How to get perfect white balance

Learn to use tools to make shooting raw files easier

Custom white balance can be a tricky subject, especially if you are new to digital photography. Some methods people use are:

  • Using custom white balance in camera
  • Using an Expo Disc tool
  • Guessing at the white balance on your computer screen
  • Using a measured neutral gray card

When I shoot raw files, my preferred method is using a measured neutral gray card. The one I use is called a WhiBal and is made by RawWorkFlow.com. You can purchase online directly from their site, or through B&H and other dealers, but it’s really easy to purchase direct, even if you are from Canada. The WhiBal cards are sent through snail mail and I had no hassles with duty or anything like that.

Other manufacturers make these types of cards as well, including Gretag MacBeth, a company I’ve mentioned before in this post on monitor calibration. The WhiBal offers the best value though. I’ve heard from other people that the Expo Disc is hard to use in the studio, but I don’t have any hands on experience with it myself. A lot of photo journalists like them, because they shoot mainly jpgs and then they don’t have to do any post processing.

I’ve made a little demonstration movie about how I use the WhiBal card when shooting and post processing my images. You can use the WhiBal if you shoot jpgs too. Now that all the popular raw processing software on the market work with jpgs, you’ll be able to use the same methods I teach you in the video.

Summary of the video demo:

  1. Take a photo of the digital gray card in the same light as your subject. Remember you’re measuring colour temperature, so you’ll want to get the light falling on your subject consistent with the light falling on the WhiBal card.
  2. Carry on taking photos under the same light.
  3. If the light changes, then take another photo of your gray card in the new light.
  4. In your post processing software, find the white balance tool.
  5. Click the colour picker on the gray card.
  6. Note the temperature and tint numbers.
  7. Apply that setting to the rest of your photos taken in the same light.
  8. Voila! Beautiful neutral colour.
  9. If you don’t want neutral, you can adjust after establishing neutral. It’s just easier that way.

I’m still using my original WhiBal custom white balance cards that I purchased over 9 years ago

The cards are made of durable plastic, washable and super easy to use. I have a 4×6 inch one and a business card-sized one. I use the bigger one when I’m shooting in the studio. The smaller one is always in my camera bag, and when I’m shooting I keep it in my pants pocket or even around my neck if I’m feeling ultra nerdy that day.

The WhilBal will work with:

  • Photoshop and also Photoshop Elements
  • Lightroom
  • OnOne
  • Aperture
  • Capture One
  • iPhoto
  • and any program that lets you set your white balance using a colour picker tool

If you aren’t using a white balance tool yet, consider the WhiBal

I trust it 100%. It gives me a neutral colour, and if I want to make an image warmer or cooler, I can change it to taste and subject matter. I never worry about what the colour looks like on my monitor, or my skin tones being off, and I can send files to the lab or to clients with confidence. If you shoot artwork and you want true colour, you can get it by using a WhiBal card and this method. Keep in mind though, not all pigments reproduce properly once they go to print, but that’s a whole other lesson!

Caution: You cannot substitute Kodak’s 18% Gray card for a white balance card. Those cards measure reflected light, and are used for metering purposes, not white balance!

Tell me what you think in the comments. What do you use to get custom white balance? I’d love to hear your experiences on this topic.

If you shoot jpgs – use Custom WB

Since I switched to Lumix Mirrorless cameras, I now shoot jpgs 99% of the time. And when you shoot jpgs it’s best to use Custom WB so that you can get it right in the camera.

This blog post has all the info about how to set up custom WB. Check it out.

P.S.

If you can’t open your raw files, go here for my camera raw tutorial.

Learn the techniques pros use! In this course you will learn how to use white balance cards, shoot camera raw files, and do basic raw image editing techniques using Adobe Photoshop Elements v. 9 and later, which is a reasonably priced and reasonably powerful image editing program.Learn more about this course . . .

 

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