gonna set your white balance for flash. If the ambient light isn't too funky, you can just use custom white balance. And when I say isn't too funky, I mean close to daylight color temperature. And then if you've got a 1970s funk goin' on, then you have to start thinkin' gel and that type of, gel and that special white balance. So real quick before I forget, let me go to the camera and show you how I set white balance in the camera. So I'll just show you the info screen here on the back. And most cameras, most DSLRs, Canon, Nikon, Fuji, Olympus, they all have a white balance button on the back. So in this case, or maybe it's on top. In this case, I'm gonna push the white balance button. And then I rotate, with my thumb, my right thumb, usually, and you can see the different white balance modes there. Most cameras use this symbol right there. That's the lightning bolt symbol, and that's called flash. So that's flash-white balance. The other option is auto. Well, another option, not the other option. But another option is auto. Now, if you are using flash and the camera recognizes you are using flash, it'll actually default in auto mode. It actually defaults to flash, K. So it's smart enough to know. So, like, if you forget and you're in auto mode, okay, it's gonna help you out there. And then here is, we'll go to this, where is it? There we go. That one! That's incandescent, or tungsten. So you'll use that for your older incandescent lights. And then the one that looks like a, I always wonder what that, it's supposed to be a light bulb, like a long, skinny, fluorescent light bulb. So that's fluorescent. So get to know your white balance settings and get to know what those icons are so you can move quickly when you're in the field. And then the last one is preset there, PRE. And the Nikon uses the term preset. What does Canon use? Custom, you're right. Although no one actually answered. I'm just giving you the credit. (chuckling) You're giving the audience the credit. So custom or preset. And then that requires you to basically photograph a card, like a white card, and then the camera makes its color assessment off of that white card, okay. Yeah, so before I forget and I move on, I'm gonna put this back to flash-white balance, 'cause I know. Oops, white balance! Here we go. I'm gonna put it back to flash. Okay, cool. Any questions on white balance? Yeah, question from. Yeah, question from the internet. And then if you wanna grab a mic. Okay, a lot of times we've talked about "Oh, you don't need to worry about white balance "when you're shooting in RAW." Uh-huh. What's your recommendation? This is from Scott Moore. Does it matter more when you're shooting in flash to get that right in camera? Yeah, so cool. Great question, Scott. The answer is if all the light's the same color temperature, then it doesn't matter! RAW you can shoot in any white balance, because you can change it later on. The issue, Scott, happens when you have mixed lighting. So back to my 1970s example, or any example where you've got, like, orange light on this side and flash light on that side. What do you white balance for? If you set your white balance for flash, well, this side of my face is gorgeous. (chuckling) This side of my face, not so much. So you see, the issue happens when you have mixed lighting. So really, to answer your question, Scott, the answer, the real answer, is do a better job of making all of your lights so that the same color temperature. And you have to do that when you're on set.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.

Every photographer encounters situations where the light on their subject is less than ideal. A small flash can have a huge impact on your photos and is easier to use than you think! Photographer Mike Hagen joins CreativeLive to show you how to use your external flash quickly and comfortably. Mike will walk through the different flash options available and how to sync your camera and flash. He’ll walk you through different scenarios and demonstrate how your flash can improve your shots. After this class you’ll walk away knowing: 
  • How to set up your flash with your camera and what to look for when shooting 
  • How to use a flash in scenarios like event photography, portraits, and tabletop photography 
  • Which light shapers work best for your work and how to utilize them 
  • How to use your flash off-camera, working with TTL cables, wireless triggers, and other gear
  • Techniques for using modifiers like umbrellas, softboxes, and reflectors with your off-camera flash 
Don’t get stuck in a low light scenario without the confidence and tools you need to produce an amazing image. 

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Single Flash Lighting Diagrams

Bonus Materials with RSVP

Single Flash Gear List 100 dollars

Single Flash Gear List 250 dollars

Single Flash Gear List 1000 dollars

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes


Yasemin Soyen

First of all I am very happy to discover Creative Live and since then I learned, enjoyed many classes! This week for the first time I was in the live audience and their sincerity, hospitality made the experience even more valuable. About this class, it was a pleasure to meet Mike Hagen. Besides his wide knowledge, creative thinking and information sharing, he was a very humble, nice teacher, with great positive energy. Thanks everyone!


Fantastic course - Mike is an engaging and entertaining teacher and this course was just what I needed to start using my external flash with confidence. I have had my external flash for a few years but have rarely used it as mastering all the settings was daunting and the results I got were inconsistent. This excellent course changed all that and I'm having great fun taking much better shots with my flash. I highly recommend!

Candy Smith

This class was fantastic. Mike is excellent under pressure when things don't go perfectly, love his style and grace and how encouraging he is to his models, great mentor. I learned so much about using flash, and my pictures are so much better.