Eduardo Angel
Eduardo Angel

Eduardo Angel has worked as a photographer, DP, digital consultant, photography instructor, and architect.

Creating and adjusting White Balance in-camera and with software

May 28, 2013

There are still quite a few photographers who have yet to fully explore the world of possibilities found in White Balance controls. These settings help photographers neutralize any unwanted color cast in their images. And while some software applications allow a photographer to modify the White Balance on JPEG files, photographers will benefit the most from a RAW file workflow.

This article covers the steps to create a custom White Balance and manually adjust the color temperature on camera. In addition, this article will also show how to adjust the White Balance settings by using Canon Digital Photo Professional, as well as Adobe Lightroom.

Creating a Custom White Balance in-camera

A Custom White Balance is especially useful when shooting stills using multiple cameras — and especially critical when shooting video. These instructions may seem complicated, but the entire process takes only a few seconds.

1. Using a white balance chart, or target like X-Rite’s handy ColorChecker Passport, is ideal. But, in general, you can use any “neutral” gray or white surface. This neutral surface will reflect equal amounts of red, green and blue.

2. Take a properly exposed picture of the white/neutral target, trying to fill as much of the frame as possible. This needs to be done under the same lighting conditions that you are trying to correct. It does not matter what White Balance type the camera is set to when this test image is taken.

3. In the camera menu, navigate to the “Custom White Balance” option and press “SET.”

4. Make sure that the White Balance test image, which is most likely the last image taken, is selected and visible on the LCD monitor. As a safety measure, the camera menu will only display compatible images.

5. If the image is underexposed or overexposed, or if the white chart is not covering a large enough percentage of the frame, it is possible that a dialog box will appear with the warning that “the correct White Balance may not be obtained with the selected image.”

6. Press “SET” again, and then “OK.”

7. Once a proper white balance has been calculated (as in steps 5 and 6 above) and the camera's actual white balance mode is set to "Custom White Balance," you can expect unusual or mixed lighting to be rendered far more accurately, as long as the lighting remains constant. If you move to a different location and/or lighting changes, repeat the procedure to establish a new Custom White Balance.

Setting the Color Temperature on camera

All Canon EOS digital SLRs, other than the Rebel series, allow users to quickly dial in the White Balance’s color temperature numerically in Kelvin. The “K” white balance option is especially useful for the fine-tuning of overall color that it offers, allowing users to progressively shift to a warmer (amber) or cooler (cyan/blue) white balance.

1. In the camera's shooting menu (red colored menu tabs), located "White Balance" and press the SET button. Alternately, cameras with a White Balance button can access the White Balance selection by pressing this button and turning either the top Main Dial or rear Quick Control Dial. 

2. Turn the camera’s rear Quick Control Dial to select “K” and press “SET.”

3. Turn the camera’s Main Dial (on top of camera) to select the desired color temperature, ranging from 2,500°K to 10,000°K.

Adjusting White balance in Canon’s Digital Photo Professional (DPP) software

If the color tone of a RAW image does not appear natural, users can completely change the White Balance in the computer to make it appear correct. White Balance can also be used as an additional creative tool by deliberately adding an overall color shift to create a different mood in a scene.

1. A totally different White Balance pre-set can be applied to a RAW image, if it doesn’t look right when viewed in the computer. Select “White Balance” from the list box; in this case we chose “Tungsten.”

2. If the color tone of the image needs finer adjustments, the White Balance can be changed using “Click White Balance” and selecting a neutral grey or white target area within the scene – even something like a person’s teeth can be used for this, if required. The entire scene will be corrected with the same adjustment required to make this white/grey target area neutral toned. The “Click White Balance” option in Digital Photo Professional and similar RAW image processing software can be an extremely precise and quick way to get an image’s white balance close to neutral in one step.

3. Another option to reestablish a new white balance is to use the Color Temperature (Kelvin) option, if the image needs a shift in the blue or amber direction. Select “Color Temperature” from the pull-down menu of White Balance options and drag the slider left or right to adjust the color temperature from 2,500°K to 10,000°K. 

For extremely color critical work, users can also benefit from the White Balance fine adjustment. Once you’ve adjusted overall White Balance using any of the above methods, click “Tune” to access a detailed color wheel and adjust the desired color tone and saturation.

These images illustrate a technically optimal image that was shot using Auto White Balance, then changed using the Tungsten White Balance Preset. The image was created in daylight.

Adjusting White Balance in Adobe Lightroom™

1. In the “Develop Module,” go to the “Basic” panel. Click on “White Balance” to select one of the built-in presets. In this case, we chose Tungsten

2. If the the image needs finer adjustments, a custom white balance can be created by clicking the “Eyedropper” tool and selecting a neutral grey or white target. 

3. The “Color Temperature” can additionally be modified by either dragging the “TEMP” slider left or right to adjust the color temperature from 2,000°K to 50,000°K or by manually entering the desired degree Kelvin.

Conclusion

As evidenced, there are many options available to fine tune the color of one’s images—from customizing the camera’s settings to adjusting the color in post-production. Understanding when and how to use White Balance controls to fully take advantage of them will help enhance one’s technical abilities, as well as creative possibilities.

The CDLC contributors are compensated spokespersons and actual users of the Canon products that they promote.

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