Besides making sure the lens cap is off and the battery is charged, one of the basic things you should do with your digital camera is to set the neutral balance. The neutral balance sets the entire tone of an image. Any imbalance and the image will have a colored "cast" to it. Most cameras have a variety of presets for different lighting. These usually include incandescent, fluorescent, direct sunlight, shade, flash, and others. Some have an automatic feature that analyzes the light hitting the sensor and guesses which of the pre-built lighting settings are the closest to the current situation. If your lighting situation does not correspond to one of the presets, the image will not look correct to the original scene.
Professional, and some "prosumer", cameras have custom neutral balance settings. They are sometimes erroneously called "white balance", which is a misnomer since you are not setting a white, but a light balance. Using the term "white" often leads people to believe a white reference is needed to make a "white balance" when, in fact, a white reference can cause make a poor lighting balance.
Neutral balancing is performed, either electronically or digitally, by adjusting the ratio between the RGB channels in the digital camera to result in equal values for a neutral in the current lighting condition.
For more information on white and gray materials, see the paper Gray or White Card for Neutral Balancing?
For a comparison of available neutral balance items, see the paper Neutral References for Digital Camera Calibration.
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