3 Ways to Change White Balance in Lightroom - Digital Photography School

3 Ways to Change White Balance in Lightroom

Did you know there are three different ways to edit your white balance in Lightroom?

White balance is something that many photographers select with their in-camera settings and its function is to correct too warm or too cool colour casts as a result of  the lighting in your scene. For example, fluorescent lighting is very ‘cool’ lighting and your images will take on a cold colour cast if not corrected with a warming colour balance in the camera settings.

However, if the images are shot in RAW and the files remain open to total in-computer control, the while balance can be better-altered in computer editing programs. This means you can either alter an incorrect balance or employ changes to achieve a more creative interpretation of your scene (exe: to add a warm, golden hour glow). You can make these changes in a JPG, but the options aren’t as large as those for RAW files.

Method 1 – Drop Down

The first way you can change your WB in LR is in the drop-down menu. When you select this drop-down, you are faced with 9 options which are the same settings you will see in your camera. Just click them to experiment and see your image change. If the file is a jpeg, you will see only 2 options: auto and custom.

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Method 2 – Sliders

There are two sliders in the white balance section in Lightroom. One for adjusting the temperature and one for the tint.

  • Temperature – the temp slider alters the colour temperature of the photo. Sliding to the left compensates for a too-warm temp by making the image cooler. Sliding to the right does the opposite and warms the photo.
  • Tint – the tint slider compensates for a magenta or green tint. Use the temp slider first and then use the tint slider to neutralise any remaining green or magenta tints left in the image (more prevalent in light sources like fluorescent).

Method 3 – Dropper

My favourite method for changing the white balance of an image in Lightroom is to use the dropper tool. When viewing the image, click the dropper tool in the WB palette and scan your image for something which is neutral grey. If you don’t actually have grey in your image at all, you’re looking for a neutral color. You can identify the color you’re hovering over with the dropper as a neutral when then three R, G & B values are about equal.  This is also the best option for altering the WB on a JPEG.

Which method is your favourite?

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Elizabeth Halford is a Hampshire Photographer and keeps a rockin'photography blog where she writes about photography and business in "real.plain.english". She's addicted to Facebook and can be found answering photography and business questions every day here on her page

  • Steve Pontbriand

    Method 3 – Eye Dropper

  • Jeff Brint

    I just want to clarify something and not confuse your readers with some misleading information.

    When using the eyedropper to set the white balance you should not select a white area such as the teeth. You should be selecting a neutral light grey area.

    From the Adobe docs:
    http://help.adobe.com/en_US/Lightroom/3.0/Using/WS947672F1-AAB2-43de-9011-BDDECA05EC19.html

    Specify a neutral area in the photo

    1) In the Basic panel of the Develop module, click the White Balance Selector tool to select it, or press the W key.
    2) Move the White Balance Selector into an area of the photo that should be a neutral light gray. Avoid spectral highlights or areas that are 100% white.
    3) Set options in the toolbar as needed.
    * Auto Dismiss
    Sets the White Balance Selector tool to dismiss automatically after clicking only once in the photo.
    * Show Loupe
    Displays a close-up view and RGB values of the pixel under the White Balance Selector.
    * Scale Slider
    Zooms the close-up view in the Loupe.
    * Done
    Dismisses the White Balance Selector tool, and the pointer changes to the Hand or Zoom-in tool by default.
    – The Navigator displays a preview of the color balance as you move the White Balance Selector over different pixels.

    4) When you find an appropriate area, click it.

    The Temp and Tint sliders in the Basic panel adjust to make the selected color neutral, if possible.

  • http://elizabethhalford.com Elizabeth Halford

    yes thank you for the feedback here! I have always searched for white because it works for me and that’s how I learned via a few reputable sources. I have edited this post to reflect the grey option though as I’m sure that will work better for everyone. Thank you! :)

  • Peter

    “If you don’t actually have grey in your image at all, you’re looking for a neutral color”

    And what is a neutral colour everybody? That right Grey!
    You can’t use the dropper on white or black, so it has to be grey.
    If you use it on some thing that is nearly grey, then you are going to get a colour cast.

  • http://elizabethhalford.com Elizabeth Halford

    @peter: no, that’s not entirely accurate. As you can see here: http://lightroomkillertips.com/2007/white-balance/ Matt Kloskowski didn’t have grey in this shot and he explains that it needs to be neutral instead.

  • http://heckler.com.br/blog Claudio

    Great post! I have just one minor nitpick: if you have an image which is off in the white balance, the R,G,B readings from the dropper tool will *not* read almost the same on a neutral target; in fact, the difference you’ll see there from “sameness” is exactly that is throwing your image off balance. But click that target and LR will do its best to fix it for you.

  • http://www.boris-photography.com Boris

    Whenever I can get some white or grey in the image, I use the dropper tool. Great way to fix food pictures WB on white plates :)

  • Peter

    Elizabeth

    1) What I said earlier is exactely right. If you want the correct white balance then you need a neutral grey. I suggest that you take one photo with a grey card in the picture.
    2) I think what you and Matt Klownski are suggesting is that you adjust the white balance to suit your perception of what the picture should look like.
    3) Instead of ripping off Matt Kloskowski’s video, why don’t you just post a link to the web site
    4) For other readers who are not aware of Adobe’s Lightroom 3 website go to http://tv.adobe.com/show/learn-lightroom-3 and see more videos.

  • http://stephenelliot.com Stephen Elliot

    I prefer the sliders for most of my work. Unless I’m doing, say, an artwork reproduction or very critical commercial assignment (which are few and far between for most photogs), then color is entirely relative. I shoot from the hip and go with what looks good to my eye.

    Also, if you activate the Eye Dropper tool (W key) then you can use the arrow keys to control the sliders. Up and Down control the Temp; Left and Right control the Tint. Add the Shift key and it will make bigger adjustments, or use the Alt key for small tweaks.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/philmlane/ PMLPhoto

    WIth method 3, you should not click on something that is grey in the image, rather you should click on something that should be grey but actually does not appear to be grey under the light you have.

    Imagine an object that is actually grey (grey means R=G=B in this case). If the light illuminating it has a strong red component, then when photographed the grey item will appear with a red cast, and the red channel value will be higher than the green and blue. When you click the eyedropper on the item the software will correct for the colour cast by adjusting the gain of the individual channels to get to a point where R=G=B. The item will now look grey as it should.

    If you select something the appears grey under a non-neutral light source, then clicking on it will not alter the colour balance and the incorrect colour cast in the image will persist

  • Gareth

    I’m confused.

    So for method 3 (dropper) you’re saying I should click on an area which is ALREADY grey?

    I thought you were meant to click on an area which is SUPPOSED to be grey, but isn’t because the white balance is wrong. Then Lightroom will adjust the image so the area you clicked becomes grey.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/philmlane/ PMLPhoto

    @Gareth – you are right. That is what I was trying to say in a convoluted way one post above yours – click on something that should be a neutral colour (grey, R=G=B). If it is already grey then clicking on it will not change the WB.

  • Gareth

    Thanks PMLPhoto. I think I started typing my comment before your comment had been posted.

    Anyway, thanks for clarifying. The original article definitely implies your should click on a grey section. Very misleading. Hopefully it can be updated.

  • http://ricardogalvao.tumblr.com/ ricardo galvão

    Hi gang
    I only shoot jpeg files
    and when I have to correct WB i use a preset saved fom a RAW file
    :)
    any one… so .jpeg files has as many WB adjustes as RAW file…
    ;-)

    I’m ADOBE ACE

  • http://www.alastairbellphotography.co.uk/ Wedding Photographers in Doncaster

    nice article on how to adjust your white balance in PP.

    Now there are a few little things I’d add to this.

    firstly always strive to get the right white balance in camera when possible, or at least never leave it on AUTO white balance, as this reduces the need to adjust in PP or if there is an adjustment still needed you will be able to batch process the adjustment.

    secondly you don’t always need to use white balance to gain the ‘correct’ colouration of the image. perhaps you want to give an image a different look, this can often be achieved via white balance, again I tend to do this in camera. For example in the studio I use the preset ‘shady’ WB to give a model a tan, and use a custom WB to give a ‘colder’ look.

  • KSW

    TFS and inspiring this fantastic conversation.

    I think one of the great misnomers here is that “accurate” WB is often mistaken as the “best” WB for an image.

    Sometimes even when I take the time to CUSTOM WB with a Robin Myers card, set it all “correctly,” etc. — I end up not choosing that WB in the end b/c the image calls for something warmer, cooler, or a more “pleasing” WB in the end. The Custom WB helps me get closer to what i think my eyes saw… but it is not always what is most pleasant. To me, sometimes the artistic freedom of ACR, and the many approaches it affords when shooting in RAW is the beauty of this Art. (that said, I am a scientist — not a photographer — and I dig the numbers approach).

    My favorite is to use the dropper and click on something that is supposed to be neutral; then warm/cool with the temp slider. I rarely touch 2nd slider.

    Thank you thank you for inspiring this conversation, as it helps to hear what others do.

  • http://www.darrenclarkphoto.blogspot.com darren_c

    Can I offer option 4? It’s kind of taking option 1 a little further.

    I find it’s cumbersome to keep having to select the Drop Down to see a different look. So instead, select each of the settings from the Drop Down and then create a Develop Preset for them. This way when you hover over them in the Presets Menu you will see a preview in the Navigator window. I do the same for the Camera Calibration settings.

    Cheers!

    DC

  • http://www.jonathanivyphoto.com Jonathan Ivy

    I have found the auto drop down to be pretty accurate. Thanks for the tips about the neutral gray. Thats awesome.

  • Pierre BG

    HAha ha ha ha !

    DPS is posting stupid articles now ?

    Method 3 is not a method !!!!! It is a big FAIL !

    Make your white balance on a green thing then check it again with the method 3 ! You will see that the 3 parameters are almost the same…

    You just think that you make a WB with something taking in account the actual setting of WB….

  • Pierre BG

    Anyway it would be damn to simple to find WB….

    What a FAIL….

  • Jorge

    @ksw: I am not sure that “accurate” is really such, in the sense of replicating the scene my eyes viewed.

    An example. Let’s say that in my living room I have lamps with yellowish shades and bulbs with warm temperature (a very common setting). At night, with that light, my grey card will have a yellow cast, and a white sheet paper will actually be not white to my eyes. However, Using the method 3 I will get my white sheet paper to look pure white. It that acurate? Well, in my view not, because that’s not what my eyes saw, and in fact I am removing the warm lighting effect I deliverately put in my living room using those lamps and bulbs instead of fluorescent tubes.

    Another extreme example: in a pitch black room, I hold a yellow card with natural light. I guess accurate means that the photograph shows the card yellow, ok? But then, in the same room I hold a white card in a completely yellow light (like those used in theaters). What would be an accurate picture in this case? A white card?

    Maybe what comes out of the camera is not accurate, but neither it is always by using grey cards or the droplet tool.

    Anyway, I’m afraid I arrived too late to the discussion and nobody will read my thoughtful comments ;-)

  • http://www.steeboy.blogspot.com Steven

    Thanks for this. It’s the first post that i look at on the blog and i like it. Will check out more now….

    Steven Conway Photography

  • http://perla.smugmug.com Ramesh Perla

    One question regarding the WB. Say, if you set your camera on a WB = Cloudy setting. But you are going to use the flash (external or internal flash) to give the subject proper lighting. Would you be setting your WB = FLASH in that case or leave the WB = CLOUDY? I am assuming you will switch to WB = FLASH. Is my interpretation correct?

  • http://perla.smugmug.com Ramesh Perla

    The above WB question is more appropriate while shooting on a bright sunny day when your subject is the sun or in the shadow but you still use the FLASH. Which WB will you be choosing?

  • http://www.jonathanivyphoto.com woodlands wedding photographer

    I don’t think that method 3 really works that well. Its more like a guessing game, the sliders and your own eye is the best way to do it!

  • http://www.whitepetal.co.uk/weddingphotographerbarnstaple.html Paul

    Thanks for the tip about the dropper tool, I tended to use the slider before.

  • Mei Teng

    I prefer using the dropper method.

  • Serena

    Thank you for the tips, very helpful! I read an article before (on a different website) telling me to use the dropper tool based on a white colour,and my pictures were looking very off. When I tried using grey or another neutral colour as you said, they turned out much better! Thank you!

Some older comments

  • Mei Teng

    July 27, 2012 03:39 pm

    I prefer using the dropper method.

  • Paul

    March 9, 2012 04:45 am

    Thanks for the tip about the dropper tool, I tended to use the slider before.

  • woodlands wedding photographer

    September 29, 2011 06:37 am

    I don't think that method 3 really works that well. Its more like a guessing game, the sliders and your own eye is the best way to do it!

  • Ramesh Perla

    August 18, 2011 04:54 am

    The above WB question is more appropriate while shooting on a bright sunny day when your subject is the sun or in the shadow but you still use the FLASH. Which WB will you be choosing?

  • Ramesh Perla

    August 18, 2011 04:52 am

    One question regarding the WB. Say, if you set your camera on a WB = Cloudy setting. But you are going to use the flash (external or internal flash) to give the subject proper lighting. Would you be setting your WB = FLASH in that case or leave the WB = CLOUDY? I am assuming you will switch to WB = FLASH. Is my interpretation correct?

  • Steven

    August 11, 2011 08:00 pm

    Thanks for this. It's the first post that i look at on the blog and i like it. Will check out more now....

    Steven Conway Photography

  • Jorge

    August 11, 2011 02:39 am

    @ksw: I am not sure that "accurate" is really such, in the sense of replicating the scene my eyes viewed.

    An example. Let's say that in my living room I have lamps with yellowish shades and bulbs with warm temperature (a very common setting). At night, with that light, my grey card will have a yellow cast, and a white sheet paper will actually be not white to my eyes. However, Using the method 3 I will get my white sheet paper to look pure white. It that acurate? Well, in my view not, because that's not what my eyes saw, and in fact I am removing the warm lighting effect I deliverately put in my living room using those lamps and bulbs instead of fluorescent tubes.

    Another extreme example: in a pitch black room, I hold a yellow card with natural light. I guess accurate means that the photograph shows the card yellow, ok? But then, in the same room I hold a white card in a completely yellow light (like those used in theaters). What would be an accurate picture in this case? A white card?

    Maybe what comes out of the camera is not accurate, but neither it is always by using grey cards or the droplet tool.

    Anyway, I'm afraid I arrived too late to the discussion and nobody will read my thoughtful comments ;-)

  • Pierre BG

    August 10, 2011 05:54 am

    Anyway it would be damn to simple to find WB....

    What a FAIL....

  • Pierre BG

    August 10, 2011 05:53 am

    HAha ha ha ha !

    DPS is posting stupid articles now ?

    Method 3 is not a method !!!!! It is a big FAIL !

    Make your white balance on a green thing then check it again with the method 3 ! You will see that the 3 parameters are almost the same...

    You just think that you make a WB with something taking in account the actual setting of WB....

  • Jonathan Ivy

    July 30, 2011 02:16 pm

    I have found the auto drop down to be pretty accurate. Thanks for the tips about the neutral gray. Thats awesome.

  • darren_c

    July 29, 2011 11:25 am

    Can I offer option 4? It's kind of taking option 1 a little further.

    I find it's cumbersome to keep having to select the Drop Down to see a different look. So instead, select each of the settings from the Drop Down and then create a Develop Preset for them. This way when you hover over them in the Presets Menu you will see a preview in the Navigator window. I do the same for the Camera Calibration settings.

    Cheers!

    DC

  • KSW

    July 29, 2011 02:23 am

    TFS and inspiring this fantastic conversation.

    I think one of the great misnomers here is that "accurate" WB is often mistaken as the "best" WB for an image.

    Sometimes even when I take the time to CUSTOM WB with a Robin Myers card, set it all "correctly," etc. -- I end up not choosing that WB in the end b/c the image calls for something warmer, cooler, or a more "pleasing" WB in the end. The Custom WB helps me get closer to what i think my eyes saw... but it is not always what is most pleasant. To me, sometimes the artistic freedom of ACR, and the many approaches it affords when shooting in RAW is the beauty of this Art. (that said, I am a scientist -- not a photographer -- and I dig the numbers approach).

    My favorite is to use the dropper and click on something that is supposed to be neutral; then warm/cool with the temp slider. I rarely touch 2nd slider.

    Thank you thank you for inspiring this conversation, as it helps to hear what others do.

  • Wedding Photographers in Doncaster

    July 28, 2011 11:08 pm

    nice article on how to adjust your white balance in PP.

    Now there are a few little things I'd add to this.

    firstly always strive to get the right white balance in camera when possible, or at least never leave it on AUTO white balance, as this reduces the need to adjust in PP or if there is an adjustment still needed you will be able to batch process the adjustment.

    secondly you don't always need to use white balance to gain the 'correct' colouration of the image. perhaps you want to give an image a different look, this can often be achieved via white balance, again I tend to do this in camera. For example in the studio I use the preset 'shady' WB to give a model a tan, and use a custom WB to give a 'colder' look.

  • ricardo galvão

    July 28, 2011 09:06 am

    Hi gang
    I only shoot jpeg files
    and when I have to correct WB i use a preset saved fom a RAW file
    :)
    any one... so .jpeg files has as many WB adjustes as RAW file...
    ;-)

    I'm ADOBE ACE

  • Gareth

    July 28, 2011 04:19 am

    Thanks PMLPhoto. I think I started typing my comment before your comment had been posted.

    Anyway, thanks for clarifying. The original article definitely implies your should click on a grey section. Very misleading. Hopefully it can be updated.

  • PMLPhoto

    July 28, 2011 02:32 am

    @Gareth - you are right. That is what I was trying to say in a convoluted way one post above yours - click on something that should be a neutral colour (grey, R=G=B). If it is already grey then clicking on it will not change the WB.

  • Gareth

    July 28, 2011 01:53 am

    I'm confused.

    So for method 3 (dropper) you're saying I should click on an area which is ALREADY grey?

    I thought you were meant to click on an area which is SUPPOSED to be grey, but isn't because the white balance is wrong. Then Lightroom will adjust the image so the area you clicked becomes grey.

  • PMLPhoto

    July 28, 2011 01:24 am

    WIth method 3, you should not click on something that is grey in the image, rather you should click on something that should be grey but actually does not appear to be grey under the light you have.

    Imagine an object that is actually grey (grey means R=G=B in this case). If the light illuminating it has a strong red component, then when photographed the grey item will appear with a red cast, and the red channel value will be higher than the green and blue. When you click the eyedropper on the item the software will correct for the colour cast by adjusting the gain of the individual channels to get to a point where R=G=B. The item will now look grey as it should.

    If you select something the appears grey under a non-neutral light source, then clicking on it will not alter the colour balance and the incorrect colour cast in the image will persist

  • Stephen Elliot

    July 27, 2011 03:29 am

    I prefer the sliders for most of my work. Unless I'm doing, say, an artwork reproduction or very critical commercial assignment (which are few and far between for most photogs), then color is entirely relative. I shoot from the hip and go with what looks good to my eye.

    Also, if you activate the Eye Dropper tool (W key) then you can use the arrow keys to control the sliders. Up and Down control the Temp; Left and Right control the Tint. Add the Shift key and it will make bigger adjustments, or use the Alt key for small tweaks.

  • Peter

    July 26, 2011 11:28 pm

    Elizabeth

    1) What I said earlier is exactely right. If you want the correct white balance then you need a neutral grey. I suggest that you take one photo with a grey card in the picture.
    2) I think what you and Matt Klownski are suggesting is that you adjust the white balance to suit your perception of what the picture should look like.
    3) Instead of ripping off Matt Kloskowski's video, why don't you just post a link to the web site
    4) For other readers who are not aware of Adobe's Lightroom 3 website go to http://tv.adobe.com/show/learn-lightroom-3 and see more videos.

  • Boris

    July 26, 2011 09:43 pm

    Whenever I can get some white or grey in the image, I use the dropper tool. Great way to fix food pictures WB on white plates :)

  • Claudio

    July 26, 2011 09:40 pm

    Great post! I have just one minor nitpick: if you have an image which is off in the white balance, the R,G,B readings from the dropper tool will *not* read almost the same on a neutral target; in fact, the difference you'll see there from "sameness" is exactly that is throwing your image off balance. But click that target and LR will do its best to fix it for you.

  • Elizabeth Halford

    July 26, 2011 06:14 pm

    @peter: no, that's not entirely accurate. As you can see here: http://lightroomkillertips.com/2007/white-balance/ Matt Kloskowski didn't have grey in this shot and he explains that it needs to be neutral instead.

  • Peter

    July 26, 2011 05:51 pm

    "If you don’t actually have grey in your image at all, you’re looking for a neutral color"

    And what is a neutral colour everybody? That right Grey!
    You can't use the dropper on white or black, so it has to be grey.
    If you use it on some thing that is nearly grey, then you are going to get a colour cast.

  • Elizabeth Halford

    July 26, 2011 05:06 pm

    yes thank you for the feedback here! I have always searched for white because it works for me and that's how I learned via a few reputable sources. I have edited this post to reflect the grey option though as I'm sure that will work better for everyone. Thank you! :)

  • Jeff Brint

    July 26, 2011 07:14 am

    I just want to clarify something and not confuse your readers with some misleading information.

    When using the eyedropper to set the white balance you should not select a white area such as the teeth. You should be selecting a neutral light grey area.

    From the Adobe docs:
    http://help.adobe.com/en_US/Lightroom/3.0/Using/WS947672F1-AAB2-43de-9011-BDDECA05EC19.html

    Specify a neutral area in the photo

    1) In the Basic panel of the Develop module, click the White Balance Selector tool to select it, or press the W key.
    2) Move the White Balance Selector into an area of the photo that should be a neutral light gray. Avoid spectral highlights or areas that are 100% white.
    3) Set options in the toolbar as needed.
    * Auto Dismiss
    Sets the White Balance Selector tool to dismiss automatically after clicking only once in the photo.
    * Show Loupe
    Displays a close-up view and RGB values of the pixel under the White Balance Selector.
    * Scale Slider
    Zooms the close-up view in the Loupe.
    * Done
    Dismisses the White Balance Selector tool, and the pointer changes to the Hand or Zoom-in tool by default.
    - The Navigator displays a preview of the color balance as you move the White Balance Selector over different pixels.

    4) When you find an appropriate area, click it.

    The Temp and Tint sliders in the Basic panel adjust to make the selected color neutral, if possible.

  • Steve Pontbriand

    July 26, 2011 07:08 am

    Method 3 – Eye Dropper

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