One Simple Tip to Instantly Improve Your People Photographs

Want to instantly improve the quality of your portraits? Whether you're using a point-and-shoot or an expensive digital SLR, set your camera's white balance to Cloudy. And leave it there. If you're shooting people, the cloudy setting does a really nice job of warming them up just a bit...and people usually look better slightly warm than cool. Your mileage may vary, but I find that 9 times out of 10, you'll see better results. To illustrate this point, here's an image using the camera's auto white balance. This photo was in the shade, about an hour before sunset. The camera decided that the optimal white balance should be 4750 degrees Kelvin, which is a little on the cool side for my taste.

San Diego Child Photographer

NikonD700/24-70mm 2.8 @ 70mm | 1/200s | f4 | ISO400

Here's the same image using the Cloudy white balance setting of 6500K. Skin tones seem more natural and the background picks up some of the golden tones of the setting sun.

San Diego Children's Photographer

NikonD700/24-70mm 2.8 @ 70mm | 1/200s | f4 | ISO400

What about RAW files?

If you're shooting RAW files, I still recommend leaving your white balance set to Cloudy. Your photos will look much better coming into Lightroom and it will save you the time of adjusting your images. Of course, since it's RAW, you can always tweak the color temperature later.

If you're manually adjusting the temperature in Lightroom, a good rule of thumb is to start around 5000K and slowly increase the temp. until it looks good. Somewhere between 5000-6000K seems to be the sweet spot for portrait photographs in natural light.