White Balance (Level: Beginner)

No, this is not about Game of Thrones (can’t wait for the next season!). This article takes a look at how your camera sees things and how you sometimes don’t agree on what should look how.

Here is the issue.. you took a photo of your family somewhere indoors and you notice (upon close inspection of that funny facial expression your sister made) that the whole image looks somewhat yellow. You notice that because that shirt uncle bob is wearing is actually white but on the photo it looks yellow. Bad camera! Bad camera! (Well.. unless you want it yellow.. but you are the creative mind here, not that robot in your hands!)


So the people who built the first digital camera went through this issue and came up with clever ways to train your camera to see as your eyes see things. You know.. that’s necessary because your beautiful image capturing device is actually an inhuman robot-thing and for a camera only bland physics exists. If you walk into a room that is lit by sligthly blue light for instance, your brain will compensate for that and you will not notice it. The camera does not care. It sees blue and it shows you blue. They are brutally honest that way. To correct for that and bring the force color back into balance you therefore have to introduce white balance. Some mathematical witchery by which you say: „remove so and so much blue from all colors in a photo..“ or „add so much red“ etc.

What you end up with now is an image that actually looks like it should – how your eyes see it. You have amazing eyes by the way! I just noticed.. Unless you have no eyes.. but then you probably would not read photography blogs.. hmm.. I any case.. where were we? Ah yes, here is how you can fix it:

In Adobe Lightroom:

If you are feeling lazy, you can try to let another machine correct the error your camera made (basically the Robowars equivalent of photography!).

Click on Develop, then in the white balance field on the Option: Auto. Now Lightroom will try to guess where your camera messed up and correct things for you. 


.. or lightroom fails you just the same. Maybe it and your camera went to the same white-balance school and agree that your image should look yellowish despite of what you think. Now we need to get busy ourselves and teach these stubborn automatons how to do it right.

In that case you click on Custom instead, then click on the colorpicker right next to the sliders and pick a spot in your image that you KNOW should be neutral (ie have no color). That could be a white surface, a gray surface or a black surface anywhere in the image. Click there and Lightroom will do the rest.


For portraits you can also use the white of the eyes in worst case scenarios.. well, as long as your subject does not have jaundice or really red eyes. Gray eyes would be fine.. but then who has gray eyes?

In Adobe Photoshop:

So in case you don’t have Lightroom, here is how to do it in Photoshop instead.

Click to add a new Adjustment Layer (Curves) and select the „Mids“ color picker from the Curves Adjustment Layer.


Pick a color that is neutral (white, black or gray). You will have to try a couple of spots until it looks right.

Photoshop will try to adjust the curves automatically so the picked spot is neutral/has no color.  This way of adjustment needs a bit more tweaking than doing it with the camera files in Lightroom.


The disadvantage of this method is that the colors will need a little more adjustment afterwards, so if you can, do it in lightroom.

This concludes our blogpost for this week. High five, and have fun white-balancing things!