White Balance Simplified

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Setting an image’s ideal white balance doesn’t have to be a complicated task, especially with the user-friendly software and cameras available today. The following is my quick and simple approach for dealing with the white balance within my own images.

The first step is getting the white balance close in-camera. On my Canon, the auto white balance setting works the best and gets me closest to the ideal. With this setting, my camera adjusts the images’ white balance whenever the light changes. Because of this, I don’t have to constantly make manual adjustments. This setting may not work for everyone and depends on your equipment and personal preference, but it’s been working well for me for many years.

The next step occurs after the image has been imported into Lightroom. One of the first things I do to an image in Lightroom is address the overall white balance. There are a couple of basic concepts that I keep in mind. For an image shot in daylight, I usually want a fairly neutral white balance. As an example, look at the following image.


If I click on an area where all of the RGB percentage values are close to 50%, I neutralize any color cast within the image. I usually don’t want much of a color cast in these types of images so this is a Lightroom adjustment that I often make. My camera usually does a good job of setting a decent white balance under these circumstances so I don’t need to tweak the settings too much.

For a sunrise or sunset image, I almost never want to neutralize the white balance. As an example, look at the following image shot during a sunset.


The pink clouds overhead were casting beautiful pink light on the scene. Because of this, I don’t want to neutralize the white balance. If I click on a place in the image where all of the RGB values are close to 50%, this is what it would look like:


The image has lost that beautiful pink glow and now appears flat and a bit lifeless. In this case, I would leave the white balance “as shot” and make some minor tweaks to the blue/yellow and green/magenta slider to fine-tune things and get them exactly where I want them.

That is pretty much all there is to it. I find that I can work faster not having to constantly tweak the settings in my camera while shooting and the “auto white balance” setting does a very good job of giving me a great starting point for most images. I hope this article helps simplify things for you and gives you some new tools and ideas to apply to your own shooting process in the field and in the digital darkroom.

About Author Chip Phillips

Spokane, Washington based photographer Chip Phillips began his relationship with photography in 2006 when his father gave him his old Pentax Spotmatic film SLR camera. Chip was immediately hooked, and soon made the transition to digital. Given his lifelong love of the outdoors, he naturally made the progression to focusing on landscape photography. A professionally trained classical musician, Chip performs as Principal Clarinet with the Spokane Symphony Orchestra, and is Professor of Clarinet at Gonzaga University. Chip’s images have been published in various books and magazines, including Outdoor Photographer, National Geographic, Popular Photography and Imaging, Digital Photography, Digital Photo, and Digital Camera Magazine. In 2009, Chip won first and second place in the landscapes category of Digital Camera magazine's Photographer of the Year contest. Chip is proud to be a founding member of PhotoCascadia, a group consisting of some of the top landscape photographers in the Pacific Northwest.