Getting Perfect White Balance in Your Images

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One of the challenges of photography is enabling your camera to capture the fullest, most natural coloring in every photo you take, which is difficult because every lighting situation is different. The Auto-White Balance on your camera is only effective in certain lighting situations where the computer in your camera detects a perfect balance between the highlights, mid tones, and lowlights. This lighting situation is rare, so using the right custom white balance tools while shooting, or afterwards in post processing, are vital to getting photos that look amazing every time.

I am a fan of using a grey card to tell your camera what the exact lighting situation you are dealing with actually is, instead of relying on the camera’s computer to make it best guess. The approximately 18% value grey color of the card is the most neutral tone that can be printed, both in the value of color, and its ability to take out any color caste that may be on your subject’s face (such as green when shooting in the woods, or yellow in some indoor lighting) Here is how to make this work:

  • Once you are in the lighting situation you desire, hold your great card in front of your lens completely filling your view through the camera, with no cracks on the sides.
  • Capture an out of focus photo of the grey card by focusing off of the card, holding the shutter halfway, and then framing your image over the card and shooting.
  • Once you have taken this image you can switch you camera’s white balance mode to custom, and then you can select the frame you just shot.

Doing this allows the camera to custom set a white balance for your exact lighting situation as long as you continue shooting in it, and no other elements alter your lighting over the course of your shoot. For example, if you were shooting under a cloudy sky when you took your sample shot and then the sun came out, you would need to retake another grey card shot and put the new one into your custom white balance settings. Also remember to always set you camera back to auto white balance when you are finished shooting. The grey card method gets excellent results, and they are very affordable, however they can be awkward to carry around and require you to shoot with one hand and hold the card with the other.

Here is another route you could take, Post Processing:

There are other tools out there that make this easier including the ColorRight Pro camera attachment, which you pop right onto your lens when taking your test shot. This device is small, easy to carry around, and allows you to shoot your test shot with both hands on the camera. Here is a great review on the ColorRight Pro and PostRight White Balance Devices from Professional Photographer Magazine. Review: ColorRight Pro and PostRight White Balance Devices (Professional Photographer Magazine Web Exclusives).

The awesome thing about this device is that you can take a test shot before every lighting situation and skip the step in which you set it as the custom white balance in your camera settings. So basically you can continue shooting in Auto White Balance mode, as long as you take your test shot, and then in Post-Processing later on you can use that test image in a program like Lightroom and the computer will automatically adjust all your images’ coloring after the fact. It is a matter of preference if you prefer to use a grey card to do all your adjustments while at your shoot in-camera, or let your computer do it later on.