Working with White Balance

by Michael Clark

One of the keys to accurate color in the digital age is white balance - both in the camera and in the processing this is perhaps the most important tool we work with to assure consistent and accurate colors, especially when it comes to skin tones. If you'd like to read up on how I manage white balance in camera you can read my earlier blog post on that subject here.

In the processing stage I learned a really good white balance technique from the master himself, George Jardine - Adobe's Lightroom evangelist and photography guru. His advice is to start with the temperature slider and swoop back and forth with the slider going to extremes to really see the changes in the image as you go from one side to another, then slow that process down like a pendulum swinging back and forth. If you watch closely (and move the slider slow enough) you'll see the perfect spot for the temperature slider when you go by it. With enough practice you'll be able to dial this in fairly quickly.


The Tint slider is a little harder but in much the same way if you move the slider back and forth between extremes and slowly find that perfect middle spot then you can dial it in as well. I often find that I'll get an image to the point that it looks perfect, then I'll step away from the computer on a break and come back to it and see a little magenta or green cast in the skin tones. It will take time to train your eyes to see this. If you can't see it straight away, try selecting a few of the preset white balance modes and toggle between them and your custom settings as in the image below. This can really help you understand where your white balance started and how you have modified it. A color calibrated monitor as discussed in my last blog post is a must here because you are completely trusting that your monitor is showing you accurate colors.


Now, one last note, in general when I am adjusting images the white balance is the last item I adjust in the Basic panel. I adjust the Tone and Presence sections first then deal with the White Balance because if I adjust the contrast, saturation or vibrance that will affect the white balance. So if I first adjust the white balance then the saturation or contrast or brightness I will have to go back and in effect adjust the white balance twice. So to minimize my time on each image I just save the white balance until last.

In my next blog post I'll go over my sequence of how I work up an image in terms of the right panel in the Develop mode.

That's it for this session. See you next week.

Adios, Michael Clark


Bruce McL
2007-10-29 09:04:30
I agree the tint slider is more difficult to get right than temperature. I believe it's because the eyes are more sensitive in the green range than anywhere else. To get the fine adjustments in tint I highlight the number to the right of the slider and use the up and down arrow keys to make adjustments. This allows me to easily make very fine adjustments.
George Mann
2007-10-30 00:03:55
Very good information Michael. I do have one question though. If the white balance is obviously off, would it not make sense to (roughly) correct the white balance first, before making the saturation or vibrance changes, and then making a final white balance adjustment after the saturation or vibrance changes? Otherwise you might be making unnecessary or incorrect saturation or vibrance changes.
Michael Clark
2007-10-30 10:31:15
George -

Hello. You do have a good point. If an image is really far off I will slightly adjust the white balance quickly just so I know I am in the ballpark - but mostly I use custom white balance setings in camea so the white balance isn't too far off when I get the processing stage.