Ever taken a photo that you thought was perfect, only to later realize that the white balance is completely off the mark? If you have, you aren’t alone in the photography community, and it’s not uncommon for photographers to end up with an unbalanced finished image.
If you’re unsure how to correct your white balance in Photoshop or even unsure what white balance is to begin with, there’s no reason to worry. We’ve included everything you need to know below:
What is White Balance?
Regardless of the lighting, it’s usually easy for our brains to interpret and process white light and color casts. A perfect white shirt looks the same to us on a sunny day as it does in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, our camera doesn’t have the same ability.
If you’ve ever had issues with your white balance in Photoshop before or forgotten to set it properly, you’ve probably ended up with an image that looks a little too cool (blue) or warm (orange and red).
For many photographers, especially those who don’t do tons of work with Photoshop, it can be disappointing to end up with an almost perfect image without the right white balance in Photoshop. The good news is that not all hope is lost.
With a little bit of editing in post, you can still correct the white balance in Photoshop. Programs like Photoshop and Adobe Camera RAW already understand that this is a common issue, and include ways for photographers to deal with the problem in your image.
Adobe Camera RAW: What is it?
Available in both Lightroom and Photoshop, Adobe Camera RAW is a processing tool that gives you access to a lot of different editing tools for your RAW image. It’s worth noting that, when you work with RAW, you’re working with the most amount of image data that’s available.
To open a RAW image in Photoshop after you’ve used an email address to log in, it’s as quick and easy as dragging it with your mouse from a Finder window or even an Internet Explorer window into the Photoshop workspace. The program should recognize the image and immediately open within Adobe Camera RAW for any adjustment.
Editing the Balance With Adobe RAW
If you’ve never worked with Adobe Camera RAW before, you might not know this, but there is one tip to be aware of. You’ll want to click on the image profile at the bottom of the screen, and when the Workflow Option dialog box pops open, you want to check the box that says “Open in Photoshop as Smart Objects” box. Doing this allows you to get back to Adobe Camera RAW at any time to make changes to the picture.
With Adobe Camera RAW, adjusting the white balance in Photoshop only gets easier from here. You might already notice that the white balance in Photoshop adjustment is one of the first options on your panel of tools.
The drop-down box for white balance Photoshop should have plenty of different options for dealing with presets and most standard lighting situations. You might see options such as “tungsten,” “fluorescent,” and even “daylight.”
You’ll want to pay attention to where you took the photo. If it was outside, you’d need to work with the “daylight” option, not the “tungsten” bar.
From here, all you should need to do is drag the bar from one side or the other to adjust the lighting. If an almost perfect image came out a little too warm, drag it to the blue side to add more cool lighting. If it’s too cool, try sliding to the warm side and adding an orange tint or color cast.
Sometimes, your image might need a few more adjustments before the white balance in Photoshop looks as it should. Some people also like to play with the adjustment around with the shadows, contrast, and exposure in the image. Even if the white balance in Photoshop does look good, a image with too much overexposure or poor contrast can cause problems.
If you’re still feeling some confusion about white balance and how to correct the color temperature, we’ve gone into more detail below.
For amateur or beginner photographers, understanding color balance and color cast is crucial to taking photos that look how you envision them to.
The scene might have one type of lighting, but when you look at the image later, it looks much warmer than it should. Color cast and color balance issues can almost always trace back to the white balance and correcting that initial color cast problem.
When it comes to temperatures, light ranges from warm tones (orange, yellows, and reds) to cool tones (blues, greens, and purples). The “temperature” or light for every image is different. While a match flame has around 1,700K, a cloudy sky is 10,000K. Keep in mind that the measurement we’re using here is Kelvin.
To better understand color casts, it can be helpful to understand the differences between the light sources you’re using in pictures.
- Tungsten or Incandescent Lamps – These kinds of lamps are electric, and use a wire filament inside. The science behind these lamps is fairly easy. They heat to such a high temperature that they produce and glow with visible light. If you aren’t sure where to find a tungsten lamp, try checking around your home.
- Fluorescent Lamps – Fluorescent lamps and lights tend to look a little different from other light sources, and it’s likely because they’re low-pressure mercury-vapor gas-discharge lamps. The fluorescence inside of the lamp is what produces and gives off light. Fluorescent lights are sometimes in houses, but you’ll also find them in offices and public buildings as well.
- Halogen or Quart Lamps – As incandescent lamps, halogen or quart lamps have a wire filament, but it’s inside of a small transparent envelope. There’s a specific mixture of inert gas and a halogen gas like bromine or iodine as well. You’ll typically find these lights in studios or professional settings rather than your living room or kitchen.
To make it a little easier to identify your lighting’s temperature in Kelvin, you can try checking the package your light bulbs came in. Depending on the brand, it might already tell you what the temperature is. Checking the temperature for daylight or other kinds of outdoor scenes can be tricky, but you can try referring to a chart.
Why is Light Balance So Important?
We’ve been talking about how to change your light balance for a while, but we haven’t really discussed why it’s so important to get it right. After all, is anyone really going to notice if your scene looks a little warmer than it should?
Even if it isn’t completely noticeable to someone who doesn’t work with photography, a scene without the right light balance might feel…off. Your light balance is what makes your picture believable to other people, and it’s why it’s so important to pay attention to what’s going on with your whites and mid-tones.
A shift in color can create an interesting effect. While some photographers might adjust the light balance to look different for a specific reason, they usually don’t do it to their entire scene. Changing the color to a specific spot in the image might not be noticeable, but if your light balance is off throughout the whole image, people will probably be able to tell.
If you want to avoid having to work with white balance in Photoshop in the post-editing process, you should try setting the white balance setting on your camera. Most modern cameras have built-in white balance settings that “correct” the image and prevent it from looking too warm or too cool. If your camera doesn’t have an automated white balance setting, you might be able to change it manually or work with a color card to get it right.
What is a Color Checker?
If you’re seriously interested in making sure your white balance is correct or as close as possible, you can invest in a color checker. This tool tends to be a little bit more expensive, and unless you’re working with white balance in Photoshop frequently, it might not be worth the money. Before a photography session, the color checker brings up a variety of different colors that you can photograph.
It’s important to make sure you use the same lighting, or as close to the same lighting as possible so this tool can be accurate. Once you’ve taken the images that you want to correct, you can copy the settings to correct them.
Do You Need to Use a Gray Card?
Using a grey card is another option. As a middle gray reference, you should photograph the gray card before your photography session. Most people use grey cards when they’re worried about getting the proper picture exposure. Generally, 13% or 18% is the standard exposure. Unless you’re trying to create a specific effect intentionally, you don’t want to exceed these percentages.
The grey card shouldn’t be too complicated to use. All you need to do is snap a few shots of it beforehand and then utilize the card later on.
Although there’s no reason why you can’t use a grey card or color checker at home, these tools show up primarily in studio settings. Trying to work with them in nature or on outside shoots can be tricky, and for many photographers, it’s just not worth it. Not to mention, they can land on the pricier side, and unless you plan to use them frequently, they might not be worth the price tag.
The Steps to Fixing White Balance and Color Correction in Photoshop
Whether you forgot to set the white balance beforehand in your camera or just doesn’t look quite right to you, here’s an in-depth tutorial and step-by-step guide for fixing the color correction in Photoshop. Although we’ve already discussed how to work with Adobe Camera RAW, these tutorials handle the entire Photoshop program and go into more detail.
Fixing the light equilibrium and color correction Photoshop comes down to three main steps in tutorials: locating and setting the black point, white point, and then the gray point in your photo. Remember how we said it was important to pay attention to those blacks, whites, and mid-tones? These tutorials show where it can come in handy:
Locate and Set Your Black Point
After you log in with your email address (although some versions might not require your email address), you can start by bringing up the photo. To begin with, you’ll need to locate the black point on your picture. The first step is to open your picture in Photoshop and set your Image Mode to 16 bits. This step isn’t essential, but many photographers prefer to work with 16-bit images to prevent as much information loss as possible.
Locating the Black Point
Once you’ve done that, you’ll want to click on the icon that says, “Create a new fill or adjustment layer.” From here, you should select Threshold. This should pull up a Threshold adjustment layer dialog box with a graph that shows varying levels of blackness. Take the slider bar and bring it all the way to the left. The dark parts that you see in the Threshold box should begin appearing in your image before you reach the end of the slider.
This step can confuse some people. Some people might try and slide the bar to the right and let only a few dark spots appear in their image. However, these black spots don’t actually contain any color information, and they won’t help you correct the photo. They’re void of color, and they can’t remove any of the color contamination that you’re trying to. You should see plenty of black spots when you move the slider to the left, not just a few.
You can’t ever be completely sure that actual blacks are showing when the spots appear, but you can turn off the visibility of the threshold layer. (This button looks a lot like an eyeball, and when you click on it, the eyeball should disappear or get a line through it to show there’s no visibility).
Turning off the visibility will show you the original picture. If it doesn’t look any different, it might be a tip-off that you aren’t seeing any actual dark spots or removing any real color contamination. Once you know that you’re on the right track, don’t forget to turn your visibility back on before you proceed.
Setting the Black Point
After identifying where the blacks are in your picture, the next step is to find the Color Sampler Tool. If it isn’t obvious, try clicking and holding the Eyedropper tool, and it should pop up.
With the color sampler tool, you should click on the area that you know is black in order to set the Color Sampler point. Even if you miss and hit the wrong area, you can always hold down and drag the point you placed back to the correct location.
Sometimes, if you’re having trouble hitting the right area, the Zoom Tool can be helpful. This is especially true with images where the point you’re trying to hit is much smaller, and it’s easy to confuse with other parts of the picture.
Your next step after setting the Color Sampler point is to create a Curves layer for your point. In the Adjustments panel, click on the Curves icon and New Adjustment Layer. Once you have the Curves Adjustment Layer, you can go ahead and delete your Threshold layer since you won’t need it anymore.
If you aren’t sure how to delete the Threshold layer, try clicking on it one time to highlight it and then pressing the ‘Delete’ key on your keyboard. Believe it or not, deleting the previous layer is a crucial step, and it’s not one that you want to omit.
After deleting your Threshold layer, you want to reactivate your Curves layer by clicking on it again. When you look at the dialog box for the Curves layer, there should be three different eyedropper icons. These eyedroppers represent the black point, white point, and the gray point (from top to bottom). Since we’re only dealing with the darkest point in this step, that’s the eyedropper you want to pay attention to.
After selecting the black eyedropper, just click once on the Color Sampler point that you set a little bit ago. If you do this correctly, you might notice that the curve graph in the Curves box changes.
This is a good sign that you’re on the right track. If the graph doesn’t change at all, you might not have selected the Color Sampler point correctly, and you might need to try again.
To make sure you’ve hit the correct point, it might be helpful to use the more accurate version of your Selection Tool. To get the more accurate version, turn on your Caps Lock key, and you should see your cursor change (this tip works with almost all the Photoshop selection tools).
Even if it took a few minutes to get there, you now have successfully located and set the black point in your picture. The next step is doing the same for your white point and gray point.
Locate and Set Your White Point Photoshop Tutorials
The good news is that a lot of the steps you followed for setting the black point are almost exactly the same for locating the white point:
- Click on “Create a new fill or adjustment layer.”
- Select “Threshold.”
- In the Threshold box, adjust the slider all the way to the right, and then drag it back to the left until you begin to see a bunch of white spots appear in your picture.
- You can follow the same step to make sure the white spots you’re seeing are real spots and not just void spots without any color contamination. This means turning off the visibility for your Threshold layer and seeing if it looks any different.
- Go to the Color Sampler Tool and set your Color Sampler Point on the area you’ve determined to have white spots.
- Next, create a new Curves layer from the Adjustments panel, and delete the previous Threshold layer that you had.
- The final step is to click on the white eyedropper and selecting your Color Sampler point.
- The graph on your Curves box should change to reflect that you’ve done this.
Once you’ve done this, you should have both points, and be ready to move on to the final gray point.
Locate and Set Your Gray Point Photoshop Tutorials
Although setting the gray point is similar to the other previous points, there are a few intermediate steps that you’ll need to make as well.
- Start the process by creating a new layer with the New Layer icon or using the keyboard shortcut.
- Next, open your fill dialog box and select the option that allows you to fill the layer with 50% Gray, and then click OK. You shouldn’t try to change the opacity or any other options within the fill box.
- Change your blend mode to Difference.
- Then, you’ll want to add a new Threshold layer and adjust the slider for the gray eyedropper all the way to the left and right until gray areas begin to pop up in the photo.
- Select the Color Sampler Tool and set your Color Sampler Point on a gray area.
- Only grays will appear when you set the blend mode to Difference, which should make selecting your Color Sampler Point a little easier.
- Create a new Curves Layer, and delete the Threshold layer and 50% fill layer.
- Reactivate your upper layer, and click on the gray eyedropper to select it, and then hit your Color Sampler point. This should set your gray point.
While it can be a little tedious to locate and set all three points, the end result is usually worth it. Once you’ve set your points, you can then go back and make any further adjustments you want to with the opacity or other tools. Depending on the picture, your final result in Photoshop should look noticeably different from your original photo.
Editing a JPEG File in Lightroom, Elements, and Photoshop Tutorials
Unfortunately, editing the balance in an image can be a little tricky, depending on what program you’re using. The steps you take for Photoshop tutorials are going to be different than the steps you take for Lightroom or Elements tutorials.
Not to mention, it can vary based on the type of file you’re trying to upload as well. If you’re working with a JPEG file, here’s are some brief tutorials for each type of editing software:
Editing in Lightroom Tutorials
Although the options aren’t as vast as when you’re working with a RAW file in Adobe Camera RAW, there are still adjustments you can make to a JPEG file in Lightroom. When you use Camera RAW in Lightroom, you should get around nine image adjustment options in the drop-down bar. With a JPEG file, don’t be surprised if you only get two.
When you’re editing a JPEG, your best option is usually to work with the dropper tool. Once you click on it, you should be able to scan your image for neutral or gray tones. From here, you can click on different tones, and work to adjust it to a better shade.
Editing in Photoshop Elements Tutorials
When you work with Photoshop Elements, you’ll need to open the picture you want to use and select Enhance, then Adjust Color, and then Remove Color Cast in Photoshop. Although you won’t get as many adjustment options with Photoshop Elements, this can be a quick and easy solution if you just want to make a few simple adjustments to the light.
Another perk with this Photoshop tool is that you can pick which parts of the picture you want to work with. If you only want to change one part of the picture (such as a shirt or someone’s toothy smile), you can select and adjust only that one part.
Editing in Photoshop Tutorials
When you work with Photoshop, there are two primary ways you can adjust the light on your photo. The first Photoshop method is by selecting the picture, clicking on Adjustments, and going to Color Balance. Once in Color Balance, you should see a bunch of different sliders for different colors.
This is where you can make the image appear cooler or warmer with Photoshop, depending on the image’s tone. For instance, if you think your picture looks a little orange, you can use the sliders to balance it out with cooler tones.
Some photographers might not always like to use the first method since there’s no way to automate the change in Photoshop. You have to manually correct the balance, and it can be difficult to tell if you’ve got it exactly correct.
The second method in Photoshop has to do with creating a Curve layer. Once you go to Adjustments and click on Curves, you should see a drop-down panel for the white and gray tones in the picture. If you know there’s a part of your picture that should be white or gray, you can click on the corresponding dropper, select that part of the image, and change it.
When you use the second method in Photoshop, there should be an immediate change to your image. If it doesn’t seem noticeable, try hiding the visibility, and looking at the original image you started with. If it doesn’t look any different, you should rework through the steps.
Whether you’re an experienced photographer in the community or someone who is still learning the ropes and needs a few tips, correcting your Photoshop light balance can be tricky.
Regardless of what program you’re using or what image you’re working with, there’s no reason you should have to leave an image with unbalanced white lighting. Follow these tips above and try experimenting with your picture.