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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Colors and their opposites in Curves and the Color Balance tool:
- Red and blue;
- Green and purple;
- Blue and yellow.
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).
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.