In my previous article on “Dental Photography 101,” we highlighted the three main components of exposure:  aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.  Although these three settings are the pillars of creating great digital photographs, an often-forgotten setting of “white balance” in dental photography is also critical to achieving high-quality exposures.

What is White Balance?

White balance is a camera setting that is used to determine the true color of white.  Depending on the light source, a white object may not appear to be truly white.  White balance helps to correct this color discrepancy.

Different light sources will have either a “warmness” and a “coolness” associated with them.  This is commonly referred to as the “color temperature.”  Color temperature is measured in Kelvin, where a lower Kelvin value is associated with warmer, red colors and a higher Kelvin value is associated with cooler, blue colors. 

The white balance will help to dictate the warmth or coolness of the colors when an exposure is captured.   Setting the white balance enables the camera to take the color of the surrounding light into consideration when the image is exposed. When the white balance is not set properly, images may appear to have red tones (too warm) or blue tones (too cool). 

a) Proper white balance. b) White balance is adjusted, resulting in an image that is
Figure 1: a) Proper white balance. b) White balance is adjusted, resulting in an image that is “warmer” and has more orange and red tones.

When analog film was used for photography, the color temperature was incorporated into the film.  As a result, photographers would occasionally use different color filters to make color adjustments based on the type of film being used.

With digital photography, the white balance can be controlled in a much more simplistic manner.  Most camera bodies have an option to adjust the white balance on the settings home screen.  To simplify the selection options for white balance, many manufactures have preprogrammed, scene-specific settings (such as “daylight,” “cloudy,” “tungsten,” or “flash”) for white balance. 

White Balance Settings for Dental Photography

As discussed above, there are many different options for setting the white balance.  For dental clinical photography, a white balance setting of approximately 5500 Kelvin is most appropriate.  This Kelvin value will commonly be found in the “Flash” white balance setting for most cameras.

Figure 2: a) “Flash” white balance of 5500K compared to b) A white balance setting that results in a warmer image and c) A light balance setting that results in a cooler image.

Having the proper white balance setting in dental photography is essential to producing high quality clinical photos.  If your clinical photos look too red or too blue, consider adjusting the white balance to achieve a proper exposure.

Andy Janiga, D.M.D., practices at the Center for Dental Excellence in Nashua, N.H., and is a contributor to Spear Digest.