Inside: A correct white balance has the power to transform your photos! This post shows you two simple ways to achieve correct white balance – while shooting and while editing. This post may contain affiliate links.
Correct White Balance For Better Photos
Do your photos have that “wow” factor? If not, setting a correct white balance while shooting or editing could be the link you’re missing.
Consider these two photos:
The first photo is more “cool,” or blue. Notice how the subjects’ skin looks bluish/pink.
The second photo is “warmer” (more yellow). It reflects the true colors that were present in the warm sunset light and the skin colors look natural.
The only thing that changed?
The second photo has correct white balance. It has the”wow” factor the first one is missing.
White Balance Examples
To better understand white balance, let’s look at these white balance examples.
White balance is measured on two axes:
Temperature: from warm (yellow) to cool (blue).
Tint: from green to magenta.
Let’s look at this photo in Lightroom. On the right, the first set of sliders shows the temperature of the image (6250 K) and the tint of the image (+16).
This was the white balance of the image “as shot,” but I could adjust either of these sliders to change or tweak the white balance of the image.
Correct white balance is the point at which the temperature and tint are balanced so the colors in your image look true to life and the whites in the image (if any) are truly white.
Temperature is measured in Kelvins (K). The temperature scale used in photography ranges from 2000K to 9000K.
In these white balance examples look at what a difference a warmer temperature setting makes:
And these white balance examples below show the affect of tint on an image.
A lower tint setting is more green. A higher tint setting is more magenta.
When the tint of an image is properly balanced, green and magenta will neutralize one another so neither one is predominant.
The correct white balance setting for this image puts the tint at +5 and the temperature at 5950 K.
With correct white balance settings, the colors in the image will look true to life, the skin tones will look natural, and the whites in the image (in this case, the sweater) will be truly white.
When you’re learning photography, white balance can be one of the hardest skills to get right. It takes time to train your eyes to see color and to become confident that your color is correct.
The best advice I have for learning how to get your white balance right is to avoid auto white balance.
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How To Set White Balance While Shooting
By default, your camera uses auto white balance to set your photo’s color. While cameras are getting better at this, they often don’t do the best job of getting color right.
Unfortunately, if you’re shooting in auto mode, auto white balance will be your only option.
If you’re shooting in manual or a semi-auto mode you’ll be able to choose your white balance settings.
Need help getting off of auto mode? Check out this page on how to use your dslr camera.
The simplest way for a photography beginner to get started with white balance is to use your camera’s white balance presets. Before we explain how to do that, let’s take a look at this white balance chart:
White Balance Chart
This white balance chart represents the “color temperature” in Kelvins of various lighting scenarios.
If you’re out shooting in the early morning or around sunset the temperature of the light around you is going to be very warm, in the range of 2500 K.
If you’re shooting in the shade, the temperature of the light around you will be cooler, in the range of 7500 – 9000 K.
These numbers feel counterintuitive because the lower numbers are warmer and the higher numbers are cooler.
I’ll explain what this means in practice below, but think of it like stars. The hottest stars in the universe are blue. The cooler stars are orange or red. The hottest part of a gas flame is blue.
It’s the same concept with color temperature by Kelvin.
Your camera’s white balance setting will either enhance or neutralize the temperature of the light around you.
The best way to explain this is with an example. These photos were taken at sunset, when the light was very warm.
A white balance setting of 3200 K is close to the warm temperature of the sunset light and renders the image cooler. It neutralizes the warmth of the light:
A white balance setting that’s further from the temperature of the sunset light renders the image warmer because it enhances the warmth of the light:
Which image has correct white balance? The warmer image, because it reflects the true color of the light that was present when the image was captured.
“Correct white balance” can be a misnomer because in some images it’s a matter of preference as to how warm or cool you like your images.
In these images, I could make the creative choice to make the sky more blue/purple than orange/red and that wouldn’t be “incorrect.” But the warmer image is closer to what I saw when taking the photo.
In photos that contain skin tones, a good white balance is more crucial. A too-cool white balance will render skin tones blue. But photos of nature or landscapes, or a silhouette photo like this one are more open to a creative use of white balance based on preference.
Camera White Balance Presets
There are multiple ways to set white balance but for beginners, I recommend starting with your camera’s white balance presets.
Your camera’s white balance presets will set your photo’s temperature and tint. Take a moment to pull out your camera manual to see what white balance presets are available to you.
White balance presets are named based on the “usual range” of temperature and tint under certain lighting conditions, such as cloudy days, daylight, shade, incandescent light, etc.
It will help you to get familiar with the color temperature of each preset. This can vary by camera, but this white balance chart gives you a general idea:
If you don’t care to memorize those numbers, the names of each preset provide you with guidance on when to use them.
If you’re shooting in shady conditions you can use the shade preset to warm up your image.
When shooting under cloudy conditions, use the cloudy preset to warm your image.
And if you’re shooting inside in the warm light of a lamp, use the tungsten preset to counteract the warmth of the lights and cool your image.
The image below was taken under warm lamp light inside my house. I took the first shot with the shade preset.
The lamp light was very warm and the shade preset only served to emphasize that warmth:
But the tungsten preset neutralized the warmth so the whites on the ball look white and true to how they look in person. Much better!
If you’re currently shooting in auto white balance I encourage you to experiment with your camera’s white balance presets.
Now that you have a little knowledge of the impact they will have on your image based on the temperature of the light you’re shooting in, give it a go!
Setting your white balance in camera will save you so much time in editing because the stronger your in-camera image is, the less time you’ll need to spend trying to “fix” it.
But if you don’t manage to nail your white balance in camera, you can fix or tweak it in Lightroom.
How To Correct White Balance In Lightroom
Lightroom provides 2 simple ways to adjust your image’s white balance.
But there are 2 important things to know before you start:
1. You’ll get better results with correcting your white balance if you shoot in RAW file format, rather than JPEG.
RAW files are more flexible than JPEGS because JPEGS are compressed and adjusted (edited) some by your camera.
The RAW file is untouched by your camera so it responds better to edits you make afterward.
2. Before you begin any photo editing, make sure what you’re seeing on your screen is trustworthy and accurate.
The best way to start with this is to get some of your photos printed so you can compare them to your monitor.
You can find step by step instructions on how to do that in this post on how to calibrate your monitor for photography.
Step 1: Open An Image In Lightroom’s Develop Module
Find an image that contains some white or gray. I chose this image of a blue and white ceramic ball.
Open it in Lightroom’s Develop module. Then click on the white balance dropper beside the temperature and tint sliders.
Step 2: Hover The White Balance Dropper Over A Gray or White
Hover your white balance dropper over an area of the image that’s gray or white. You’ll notice that there’s a preview window in the upper left. You can see the effect this will have on your image before you click.
Step 3: Click The Dropper to Correct Your White Balance
Click the dropper and the white balance of your image should improve.
One way you can know you’ve got a good white balance is by hovering your white balance dropper over the white or gray area again (hover as close to where you clicked as possible).
If the three numbers under R, G and B are close to one another, that means the white is close to neutral and you’ve got a good white balance.
In this example, the RGB numbers are now R: 60, G: 59.9 and B: 59.5.
That’s a good result and the white areas on the ball now look white!
Try Lightroom White Balance Presets
Lightroom has a set of white balance presets similar to those on your camera. Use the white balance preset that’s closest to the lighting conditions in which the photo was taken.
Note: the white balance presets are only available for RAW images.
Try out a few different presets and compare them. They will all yield a slightly different result. Check the RGB numbers to see which is closest to “neutral.”
I tried three different presets. It helps to compare different presets because our brains see color best in comparison to other colors.
Here’s Tungsten (closest to the lighting conditions when the photo was taken):
Here’s the Fluorescent preset:
And here’s the auto preset:
The auto preset did the best job of getting the RGB numbers as close to neutral as possible and the whites look the most white of the three options.
The Tungsten preset was close (same temperature as the Auto preset) but more green (tint = 0). The Auto preset balanced the green by adding more magenta (tint = +14).
I may not have noticed that if I hadn’t compared them.
Related: Basic Photo Editing Tips
Check out this video tutorial to see three ways to correct white balance in Lightroom:
1. Clicking the white balance dropper on a neutral gray
2. Using white balance presets
3. Making adjustments with the white balance sliders
Congratulations, you’ve got two new tools at your disposal to give your photos the “wow factor” they deserve!