Setting Your White Balance with a Gray Card – a Tip from Phil Steele


Setting your white balance can be done two ways: in camera when you’re shooting or later in post-processing. In this short video tutorial Phil Steele shows you how to do both methods.

Part one is using a gray card to set a custom white balance. Read more about that topic with: Get your White Balance Right in Seconds Using Grey Card.

Part two is how to adjust the white balance using a gray card in Lightroom. Read more here: Adjusting White Balance in Lightroom.

If you liked this tip, you can find out more about Phil’s Lightroom course or his brand new Event Photography course here.

Phil also mentioned where to buy gray cards, you can find several options on Amazon:

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Darlene Hildebrandt is the Managing Editor of dPS. She is also an educator who teaches aspiring amateurs and hobbyists how to improve their skills through articles, online photography classes, and travel tours. Get her free ebook 10 Photography Challenges to help you take better pictures or join a photo tour to some exotic places.

  • Keith Starkey

    I think a gray card can be very useful when shooting in JPEG, and when you really need a true color representation. I’ve got a gray card in my camera case, slid into a slit in the outside of the camera case. Works just fine.

  • Michael Owens

    I often used to think a gray, white and black card where a prerequisite for photography out and about, but with the option to shoot in RAW (which I always do), I’m safe knowing I can change the WB later in Camera RAW.

    I’ve not watched the video, but do I need to?
    Will it help me? If yes, just for understanding something I might not know, then I will

    Thanks for sharing though!

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  • danindub

    I rearly use correct white balance. Most of the time I like my pictures warmer than what I’d get witih auto/gray card. Plus, these days, you can change it in post processing, so white balance of the shot doesn’t really matter…

  • After helping a wedding photographer as a second shooter, (and photo equipment pack mule), I purchased and now use a ExpoDisc. I wear it around
    my neck on a lanyard and tuck it inside my windshirt or pocket when not in use. With lighting changes, I switch my lens to MF, hold the ExpoDisc over the lens, aim it toward the light source from the subject and snap a reference WB image. I leave my camera on Custom WB and reference the latest image. I can do this now in just a few seconds and I love the result.

  • Huh

    Why doo you shoot sRGB and JPEG?

  • Tim Lowe

    I love my ColorChecker Passport. I shoot and process my own film and my color is not always perfect. The X-Rite system saves hours of fiddling with color balance.

  • Phil Steele

    Hi Michael,
    Yes you can change the white balance later in post production (this is true whether you shoot RAW or JPG — RAW just provides some simple presets while with JPG you do it manually). But the question is: change it to what? You can adjust it until you like the appearance, of course, but you still have no idea what the actual colors were in reality. The point of using a reference card in the photos is to be able to adjust it so that the colors are accurate. Of course you may want to adjust them further from there to a look that you like better. But without some kind of reference object (like a gray card) in the photos, you will always just be guessing as to what the colors “should” actually look like.

  • Michael Owens

    That’s very true. Thanks for the reply. Appreciated.

  • In what situations would we use either a white card compared to a gray card and vice versa?

    Thank you.


  • David Blacker

    Since white balance can be adjusted later with Camera RAW, Lightroom, etc, does this matter much anymore? I’m not being dismissive, I just would like to know, since I have always taken care of this in post and would like to know if there are any disadvantages to my method.

  • nolan

    I think the main idea is to have an accurate white balance reference, what white balance are you adjusting to in lightroom?

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