White Balance & Focal Points

Travel Photography Tips
7 min read

Now that you have the Exposure Trio down pat, let’s move on to two settings that are equally important: White Balance & Focal Points

Using the Exposure Trio is crucial to make sure your photos come out properly. If your shot is underexposed, has too narrow a depth-of-field, or is too grainy, it can ruin the photo. A perfectly composed shot can be ruined if the White Balance is off or if you picked an incorrect focal point. But Andrew, what are these settings? What better way than to show you? Let’s dive right in!

To view previous Travel Photography Tips, click the following links to read those posts: The Exposure Trio. Also, I’ll be showing example photos of my Canon 5D Mark II. These are universal settings we’ll be dealing with, but the placement of each will depend on which camera brand and model you’re using.

1. White Balance

White Balance is, simply put, how warm or cool your photo will be when you click the shutter. Your White Balance (or temperature) is measured in Kelvin and ranges from 4,000K-8,000K. While you’ll see options for temperature ranges beyond that range, those options will make your photo look funky. The lower the temperature (closer to 4,000K), the cooler your photo will be while the higher the number (towards 8,000K) the warmer your photo will be. If this sounds complicated, don’t be dissuaded. Look at the two photos below to see what I mean.

Here’s the difference between this Zion National Park photo at 3,700K vs. 5,200K

This is the difference between 4,000K and 5,000K. All of the other settings were kept the same. Pretty crazy, right?

Still unsure? Don’t be! There are several different White Balance presets within your camera that’ll make things easier. These presets can be found within your camera’s main menu or, depending on your camera model, in a quick menu on the top. If you go in your menu and look for the White Balance option, you’ll be presented with a list of presets. The standard WB presets are Auto White Balance (AWB), Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Flash, and Custom. Each of them have a custom Kelvin value displayed next to it to help you understand where they fall on the temperature scale.

Once you know which icons go with which White Balance preset, you can use this camera shortcut to change it on the fly (if your camera has this shortcut)

Here’s what your camera’s White Balance menu might look like

After entering that menu, you’ll find the White Balance presets. See the Kelvin value?

The easiest way to go about choosing is to look at your surroundings and pick the preset that fits what light you’re in. If you’re at the beach at sunrise, you’ll probably aim for the Daylight White Balance. If you’re hiking in the snowy mountains of Oregon, perhaps the Cloudy WB preset would be a better option. You could also set it to Auto White Balance (which allows the camera to choose the temperature) and edit the temperature in Lightroom or Photoshop. The choice is yours!

Protip: Once you’ve learned the basics and have been shooting for a while, you’ll find that the White Balance is important in developing your style! For instance, I like my shots dark, moody, and a bit warm. That means most of my photos will be in the 5,000K range. Keep shooting and you’ll find your perfect temperature! Not too hot, not too cold, just right.

2. Focal Points

Now, this setting seems pretty self-explanatory. Focal points = where your camera focuses. Your camera can have anywhere between 9 (on my Canon 5D Mark ii) and 693 (on the Sony A7iii). The cool part? You can choose a single point to use, a cluster of points, or ALL of them. These are useful in different situations, which we’ll get into below.

By holding down the Focus Point selector and scrolling the selector wheel, you can adjust which focal point you want to use.

There are different instances when you would use a single point, a group of points, or every focal point.

Single point: would be used if you’re wanting to keep the focus on a particular detail in a shot. For instance, I often use a single focal point in portraiture. The single focal point means I can use it to keep the model’s eyes sharp (a portrait photography pro-tip) while the rest of him/her might be out of focus.

See how the middle square is red? That means that focal point will be used.

Here, I used the single focal point to make sure Zeus’ eye is in focus. Shot at / White Balance: 5,500K, Focal Point: Single, Center

Group of points: would be used if you have a subject matter on one side of the setting that you want to keep in focus. This is useful when you know your subject will be in a certain location and it doesn’t matter specifically what part of the subject is in focus.

Now, my Canon 5D Mark ii doesn’t have grouped focal points as an option, but this is what it would look like. See how several squares are lit up on the left?

This is an instance where I would have used the focal point group to make sure the dashboard, glasses, and hat are in focus. Shot at / White Balance: 6,500K, Focal Point: Single, Right

See the sunglasses and hat in the above photo? I got them from Proof Eyewear, a sustainable eyewear and clothing company, that makes awesome apparel AND has an incredible charity program. If you like what you see, click the button below and check out their sunnies! As you can see from the photos on this site, I only wear Proof shades to cover my eyeballs.

Every point: would be used when you want to make sure everything in the frame is in focus. This could be used in an instance where you can’t afford to have an out-of-focus picture or if you’re shooting landscapes.

See how EVERY square is lit up? That means anything within that diamond shape will be used as a focal point.

See how all of this shot is in focus? It’s because I set it to every focal point. Shot at / White Balance: 4,850K, Focal Point: All

As you can see from the above examples, the focal point you choose relates directly to the kind of photo you’re wanting to take. If you’re looking to get into portraiture, you’ll want to use the single focal point, make sure you focus on the model’s eyes, and keep your aperture wide open. On the contrary, if you’re shooting landscapes, you’ll most likely use the grouped focal points or even every focal point at once. If you combine this with a narrow aperture, you’ll get all of the crispy detail in that shot of the Arizonian mountains. As per usual, this will take practice. Get out there and shoot!

Now you know about White Balance and Focal Points!

If you have any questions about these two settings, comment them below! If you missed out on the last travel photography tip on the Exposure Trio, then click here to read more. I’ll see you next time!

Did you like the photos
in this post?

Luckily for you, I offer all of my landscape shots as photo prints! If you think one of my shots from Zion National Park or Polihale Beach would look good as a framed print or a canvas, you can buy them here! If you see a picture that isn’t listed as a print, contact me and let me know! I’ll make a special order just for you.