White balance (WB) ensures the colors in your image remain accurate regardless of the color temperature of the light source. You can adjust white balance in-camera or using photo editing apps like Lightroom.
In this article, we’ll show you how to correct white balance in Adobe Photoshop.
[Note: ExpertPhotography is supported by readers. Product links on ExpertPhotography are referral links. If you use one of these and buy something, we make a little bit of money. Need more info? See how it all works here.]
Why Is White Balance Important?
Often, the colours of our images precisely match the scene you are capturing. But other times, the picture looks much warmer or colder than in reality.
If the colours look off, then setting your white balance in-camera is the best way to go. Doing so ensures that the lighting in your image matches the scene you’re photographing.
Your camera has built-in white balance settings that automatically changes the image colour for you. But it also has custom options that let you adjust everything according to your specifications. Furthermore, you have the opportunity to tweak your files even more in post through Photoshop (PS) or other editing software.
Understanding Color Temperatures
Light ranges from warm (yellows and oranges) to cool tones (blues), and every situation is different. For instance, the color casts are about 1,700 K for a match flame. Then it goes all the way to 10,000 K for a partly cloudy sky.
The chart below shows the colour temperatures of various light sources.
Tungsten or Incandescent lamps produce yellow and warm light.
Fluorescent lamps typically emit white or bluish light.
Halogen lamps are brighter and whiter than regular fluorescent lamps.
Sometimes, you can see the Kelvin color temperature on the bulb’s packaging. Use it as a guide to help you set the WB correctly on your camera.
How to Adjust White Balance with a Colour-Checker and Grey Card
How do you fix white balance in-camera? Apart from the auto WB settings, you can also use the colour checker and the grey card.
A colour checker is a great tool to help you achieve colour accuracy.
This tool is a card that opens up to show an array of colours. You typically photograph it in front of the lighting set-up before you begin the shoot. You later use it as a reference in PS when setting your WB.
There are tons of options out there, but we recommend the X-Rite ColorChecker for its accuracy.
A gray card works similarly to a colour checker. It helps produce consistent image exposure and colour in photography.
We recommend the Lightdow 12 x 12″ White Balance 18% Gray Reference Reflector.
How to Adjust the White Balance in Photoshop
So how do you adjust the white balance in Photoshop?
The best way to correct the light is by using Curves. You can find it in Image>Adjustments>Curves.
Set the White Point
You’ll see a few dialogue boxes pop up. But right now, all we need to focus on are the eye droppers at the bottom.
On the far right, we have the highlights eyedropper you can use for setting the white point. Click on it to select it.
Your cursor should turn into an eyedropper tool. Now find the whitest in your image. If you have a colour-checker, find the corresponding box and click it.
Set the Grey Point
Next, click on the middle eyedropper icon. We use this for setting the grey point in the mid-tones of the image. If you have a grey card, this would be perfect for it.
If you don’t have a grey card, find an area that has a moderate amount of colour and light. In this image, I clicked on the street sign pole.
Set the Black Point
Next, select the left eyedropper icon. You use it to set the black point in the image.
Find the darkest part of our picture, preferably black, and click on it. Here, I selected the black area around the house to the left as my sample point.
I picked this area as it has the most amount of shadow in the image.
You may find that this changes your digital image, and makes it much darker than you would prefer.
So, we use the curves to tweak the outcome.
Click and hold on to the small box in the bottom left corner of the curve box, and drag up. This way, we add a little more light to the scene. By moving it up vertically, we increase the exposure.
Increase until you feel happy with your image and press, OK.
Here is our photo, with a before (left) and after (right). The changes are subtle, but as you will find, everything looks more vivid and realistic.
It’s crucial that you colour correct all your pictures. Doing so allows your pictures to have a more precise rendition of the colours you see in real life. If you’re doing paid photography, invest in a colour checker or even just a grey card. These simple tools will help you reach accurate tones, especially in high-contrast photos.
For more handy photography tips, check out our Quick Capture Cheat Sheets, too!