Get Your White Balance Accurate Every Time

In this post we’ll take a look at your camera’s white balance settings and how you can get the most accurate colours possible.

10 camera techniques to master in 2014: master white balance settings for accurate colours

You might forget all about setting the right white balance – especially if you shoot in raw, as then you can change it when you process your images later.
However, you’ll need to get the right white balance in-camera to be able to assess the exposure and colours of your shots and achieve the best results.

Strong Colours

Your camera’s Automatic White Balance setting generally does a pretty good job of capturing colours correctly in most lighting conditions, but it’s not infallible.
The main situation in which you’ll get better results by using one of the manual preset values is when your subject is dominated by a single colour or tone, such as a blue sky, orange sunset or even a large expanse of green grass.
In these situations Automatic White Balance can set a value to counteract this strong colour, so you will get better results by selecting a white balance setting that suits the lighting conditions, such as Sunlight or Shade.
The actual white balance of the light at sunrise or sunset is close to the Tungsten or Artificial Light setting (3,200K). But if you set this preset you will lose much of the warmth that you want to capture in your shot.
Instead, try setting the white balance to Daylight, or even Cloudy, to capture the orange glow in all its beauty.

Set a Custom White Balance… In-Camera or on the Computer

For precise colours, you’ll need to take control and create a ‘custom’ white balance setting for the light you’re shooting in. There are a number of white balance aids available to help you do this – such as the JJC White Balance Lens Cap (£11) – but all you really need is a piece of white or grey card or a sheet white paper!
Once you’ve got that, try these two simple techniques for creating custom settings either in-camera, or when you process your pictures in software.

In Software…

Shoot Raw files, and you can adjust the white balance at your leisure in Raw processing software, such as the Adobe Camera Raw plug-in that comes with Photoshop Elements – the options are similar to those on your camera.

You can use sliders to refine the colour balance, and there’s also a White Balance tool; click on a neutral tone in an image with this to set the white balance.
But what if a scene doesn’t contain any neutral tones? The answer is to place a piece of white or grey card in the scene at the shooting stage. It only needs to be in place for one frame, as you can use this to adjust the white balance across all images taken in the same light.

1. Set up a reference card

Place the white or grey card in the same light as the focal point of your picture. Choose a white balance preset on your camera, such as Daylight, and make sure you’re shooting Raw quality files.

2. Open the reference shot

Take a shot with the card in the frame, then remove it and carry on shooting. Later, in Elements, open the card image and click on the card with the White Balance tool. Note the values for Temperature and Tint, then manually enter these for your other Raw files taken under the same light.

3. Camera Raw in CS

The Photoshop CS version of Adobe Camera Raw features Select All and Synchronise buttons. These enable you to set the white balance for a series of images.

4. Select and synchronise

Select all the shots taken in the same light as the ‘card’ shot, then click on the white card and watch the magic happen! Alternatively, you can click Synchronise to synchronise WB and other selected settings.

How to set a custom white balance in camera…

Setting a custom white balance in-camera will save you time at the processing stage. Again, start with a white or grey card in the same light as your scene or main subject. We used a Canon camera for the purposes of this tutorial, but the process is similar with other cameras.

1. Take a shot of the card – it needs to fill the central area of the frame. Use any WB setting.

2. Select the Custom WB option in your camera’s shooting menu, and press SET.

3. Scroll through your images until you find the shot of the white card. Press SET, then OK.

4. Open the white balance menu and choose the Custom symbol to use the new white balance setting.