White Balance: Get Better Color Using a Gray Card
by Rich Reierson
Excellent white balance is crucial for professional photographers. As mentioned in Part 1, there are a number of ways to achieve this. If you use a gray card, it will make skin tone color correction much easier once in Photoshop.
So how do we fix white balance? Two photo editing programs that give you a good handle on fixing a white balance problem are Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw. We will be using a picture taken by B4photography of my little boy. This was taken in sunlight with a screen to shade out the bunny. We do this to even out the light and not give harsh shadows BUT it really throws off the sensor. So let’s fix it.
The method is about the same across Lightroom (LR) and Adobe Camera Raw (ACR), and may work in other editors as well. You will need to sample a spot that is neutral to give the program a point of color reference. We can do this a number of ways. First you will notice a gray card hovering in the picture. A gray card is probably the easiest way to get perfect white balance from the start (for example the WhiBal White Balance Card). If you don’t have a gray card you need to find a good neutral point to calibrate on.
Let’s find out how we do this….. First, when you are photographing your subject, take a shot with the neutral card, for each new lighting condition.
Using Adobe Camera Raw with a gray card to white balance:
In Photoshop, open up the pictures in Bridge and select your keepers. Have one picture with the gray card that you will use for reference.
Then right click and open in Adobe Camera Raw.
Once you have the pictures loaded, press CTRL+I. This will open up a dropper. Using this dropper, we will set a neutral point to automatically calibrate white balance. Since I have a card in the picture and I know that the card is 100% neutral, I can click on it to set the WB. Otherwise, find a spot that is not totally white but is a nice diffused part of the picture. This basket in this picture is a great target.
Here is clicking on the card:
Here is result after I click on the basket:
So after the calibration is perfect to my liking, at the top corner of the box click select all then synchronize. Hit “ok” and all the pictures selected will be synced with your “reference picture.”
Using Lightroom with a gray card to white balance:
With Lightroom they have a dropper in the “developer”panel. This makes it easy to WB with a neutral source. So we have our bunny again from B4photography and we will calibrate the picture.
Hover over a spot that is neutral.
Once we click the picture will have almost perfect WB. The trick to getting perfect WB is to not look at the picture as a whole, but to look at the subject and see if the subject looks right.
You can adjust with the temperature and tint sliders to tweak the image to your liking. After you have it tweaked hit CTRL-A and sync the pictures. If you do not have a card, once again select a spot that you know is neutral in the picture. The basket works well in this situation.
Now for the big caveat. Since final product is VERY subjective, this is only a guide and not the end all be all WB fix. There is no hard and fast rule that says you have to stick with these colors and do not change them. Bump the sliders to your liking and then sync the pictures. This is simply a good starting point to let your artistic impression flow.
*** Two related MCP Products/Services to this post ***
- Achieving accurate white balance is only the beginning. Once you accomplish this, you may want to consider MCP’s Color Correction Photoshop Training Class – teaching you to get better skin tones in Photoshop.
- If you did not shoot Raw, or your colors still look off when you edit inside Photoshop, you may also benefit from the MCP Bag of Tricks – these Photoshop actions help color correct and fix skin tones.
This post is by guest writer Rich Reierson, an expert in Photoshop and Lightroom and owner of Mariposa Photography in Dallas/Fort Worth. His main focus is supporting the photographer by building specialized computers built for editing and tutoring on Photoshop and Lightroom. As a sideline he shoots sessions on a referral basis. He has been using Adobe products since 1994 and still has the original 11 disks for Photoshop 3.0. He is a father of 2 kids and and he says his wife makes the best baby bows.