Is there a pro­nounced col­or in the pho­to that was not there in real life? The mod­el’s face turned yel­low and flat like a pan­cake? For some rea­son, the white cat turned into pale pink? So you have the wrong white bal­ance. Because of it, the snow can sud­den­ly turn red, and the skin acquire an unhealthy bluish-pur­ple or green­ish tint. This often hap­pens if you pho­to­graph by the light of street lamps, can­dles, on a sun­ny day in the shade of foliage.

We tell you what col­or tem­per­a­ture is, how to adjust the white bal­ance when shoot­ing on a cam­era, and how to fix the white bal­ance in Pho­to­shop and Light­room.

Author’s illus­tra­tion

What is white balance and color temperature

White bal­ance is a para­me­ter that indi­cates the hue in the pho­to or its absence. You can under­stand that the white bal­ance is wrong if you look at the blacks, whites and grays in the pic­ture. They are called neu­tral. This means that they must be “clean”, with­out the admix­ture of for­eign col­ors. But, if the white bal­ance is off, they can get yel­low, blue, green or magen­ta tints.

The white bal­ance in the cam­era depends on its set­tings and the col­or of the light with which we shoot. The col­or of light is also known as col­or tem­per­a­ture. It is mea­sured in degrees Kelvin or sim­ply kelvins.

A high col­or tem­per­a­ture indi­cates a cool col­or, a low col­or tem­per­a­ture indi­cates a warm col­or. A col­or with a tem­per­a­ture of 6,000 kelvins and above is already con­sid­ered cold, and less than 4,700 kelvins is con­sid­ered warm. For exam­ple, the col­or tem­per­a­ture of a can­dle is esti­mat­ed at about 1,000 degrees Kelvin, and an over­cast sky is esti­mat­ed at 6,500 Kelvin. At the same time, the neu­tral tem­per­a­ture at which the light is white, day­light, is con­sid­ered to be the range from 4,700 to 6,000 kelvins.

That is, if you pho­to­graph a per­son by can­dle­light, in the pho­to the skin and every­thing around will be mixed with bright yel­low. At the same time, in life, the mod­el will seem to be a com­plete­ly nor­mal shade.

In the process of evo­lu­tion, we have learned to neu­tral­ize “stray” col­ors. The eyes them­selves “rule” the white bal­ance and bring white, black and yel­low to a neu­tral val­ue. Go into a room with warm incan­des­cent lamps and observe — the longer you look, the less you will notice the col­or of the light. Soon it will appear white, neu­tral to you.

But a cam­era or a smart­phone is not as per­fect as a per­son. They con­vey the pic­ture as it is, with­out sup­press­ing par­a­sitic shades. That is why we must help the tech­nique and set the white bal­ance for it.

How to set the white balance on the camera

The white bal­ance in the cam­era can be adjust­ed in three ways:

  • choose one of the auto­mat­ic modes, based on the light­ing con­di­tions;
  • adjust “by eye” in man­u­al mode;
  • set in man­u­al mode using a neu­tral gray card or any white object.
Com­pact white bal­ance cards / wikimedia.org

Automatic white balance modes

The cam­era itself cor­rects the frame, adding a hue based on light­ing con­di­tions. For exam­ple, at sun­set, when the light is warm, the right mode will add a “chill” to the pic­ture, bal­anc­ing it. Because of this, the col­ors in the pic­ture will become neu­tral, close to real­i­ty.

Types of modes:

1. Auto white bal­ance

The cam­era itself finds a white col­or in the frame and tries to rid it of a par­a­sitic shade. Works best in the col­or tem­per­a­ture range of 3,000 to 7,000 Kelvin.

Some cam­eras may have two sub­modes:

  • ambi­ent light pri­or­i­ty. Keeps the yel­low­ish tint of the light­ing to con­vey the atmos­phere of com­fort and the col­or of the light source;
  • white pri­or­i­ty. Com­plete­ly removes the warm tone, bring­ing the white to the ref­er­ence.

If there is no white in the frame, it is like­ly that the cam­era will mis­take any oth­er light col­or for white — and then col­or errors can­not be avoid­ed.

Suit­able for report­ing where there is no time to change for each frame, and shoot­ing con­di­tions change quick­ly. Con­ve­nient and ver­sa­tile, but get ready — the frames will have to be edit­ed in post-pro­cess­ing.

2. White bal­ance set­tings for nat­ur­al light:

  • Day­light. The col­or tem­per­a­ture is about 5200K. Can be used all day long when shoot­ing out­doors. Best of all, this mode copes with the bright mid­day sun.
  • Shad­ow. The tem­per­a­ture is about 7000K. Suit­able for shoot­ing in light shade con­di­tions. For exam­ple, if dur­ing a pho­to shoot in the sun, move into the shade of trees.
  • Cloudy. The tem­per­a­ture is about 6000K. This cor­re­sponds to the upper­most lim­it of neu­tral white light­ing. Ide­al for cloudy weath­er.

3. White bal­ance set­tings for arti­fi­cial light:

  • Incan­des­cent lamps. Tem­per­a­ture 3200 Kelvin. If you select this mode, the cam­era will add a cool col­or to the pho­to to neu­tral­ize the warm col­or. In gen­er­al, it is suit­able for sit­u­a­tions where the light is col­ored in a warm, yel­low hue.
  • Flu­o­res­cent light­ing. The tem­per­a­ture is around 4,000 kelvins. Adds a magen­ta tint to the pho­to.

Shoot­ing with flu­o­res­cent lights is one of the most dif­fi­cult things to set up for white bal­ance: the lights have dif­fer­ent tem­per­a­tures, there is no sin­gle stan­dard. In addi­tion, the col­or tem­per­a­ture of the lamp may change over time.

  • Flash. The tem­per­a­ture is about 6000K. Suit­able for both built-in and exter­nal flash­es. Ide­al mode for white neu­tral light. Also suit­able for shoot­ing on a sun­ny day.

For dif­fer­ent cam­eras, auto­mat­ic modes are sim­i­lar, but may be called slight­ly dif­fer­ent­ly. For exam­ple, flu­o­res­cent lamps or flu­o­res­cent light­ing.

The divi­sion of modes into suit­able for nat­ur­al and arti­fi­cial light is con­di­tion­al. Noth­ing stops you from exper­i­ment­ing. For exam­ple, the mode for shoot­ing with incan­des­cent lamps is also suit­able for shoot­ing at sun­set or sun­rise.

Manual white balance

Allows you to choose the val­ue of the col­or tem­per­a­ture in Kelvin or set the hue. Suit­able for expe­ri­enced pho­tog­ra­phers who see and feel col­or and light well, as well as for exper­i­ments. Who said white bal­ance always has to be right? Often in pho­tographs and in films, it is delib­er­ate­ly shift­ed — then this is called “tint­ing”. For exam­ple, in the first “Matrix” the scenes are spe­cial­ly paint­ed in a green­ish tint.

Inter­face inside the cam­era to man­u­al­ly adjust the white bal­ance. The dot shows what col­or will be added on the next frame / wikimedia.org

Also, some cam­eras allow you to adjust the tem­per­a­ture in a cer­tain step. That is, the cam­era will take three pic­tures — with the tem­per­a­ture you set, a lit­tle warmer and a lit­tle cold­er.

Gray card for white balance

Allows you to adjust the white bal­ance accord­ing to the pat­tern. To do this, you need to pho­to­graph an object of a neu­tral col­or that has no shades. It is gray or white. Next, you need to select the result­ing frame as a sam­ple. The cam­era will now adjust the col­or tem­per­a­ture of sub­se­quent shots based on it.

A spe­cial gray card is suit­able for this. There are com­pact cards that can be tak­en for loca­tion shoot­ing, as well as more bulky ones for stu­dio work. You can also find a white bal­ance card set that includes both a gray and a white card.

Instead of a gray card, any white object will do. The sim­plest is a white sheet of paper or a white bal­ance card / pixabay.com

Algo­rithm for set­ting the white bal­ance on a gray card:

  • Take a pho­to of the card as close as pos­si­ble. Ide­al­ly, there should be no for­eign objects in the frame at all. You can even dis­able aut­o­fo­cus. Col­or is impor­tant here, not sharp­ness. This frame is aux­il­iary, work­ing.
  • Select this pho­to as a ref­er­ence for cus­tom white bal­ance.

Impor­tant: this white bal­ance will be cor­rect if you are shoot­ing in the same light as when pho­tograph­ing the gray card. If, for exam­ple, you pho­tographed her in a stu­dio in nat­ur­al light, and then turned on the light or the sun began to shine through the win­dow, you need to repeat the pre­vi­ous steps with new light­ing.

Neu­tral grays and whites give the same result as both are free of col­or casts. There is no fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence between them, but it is believed that if the scene is dark, then a white object can be seen bet­ter.

The stan­dard to use a gray card (how­ev­er, for mea­sur­ing expo­sure, and not for edit­ing white bal­ance) orig­i­nat­ed in the 1930s and 50s. At that time, Kodak researchers deter­mined that a stan­dard scene with nor­mal solar illu­mi­na­tion is inte­grat­ed with a reflectance of about 18%. Lat­er, Kodak released a film box that they said reflects 18% of the light so that pho­tog­ra­phers can put it in the frame and set the expo­sure from it. So grad­u­al­ly the 18% gray card became the stan­dard, but Kodak also released a white one, as the pecu­liar­i­ties of pho­to­graph­ic equip­ment did not allow to cor­rect­ly read the gray col­or in dark scenes.

How to set white balance in graphic editors

The white bal­ance is cor­rect­ed accord­ing to the same prin­ci­ple in Pho­to­shop, Light­room and in pho­to pro­cess­ing pro­grams on the phone. Even when you put it in the cam­era on the set, the essence is the same.

You ana­lyze the frame, under­stand what col­or is stray here, and add the oppo­site to it. The cam­era, phone and graph­ic edi­tor do the same when white bal­ance is auto­mat­i­cal­ly cor­rect­ed. Once you under­stand how to fix the white bal­ance in Pho­to­shop and Light­room, you will under­stand how to do it in any oth­er edi­tor.

To set the cor­rect white bal­ance, you have two slid­ers:

  • Col­or tem­per­a­ture (Tem­per­a­ture). It is blue on one end and yel­low on the oth­er. By shift­ing it, you make the pho­to warmer or cold­er. So, if you’re shoot­ing under incan­des­cent light and want a cool­er shot, move the slid­er to the left, toward blue.
  • Hue (Tint). Fine-tune the hue of a pho­to. It’s a slid­er with green and magen­ta on oppo­site ends. Mov­ing it to the left adds green and takes away magen­ta, and mov­ing it to the right adds magen­ta and takes away green.

White balance in Photoshop

White balance in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR)

If you are pho­tograph­ing in RAW for­mat, then as soon as you trans­fer the files to Pho­to­shop, the Adobe Cam­era Raw win­dow will open. This is an addi­tion­al mod­ule, an anal­o­gy with a film pro­cess­ing room (we wrote about use­ful non-obvi­ous fea­tures of this pro­gram here). Cam­era Raw allows you to fix the bright­ness of the entire frame or sep­a­rate­ly in the high­lights and shad­ows with­out los­ing qual­i­ty, change the col­or, and even adjust the white bal­ance.

White bal­ance can be cor­rect­ed:

  • using the white point pipette:
  • Find the “white point” eye­drop­per at the top left of the ACR.
  • Press her on an area that was def­i­nite­ly white in life. It can be white clothes, equip­ment, the white of the eye, a cloud, a divid­ing line on the pave­ment — any­thing.
  • man­u­al­ly. Cor­rect­ing the white bal­ance in this way, you your­self move the slid­ers Col­or tem­per­a­ture (Tem­per­a­ture) and Hue (Tint), achiev­ing the desired effect.
Eye­drop­per for auto­mat­ic white bal­ance adjust­ment and slid­ers — for man­u­al in Adobe Cam­era Raw / Illus­tra­tion by the author

Adjusting white balance in Photoshop

If you shoot in .JPEG for­mat, then the files will open imme­di­ate­ly in the Pho­to­shop work­space. There are two tools for edit­ing white bal­ance: Curves (Cruves) and Col­or Bal­ance (Col­or Bal­ance).

In both cas­es, the method is the same as in Cam­era Raw: using slid­ers or curves, you add the oppo­site col­or to the one you want to remove. The dif­fer­ence is that ACR had two slid­ers and four col­ors (blue-yel­low and green-magen­ta), while Curves and Col­or Bal­ance had three curves/sliders and six col­ors.

Adjust­ment lay­er Col­or bal­ance allows you to cor­rect the white bal­ance in three areas — shad­ows, high­lights and mid­tones. To switch between them, click on the drop-down line Tone (Tone) / Illus­tra­tion by the author

Col­ors and their oppo­sites in Curves and the Col­or Bal­ance tool:

  • Red and blue;
  • Green and pur­ple;
  • Blue and yel­low.
Edit­ing the white bal­ance in the curves is done using the Red, Green and Blue curves / Illus­tra­tion by the author

There are also three eye­drop­pers in Curves: black, gray and white. They cor­re­spond to the three neu­tral col­ors and can be used to auto­mat­i­cal­ly cor­rect the white bal­ance. It is enough to select with a white pipette an object that was white in life, with a black one — black, with a gray one — gray. If the pipettes do not help and do not give an ade­quate col­or, you will have to adjust the white bal­ance man­u­al­ly. By the way, work­ing with a curve and pipettes also allows you to copy the ton­ing from a pho­to­graph or a frame from a movie.

For details on how Curves are arranged and how to use them to tone and adjust white bal­ance, read the link.

white balance in lightroom

  • Open the pho­to and the Devel­op tab, which is locat­ed at the top right.
  • Use the first two slid­ers under the his­togram in the Basic set­tings (Basic) tab — Col­or tem­per­a­ture (Temp) and Hue (Tint).
To remove yel­low­ness, add blue, to remove greens — pur­ple. And vice ver­sa / Illus­tra­tion by the author

If you pho­tographed a gray card, a white sheet of paper, or know exact­ly which object in the pho­to was white in real life, take the eye­drop­per to the left of the white bal­ance slid­ers and click on this object. The pipette is called White Bal­ance Selec­tor. You can quick­ly select it using the W hotkey.


  • To make it eas­i­er to adjust the white bal­ance in Pho­to­shop, Light­room or your phone, take a pic­ture of a per­son with a white bal­ance card (gray card) or a white piece of paper. Then you will know exact­ly which object to set the cor­rect col­or for.
  • Tem­porar­i­ly raise the Sat­u­ra­tion and Vibrance slid­ers to a max­i­mum val­ue of +100. So you can see exact­ly which col­or pre­vails in the pic­ture. After adjust­ing the white bal­ance, the Sat­u­ra­tion and Vibrance slid­ers can be returned to their orig­i­nal val­ues.