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Taking Better Pictures: White Balance - How to get better color in Pictures - Getting the Right Color in Your Photos

Updated on April 7, 2011

Getting Great Color in Your Photos

Do the colors on your pictures look a little funny?

This is because different types of light give off different hues of color. It is particularly problematic if you are shooting photos indoors with artificial lighting. Under florescent lighting your photos may have green tint to them. While under tungsten your photos might be yellowish. And your cameras flash may turn your photos blue.

White Balance

The key to getting great color in your photographs is using the correct white balance. Adjusting the white balance tells your camera what colors should look like. Most modern digital cameras do a good job at automatically white balancing for you. However, if you are noticing that the color of your photos seem a little off, you should manually set the white balance on your camera. If you read your camera owners manual it should explain how to adjust the the white balance using the preset white balances on your camera or set a custom white balance.

White Balancing your Camera

Unlike point and shoot cameras, which may offer several white balancing presets, Digital SLR's allow you to set your own custom White Balance.

You can set a Custom White Balance on your Digital SLR by grabbing your gray card or white card and following the steps below. If you don't have a gray card or white card, you can use a clean white piece of paper.

1. Turn off Auto Focus

The first thing you will need to do is set your camera to Manual Focus, as your camera may not take a picture if it can not find anything to focus on.

2. Take a Test Shot

Zoom in or take a close picture of your gray card or white card. Make sure that you do not block the light from the card or it may throw your white balance off.

3. Adjust your Cameras Settings

Go into your cameras settings and select custom white balance and select your test shot as the image to use for the custom white balancing.

White Balancing During Post Processing

The white balance you set through your camera will only apply to .jpeg images. If you shoot in raw you will need to adjust the white balance on your computer. You will want to check that your post processing software has a way to set a custom white balance. Ideally you will also want a post processing program that will set the white balance of more than one image at a time. That way you don't have to open each image and adjust them individualy.

If you have Adobe Camera Raw you can use Adobe Bridge to adjust the white balance on an entire directory by following the steps below.

  1. Open the image of your gray card or white card in Adobe Bridge.
  2. Set the White Balance to Custom then use the eyedropper and click on part of the gray card/white card to set the white balance.
  3. Click on Done.
  4. In Adobe Bridge, right click on the image and select Develop Settings > Copy Settings.
  5. Press Ctrl-a to select all of the other images.
  6. Right click on any of the images and select Develop Settings > Paste Settings.
  7. Select only White Balance from the dialog box and click OK.

Balancing with Film

With film, balancing your was much more complicated and unless you worked for a photo lab, you would not need to concern your self with the process. From the photographers end you would simply include a test shot of a gray card at the start of your roll or anywhere that the lighting changed.

There are two types of Balancing done with Film, Density Balancing and Color Balancing.

Color Balancing

Color Balancing calibrates the print processor to produce a print with the correct color saturation. A test print is processed and then measured by a tool called a reflectometer, which measures the color saturation of the reflective light. Depending on the reflector meter it will tell you how much Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow, or Red, Yellow, and Blue light was reflected off the print. Based on the resulting color pack, the light from the enlarger is then adjusted to add or subtract red, blue or yellow light.

Density Balancing

Density Balancing calibrates the film processor so that the developed negitives have the correct density, or thickness. A test roll will be processed and then a tool called a densitometer will be used to measure the density of processed film. If the negitives are found to be too thick or thin the processing times and tempertures are adjusted to correct the density for the next set of negitives to be processed.

A photo lab will peridically run a test roll to check the density of each film processor as part of their standard maintence or when the density of negitves have noticably shifted.

Clip Tests

If you use a custom proffessional lab, you can request a clip test, where they take a 'clip' (two or so frames) of the film and process them before processing the rest of the roll. This lets them evaluate the processed clip and make any adjustments before processing the rest of the film. Clip tests ensure the best processing of your roll of film and is commonly done with Slide Film.

Densitometers Versus Reflectometer

The terms Densitometer and Reflectometer are sometimes used interchangably. This is because these devices ofthen have two modes, one for reading density of film and another for reading the reflective light from prints. So you may hear someone call a reflectometer a densitometer and they might be right.

Traditional Gray Cards

If you are starting to get serious about your photographs you should carry a gray card in your camera bag. The gray card lets you precisely calibrate the white balance of your camera.

Gray cards were designed for the film photography process. A gray card is exactly 18% neutral density, so it could be used as a reference when checking the density of your film using a densitometer. While they are not perfect for white balancing they still do a great job at getting a good color balance.

Digital White Balance Gray Card Sets

Gray cards have been around for a long time and were key in getting properly exposed film with a traditional Film camera.

You can still get good color balance by using just a gray card to white balance your digital camera. However, many of the camera manufactures have designed their cameras to white balance using a white card instead of gray. There are digital white balance kits which include a white card that will give you a better white balance. These digital gray card set will typically contain a white, gray and black card, which are used in the same method as a tradtional gray card. These sets give you three different refences to work with.

Expo Discs

If you want to go all out you can get an ExpoDisc. This is a filter which attachs to the end of your lens. You simply put the filter on and take a picture to set your custom white balance then take it off.

The Expodisc gives you a better overall white balance reading becuase it uses incident light instead of reflective light bounced off of a gray card.

How do you White Balance

How do you White Balance your Camera?

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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      So that's why all my photos at an awards banquet (with florescent lighting) had green hue, and I was up until 2AM correcting them all on the computer. White balance! Still learning how to use my Nikon D7000, which is a more capable camera than I am a photographer.

    • PhotoJoe21 profile image


      6 years ago from Callahan, Fl

      Wow, I have rarely ever had a problem with the white balance on my Canon Rebel xti; but I think after reading this I am going to manually set it each time before shooting (when possible.) Thanks for the advice.

    • profile image

      Casey Johnson 

      8 years ago

      Opteka Grey cards are amazing. Here are a few simple steps to get the right color in the camera before you ever process your images. One, shoot in RAW. This will give you a safe margin of error. Two, photograph your grey card every time you change lighting situations AND backgrounds. Your sets and backgrounds bounce color as well as light. Photograph your grey cards in the same frame with skin tone. This will increase your probability of getting the color right. When white balancing, you can choose your color temperature in reference to your grey cards, and then make adjustments as needed. Chances are, if you make a color adjustment in one image, you will make the same color adjustment in all of your images photographed under the same lighting situation. Simply batch convert all of them once you have a pleasing white balance.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Another technique is to shoot your images as a RAW file. This will give you the option of changing your white balance when editing in RAW conversion software. This works for me as i set the WB to daylight and then if i need to alter it slightly after shooting( e.g. warm things up a bit) then i will do so in the conversion stage.

      This technique saves time in the field if you need to take a shot quickly.

      good hub, thanks again.


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