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How to Correct White Balance in Photoshop

Getting the right color cast in your images can be challenging. All light gives off a different color temperature, depending on whether the source is natural, or from indoor lighting.
Your sensor picks up this emitted light, adding a color cast to your image. You can do white balance correction in other photo editing apps like Lightroom. But today, we are going to show you how to correct your white balance in Adobe Photoshop.
A crowd of people with arms folded in prayer, focused on a little boy
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Color Temperatures

Light is what makes an image possible. You may find that sometimes the image has a colour very similar to the scene you are capturing. Other times it is way off, making the image look much warmer or cooler than it actually is.
If you are having problems with the color cast, you need to think about your white balance.
Light ranges from warm tones (yellows and oranges) to cool tones (blues) and every situation is different. To give you an example, the color casts range from 1,700 K for a match flame and 10,000 K for a partly cloudy sky.
It is helpful to know the difference between the light sources you are using.
diagram showing the difference between various light sources - photoshop white balance
Tungsten lamps or Incandescent lamps are electric lights with a wire filament. These heat to such a high temperature that it glows with visible light. These are the bulbs found in our homes and range between 2500 and 2900 Kelvin.
Fluorescent lamps are low-pressure mercury-vapour gas-discharge lamps. They use fluorescence to produce visible light. These are what you would find in public buildings, such as schools and offices.
Quart lamps or Halogen lamps are incandescent lamps, consisting of a tungsten filament, sealed into a compact transparent envelope. These contain a mixture of an inert gas and a small amount of a halogen such as iodine or bromine. These are primarily used in constant studio lighting.
Sometimes, you can see the Kelvin color temperature on the bulb’s packaging. This allows you to set the white balance correctly.
a Toshiba LED lamp beside its packaging

Why Is Light Balance Important

Light balance is what makes your scene believable. If you want a realistic photo, then pay attention to your blacks, whites and mid-tones.
These shifts in colour can create interesting effects. But this is something you want to add later to specific areas, not affecting the whole scene.
Setting your white balance in-camera is the best way to go. This ensures that your image is as close as it can be from the get-go, as it becomes tricker to solve during post-production.
Your camera has an inbuilt white balance setting which you can set as you wish. There are other options you can choose from, such as using a colour checker or grey card.

Color Checker

A color checker is an expensive tool to help you get as close to a colour balanced image as possible. This tool opens up to show an array of colours. You should photograph these before a photography session.
This allows you to correct the images by copying the settings across all images using the same lighting setup.
We recommend the X-Rite ColorChecker.
A colour checker to help you get as close to a perfect colour balance in your images - photoshop white balance tips

Gray Card

A gray card is a middle gray reference. This helps to produce consistent image exposure and/or colour in photography. These are 13% or 18% and are the standard.
The way this works is that you photograph the gray card at the beginning of the shoot for use in post-processing. Both the colour checker and gray card are mainly used in studio settings.
We recommend the Lightdow 12 x 12″ White Balance 18% Gray Reference Reflector.
A Lightdow 12 x 12" White Balance 18% Gray Reference Reflector on white background

Changing Your White Balance in Photoshop

Sometimes, you’ll find you want to tweak the color temperature and color balance in post-processing. This is due to using a rapidly changing scene. And the Automatic White Balance on your camera hasn’t quite got it right so you will need color adjustment.
It is always better to get it as close as you can in camera, but changing the color cast in Photoshop is simple.
The best way to correct the light is using Curves. This is found in Image>Adjustments>Curves. 
Screenshot of opening the curved tool to correct white balance on Photoshop

Setting the White Point

The curves dialog box will open. There will be a few boxes and settings, but right now, all we need to focus on are the eye droppers at the bottom of the pop-up.
On the far right, we have the highlights eyedropper, used to set the white point. Click on it to select it.
Screenshot of setting the white point in Photoshop to correct white balance
Your mouse should turn into an eyedropper tool. Find the whitest or most lit point in your image.
Screenshot of finding the most lit point to correct white balance on Photoshop

Setting 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.
Photoshop white balance correction screenshot of opening the middle eyedropper icon
Find an area that has a medium amount of colour and light. In this image, I clicked on the pavement towards the middle of the image.
Screenshot of correcting white balance Photoshop
Setting the Black Point
Next, select the left eyedropper icon. This uses the shadows to set the black point in the image.
Screenshot of selecting the left eyedropper to correct white balance in Photoshop
Find the darkest part of our image, preferably black, and click on it. Here, I selected the black area around the house to the left as my sample point.
I selected this area as it has the most amount of shadow in the image.
Adjusting Photoshop white balance screenshot of selecting the darkest part of the image
You may find that this changes your digital image, and makes it much darker than you would prefer.
Screenshot of correcting white balance on Photoshop
So, we use the curves to tweak the outcome.
Screenshot of using the curved tool to correct white balance on Photoshop
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 into the scene. By moving the box up vertically, we increase the exposure.
Screenshot of using the curved tool to correct white balance in Photoshop
Increase until you feel happy with your image and press OK.
Screenshot of correcting an images white balance on Photoshop
Here is our image, with a before and after. The changes are subtle, but as you will find, your images can still benefit from a small color correction.
A before and after diptych of a street scene demonstrating how to correct white balance on Photoshop
Before you go, check out this quick and informative video. It’s only 5 minutes long!

Now you know how to correct white balance in Photoshop. We have some more great tutorials to check out such as creating unique double exposures or how to turn photos into paintings.

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