White balance has to do with color temperature.  If you have ever shot photographs using film indoors you are probably familiar with the yellow/orange or bluish cast that often washes over the scene.  The reason for those casts of color is that all light has a temperature associated with it.  The temperature of the light you are shooting in impacts the image by pushing the overall color towards red or blue.  The lower the temperature, such as tungsten or standard household lighting, the more the color shifts towards red.  The higher the temperature, such as fluorescent lights, the more the color shifts towards blue.  In film photography you either deal with the color cast in your images or use filters on the lens to balance the color out.

In digital camera, particularly DSLRs, the camera generally has a white balance setting.  You can select auto white balance or select from a number of pre-set options such as daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, etc.  The camera will then compensate for the lighting conditions and color temperature so that the overall color hue of the image is accurate.

You can leave the white balance set to automatic, but as will all of the settings on your digital camera taking them off automatic opens up the possibilities for more creativity with your photography.  Experiment with the different white balance settings and note how they each impact your subject.

These images were all taken of the same subject in direct sunlight.  I adjusted the white balance setting on the camera itself to show the effect of each on the image.  There is no Photoshop work on these images other than to re-size them and combine them into the one collage.  The camera did all the white balance adjusting.

Sample of DSLR white balance settings
Top Row L – R : Auto White Balance Setting, Daylight, Cloudy
Bottom Row L – R: Tungsten, Fluorescent, Flash (the setting, no flash used)

Notice in the tungsten photograph (bottom left) the blue cast.  Since tungsten light has a lower temperature it shifts towards red.  The tungsten white balance setting on the DSLR attempts to compensate for this by adding blue.  But in a setting such as mine, where I am using the tungsten setting without any actual tungsten lights, the blue tone takes over the photograph.

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