White balancing should be an essential part of every post-processing workflow, but how does it work? And how can you white balance in Lightroom for the best results?
In this article, I share everything you need to know, including an easy-to-understand explanation of white balancing, as well as a few simple methods for white balancing your photos in Lightroom. I also explain how you can creatively use white balance to produce beautifully artistic images.
Let’s get started.
What is white balance in Lightroom?
White balancing is the process of neutralizing color casts in an image.
You see, every light source, including standard household lights, streetlights, and sunlight, produces differently colored light. Evening sunlight, for instance, tends to be very orange, while shade is relatively blue.
And while your eyes are good at correcting for these color changes as you go about your daily life, your camera is not; it captures the light, color and all, which means that images are often tainted by various blues or yellows.
That’s the point of white balancing: It corrects for these unwanted colors. And while color casts aren’t always bad – more on that toward the end of the article! – they’re best avoided, as they’ll often create unnatural-looking photos. Plus, they prevent you from accurately representing your subject, which is especially important if you’re doing real-estate or product photography.
Adobe Lightroom Classic offers several powerful white-balancing tools, which allow you to color correct your photos with a couple of clicks.
Note: You can white balance your photos in camera, but this is a hassle. That’s why I recommend you simply set your camera to its Auto White Balance setting (AWB), then make white-balance adjustments in post-processing. If you do go this route, then make sure you’re shooting RAW files. JPEGs and HEIFs don’t offer the same level of white-balancing flexibility as RAWs, so unless you’re working in RAW, your results will be lackluster.
By the way, if you’re shooting a product or a portrait where color accuracy is essential, I recommend you capture at least one image featuring a gray card. This isn’t totally necessary, but it’ll make white balancing in Lightroom much easier.
Three Lightroom white-balancing options
Lightroom offers three basic ways to make white balance adjustments, all located in the Develop module:
The white balance presets
If you head to the Basic panel, you’ll find a dropdown menu, which is generally set to As Shot by default:
Click on the menu, and you’ll see a handful of white balance presets, which are designed to roughly counteract color casts.
For instance, if you shot in the shade – which tends to create a bluish color cast – you could select the Shade preset, then watch as your image turns yellower:
And if you shot under warm indoor light, you could choose the Tungsten preset, which will turn your image bluer:
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of this option, as the presets are only approximate and won’t give you perfect results. Every lighting condition is different, which is why I prefer to use the second white-balancing method:
The White Balance Selector
Lightroom’s White Balance Selector is very powerful, yet it’s easy to use.
You simply click on the eyedropper icon, then click on a portion of your image that should look neutral (i.e., gray, white, or black).
Lightroom will instantly adjust the image to correct for color casts in the selected area.
This method is especially easy to use if you’ve shot with a gray card in your image, as you can hover the eyedropper over the gray card, select it, and practically guarantee a perfect result.
The white balance sliders
If you like the idea of white balancing by hand, Lightroom does offer two white balance sliders, which let you dial in specific WB values for a precise result:
The Temp slider adds blue or yellow hues to the scene (to counteract warm or cool color casts, respectively).
And the Tint slider adds green and magenta hues to the scene (to counteract magenta and green color casts, respectively).
Note that the Temp slider is generally more useful than the Tint slider – many lights produce a warm or cool color cast, while very few lights affect images along the green/magenta axis.
Which method of white balancing in Lightroom is best? At the end of the day, it comes down to personal preference, but I do have a recommended workflow that combines multiple techniques for a consistent result:
How to white balance in Lightroom: step by step
In this section, I give a quick rundown of my ideal white balancing workflow. Note that all adjustments in Lightroom are nondestructive, so if you don’t like the result, you can always hit the Reset button and start over.
Also, while you can do white balancing during any part of your editing workflow, I recommend you color correct before tackling any other adjustments (such as exposure correction, saturation adjustments, and – especially – color grading). Think of white balancing as the process of preparing your image for editing. Make sense?
Step 1: Use the White Balance Selector to do an initial adjustment
Start by opening your image in the Develop module, then – before you do anything else! – grab the eyedropper tool.
Next, find a portion of your image that should be a neutral gray and click with the eyedropper. (If you’ve shot with a gray card, click there; otherwise, hunt around your image for a neutral area.)
Note that you don’t need to get it perfect straight away; you can always click on a few areas and see whether the result looks natural.
Once you click on an area, Lightroom will do a behind-the-scenes calculation and attempt to white balance your image. If you like the result, then feel free to continue on with other portions of your editing workflow (such as exposure correction).
However, if you’re not totally satisfied, then proceed to the next step:
Step 2: Fine tune with the white balance sliders
Now’s the time to have fun with sliders.
There’s no perfect way of going about it; I like to rock the Temp slider back and forth until I get a look I like (and I rarely touch the Tint slider, but if you do feel like your image is either too magenta or green, then by all means, make the necessary adjustments).
Once I’ve achieved a nice effect, I continue on with my edit!
Applying creative white balance adjustments
Throughout this article, I’ve emphasized the value of color correcting your photos for a neutral, realistic result – one that reflects the scene as your eyes perceive it.
But here’s the thing:
Sometimes, you don’t want a neutral image. Instead, you want to deliberately create color casts in order to produce different effects. Blue color casts often create a more somber effect, for instance, while yellow color casts give images a more comfortable, upbeat feel. And you can have plenty of fun with magenta and green color casts, too.
My recommendation is to start by white balancing your image. Make sure everything is perfectly neutral. And then, if you like the idea of a creatively colored image, try using the Temp slider to add in a bit of blue or yellow. See how the shot feels. Preview the before and after version.
If you’re not a fan of the result, you can always just undo the effect!
How to white balance your photos in Lightroom: final words
White balancing in Lightroom isn’t hard. In fact, once you memorize the simple, step-by-step method I’ve shared above, it should be pretty darn easy.
So do your white balancing. Have fun with creative effects. And appreciate your color-corrected photos!
Now over to you:
Which white balancing tools do you plan to use? Will you do some creative white balance adjustments? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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