Fixing white balance is usually the first area I work on after I open a photo in Adobe Camera Raw. There’s a reason these particular sliders appear at the top of the list of those included in the Basic panel. There’s little you can do to a photo if the actual color temperature isn’t accurate. Once it’s the way it should be, we can continue on to edit our photos.
I do a lot of indoor photography where I use JPEG mode. I use this mode because my camera takes care of the more nuanced settings for me automatically. Since I use most of my photos for online purposes, many of these settings are, how do I say, less important, than they would be if I were to use the photos for print. Computer monitors and smart phones are more forgiving than billboards along highways. Nevertheless, when I use my camera to capture JPEG files, oftentimes it gets the color balance wrong. The reason for this is primarily due to confusion on the camera’s part. Indoor lighting is notoriously known as a tough customer. Oftentimes, the types and temperatures of lighting are mixed and the camera’s auto white balance feature simply doesn’t understand the photographer’s intent. Because of this, we need to adjust white balance ourselves in an application such as Camera Raw.
I want to take a moment to offer a bit of understanding regarding JPEG and RAW camera modes. While shooting in JPEG mode, camera’s tend to attempt to figure out what’s going on. In RAW mode, they leave that up to the photographer. Because of this, while working in something like Camera Raw, we’ll have fewer options available to us and will end up with lower quality photos when editing JPEG files. While working on RAW files, the sky’s the limit. So, if you can, take your photos in RAW mode and learn all that Camera Raw can truly accomplish. That said, in today’s post, I’ll be editing a JPEG file simply to show you the concept of and how to become familiar with white balance.
Also, in today’s post, much of what I want to convey has to do with color accuracy. After I’m finished with that though, I’m going to touch on color look. While editing my photos, I tend to lean toward warmth as opposed to coolness. For my type of photography, warmth is better received.
In today’s post, I’ll be using a stock photo that’s got a nice variety of color. While I take my fair share of food related photographs, I quickly gravitated toward the one I’ll show you in a moment because of its wide range of acceptable temperature and color dynamics. Also, it’s enhances well when the color temperature is adjusted which, in turn, will show you how that setting can significantly affect a photograph.
White Balance Drop-Down Box
As I mentioned above, the first task photographers need to tackle is to actually correct any error in white balance. There are a number of tools to accomplish this. What we’ll look at in this section is the White Balance Drop-Down.
In the drop-down box above, there are only two options available. This is because I’m editing a JPEG file that has already had a white balance adjustment applied to it by the camera it was taken with. As I mentioned earlier, if this was a RAW file, there would be many further options.
Currently, we’ve got:
If this were a RAW file, we’d have:
Almost all of these options assumes the camera didn’t accurately capture the correct white balance. If we focus on the RAW file options for a moment, we can see that if the photo were taken on a cloudy day, for example, and the camera didn’t recognize that fact, it can be corrected by clicking on the Cloudy selection. This will either cool or warm the colors in the photograph. Each of the remaining options are similar to the one I used in my example, where they would somehow alter the white balance and/or tint.
White Balance Tool
For a more accurate white balance correction, we can use the White Balance Tool. This is located in the top toolbar.
The trick with this tool is to use it alongside an area in the photo that’s determined to be of a neutral shade. Oftentimes, this is challenging to determine, especially when the colors are dramatically skewed one way or the other. For this reason, many photographers use gray cards in their photography. Gray cards offer the photographer a point of reference that they are assured is neutral. If you aren’t familiar with this concept, please take a look at this resource:
I’ve even written a section on this site that talks about gray cards:
If a gray card isn’t available, you could always try to find a neutral area in the photograph to click on. The issue with this is that some areas are more neutral than others, if that’s even possible. What I’m trying to say is that the more you click around inside a photo with the White Balance Tool, the more you’ll see variations in color.
I’ll show you a few examples. First, I’ll click an area inside of the spoon at the left side of the photo that looks neutral. Here is the result.
As you can see, the value in the Temperature slider stayed at 0, while the value in the Tint slider fell to -24. There’s also a blueish hue to the entire photo.
If I choose a different area to click on – say an area inside the other spoon that sits on the other side of the photo, perhaps the result will be more accurate.
Well that’s not very good. It’s for this reason, I don’t just randomly use the White Balance Tool. I always like to end up with an accurate reading. Gray cards only cost a few dollars.
Next, I’ll simply click into the white of the bowl. I know this is supposed to be white and perhaps we’ll get a better result.
Ah, that’s better. As you can see, the photo looks more appropriate and the value in the Temperature slider has risen to +11 and the value in the Tint slider has risen to +19. This is a good starting point for the next section.
Adjusting the Sliders
For most of my editing, I manually use the sliders to adjust white balance and tint. I know the way I’d like to see the photo and I can easily give it the look I want. And as I mentioned above, for most of my photos, I like them to feel warm.
Since I think the white balance is currently fairly accurate, I can go ahead and move the Temperature and Tint sliders back and forth, until I achieve the feel I’m after. Many photographers take this step after they’ve used their gray card to first correct any out of whack color cast. In this example, I just happened to get lucky by using the White Balance Tool and clicking on the white bowl.
It’s pretty obvious that I warmed this photograph quite a bit by adjusting the sliders. Right now, it looks good, but I would probably go back and adjust things further after I played with a few other sliders and panels. Editing is always a work in progress and one adjustment can easily affect another.
These are the most basic methods of adjusting a photograph’s white balance using Camera Raw. Of course, you’d probably want your camera to handle much of this task, but if, for some reason, you ended up with an inaccurate color cast in some photos or simply wanted to alter their feel, the White Balance and Tint sliders are perfectly acceptable tools to use.
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