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The Story Behind That Picture:

"Adjusting the White Balance in a Photography"

By: Thorsten Overgaard. June 6, 2015. Latest edited May 29, 2019.

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White balance is something all have heard about but few use. That's because it's widely misunderstood. Most people think it's somethimg that happens automatically, in the camea, or that it is something you "fix in the computer".

Nothing could be more wrong. Colors are too important for the aesthetics of photographs to let it up to an automatic feature to decide what is the right colors.

White Balance could be the first adjustment you do when you import an image into Adobe Lightroom or Capture One Pro. But White balance can also be set in the camera so that the colors are fundamentally correct and neutral in the camera, and when imported into the editing software, they will look ready to use.

There are neutral colors, which in this context it means that the color of an apple or a red brick wall is that exact color in the photograph as the one you saw in the real world.

There are different views on colors. Neutral is a better word, or 'exactly the right color representation'. That is the ideal you work with, technically making a photoraph. First you get the colors right, then you are free to make artistic changes to chem: make them warmer or colcer, saturate or desaturate all or single colors.

If you can't get the colors neutral, your're helpless. So that's why we're having this conversation. I'll teach you now to get the colors neutral.

hc color temperature should fundamentally be neutral and correct, and from here you may adjust the color temperature of the image as an “artistic choice” to for example being warmer.

 


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Artistic change of White Balance in Lightroom

Here is an image I adjusted White Balance from 4800 Kelvin (as shot Auto White Balance in the camera) to 6800 Kelvin by moving the Temp ruler in Lightroom:

Before   After
     

 

External White Balance

If you did a manual white balance with a white piece of paper or a greycard (WhiBal®) before you photographed, the white balance is most likely as it should be, and all colors looks good.

You can also use an external Color Meter that will measure the White Balance so you can type in the correct Kelvin value. This image below gives a good idea how much of an improvement the step up will give your image:

 
 
Usig WhiBal   Using external color meter

 

The image to the left was made with the White Balance set in the camera by pointing it to a WhiBal card and was 5500 Kelvin. The image to the right is measured with the Sekonic C-700 that read the light 6098 Kelvin.


Sekonic C-700 Color Meter ($1,400) and WhiBal white balancing card ($30, often referred to as a "whibal greycard").

 

I have to read the Sekonic C-700 Color Meter and do the adjustment in Lightroom (or in the camera before I take the picture). In this case I adjusted it in Lightroom.

I did this video some time ago on how to set the White Balance in camera before the shoot with a WhiBal card:


Setting the White Balance manually on the Leica M Type 240

 


Setting the white balance in the camera before photographing is clearly to prefer and is rather simple. You simply put the WhiBal card (or a piece of white paper) in front of the main subject and take a "reding" with the camera. Then the White Blaance is adjusted to the actual light.

Correct White Balance

If you didn't set the White Balance in the camera or are not satisfied with the Auto White balance the camera did, you need to establish the correct color temperature and adjust it to "white light" (daylight).

In Lightroom you can click on the symbol for White Balance (WB), which is the picker to the left in the color panel:

You can also use the W-key on the keyboard that corresponds to the white balance mode.

You then point at something neutral white, grey or black: A wall, the edge of a persons glasses, a white shirt, a black shirt, the white of the eyes, a grey button on a jacket.


Pick a neutral target as the one marked with yellow in this image.

 

What you look for to put the pointer at is something that is neutral and which is hit by the key light (the most important light source in the image). In the above, the white table with the light from outside would be a good spot to put the pointer at to get a neutral white light.

You will see a preview of how the image’s colors changes when you click on a point in the pictures.

If the color doesn’t look right, you UNDO it and then try another spot and see how that works:

Command (-key) + Z (-key) is undo/regret previous action.
Every time you hit  Command + Z  Lightroom steps one step previous in the actions you did.  Usually you can undo the last 20-30 actions you did.

 

Using preset White Balance in Lightroom

You may also use the presets As Shot, Tungsten and so on:

 

Using the White Balance slider in Lightroom

You can use the Temp (the scale showing the Kelvin number) to get closer to achieving the correct white balance, but it's difficult to decide when the balance is correct and the colors looks neutral.

One problem with White Balance is “remembering the color”. It’s almost impossible because colors change after light, size and which colors are next to them.

If you buy paint for a wall based on a small sample, you will discover that your wall looks very different because the size is bigger. And the color changes again when the light changes!
 
Further, the color temperature (White Balance) is a combination of Temp and Tint. Play around with the two and you will see how you get into trouble very easily!

 

 

The easiest way

The fastest and easiest way to get the colors right in a photograph is to set the White Balance manually with a piece of white paper or the neutral grey WhiBal card before you photograph. Nothing to fix in the comptter and no guessing as to what the exact skin tone was.

 

Buy my Lightroom Survival Kit for more on this

I hope this was helpful. You can learn more on this and other ways to get the right workflow in my Lightroom Survival Kit 6:

 


The Lightroom Survival Kit 6 contains sections that are easy to understand and use on White Balance in Lightroom, as well as many other subjects to "survive Lightroom" and improve the overall quality of photography.

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Above: Central Park, New York, 2014.


 


 

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Thorsten Overgaard
Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish-American multiple award-winning photographer, known for his writings about photography and Leica cameras. He travels to more than 25 countries a year, photographing and teaching workshops to photographers. Some photos are available as signed editions via galleries or online. For specific photography needs, contact Thorsten Overgaard via email.

You can follow Thorsten Overgaard at his television channel magicoflight.tv.

Feel free to email to thorsten@overgaard.dk for questions, advice and ideas.

 

 

     
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