White Balance on a JPEG {in Photoshop, Elements and Lightroom}

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Are you a JPEG shooter sick of reading ‘switch to raw’ when you search for editing help? I feel your pain. I shoot both raw and jpeg depending on what I plan on doing with the images. One of the most important elements to start with when editing your images is to review the white balance. A too cool or too warm white balance can completely alter the artistic interpretation of your images.

The first thing you need to do is be sure to set the correct WB in-camera. This will prevent the need for further altering, however as I said above, you may want to change it for other reasons.

{Editing White Balance in Lightroom}

You will find that in Lightroom, the adjustment options when editing a jpeg aren’t as vast as with a raw file, particularly when viewing the drop-down WB options. When shooting in raw, you will see 9 different options (which are the same ones you will see in your camera settings). But when you’re working with a jpeg, you will see only 2 options (auto and custom).

When editing a jpeg in Lightroom, your best bet for altering the white balance is to employ the dropper tool which looks like this –> When you click on it, you can then scan your image for a shade which was meant to be neutral or grey. Click here to see a post which explains how to identify if the color you’re hovering over is neutral.When you click on it, the colours will shift and you will have selected the perfect white balance for your jpeg!

{Editing White Balance in Elements}

In Photoshop Elements, open your image andselect enhance –> adjust color –> remove color cast. You will then be given a dropper tool with which you can click on whatever part of your image was meant to be purely white (like teeth or a blown-out sky) and the image will change. You can click around multiple times until you have a color cast you want.

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{Editing White Balance in Photoshop}

In Photoshop, you can adjust the white balance for your jpeg two different ways. Method one is by selecting image –> adjustments –> color balance. You will see sliders for the different color categories which you can use to adjust the color cast of your image. You can also adjust in curves by selecting image –> adjustment –> curves. You will see a panel that looks like this –> Click the white dropper and then click an area of your photo that’s meant to be white (or click the middle dropper and select a neutral grey) and you will see a change.

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Elizabeth Halford

is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

  • Lori

    PLEASE keep those jpeg adjustment tutorials coming! As you said, not everyone shoots in RAW all the time. Thanks for a great article.

  • JPG = 256 shades or red, green and blue. RAW = 4,096 of each. Which would you prefer to capture and keep forever?

  • Scott Smith

    I recommend using the Curves Adjustment Layer instead of Levels in photoshop for a number of reasons:
    1/ You get finer control over the white balance.
    2/ You can use the Eye Dropper tools for Black, Neutral Gray, White the same as you can in Levels
    3/ The curves for the individual colour channels can be tweaked and adjusted, as well as the global RGB channel.
    4/ You can mask out areas of the photo you don’t want to apply the white balance change to
    5/ You can edit it again if you save the image as a PSD file.

  • im a big fan of levels for the speed factor

  • Hi Scott,

    Although your stat that compares JPG to RAW in number of captured shades of R G B (256 vs 4096) sounds like the main reason alone for taking photos in RAW vs JPG, in actuality this would be one of the facts that is not an argument to use RAW over JPG. Why?

    JPG with an RGB range of 256x256x256 would equal a max # of colors of 16,777,216
    RAW with RGB range of 4096,4096,4096 would equal max of 1,073,741,824 colors

    Sounds impressive…. except when you then put into perspective the target audience of the photos you are creating to be viewed…… THE HUMAN EYE.

    It is generally accepted that the Human Eye can see a range of only 10,000,000 colors. So, although RAW can store an impressive range of colors – the human eye can only perceive just under 1% of those colors.

    JPG at 16 million colors has enough range to fully address the human eye’s full range of the color spectrum.

    Conclusion – RAW might have clear advantages of JPG but color range is a moot point and not one of them.

    PS – JPG has advantages over RAW which can also not be dismissed – Data storage space & a much much wider acceptance of use in the world.

  • 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?

    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?

    I am assuming you will switch to WB = FLASH. Is my interpretation correct?

  • RowdyBlue

    Why does some of my photos come out right and others don’t? I am using the same settings for all the photos. The photos are NOT blurry. They have a haze or the skin tones are yellow green. What’s happening?

  • Donna Pitre Melsness

    Thanks appreciate the valuable info !!

  • Cristi Kerekes

    Here is a way to deal with the white balance on the JPEG photos:
    https://youtu.be/MUh3vZT0tbo

Some Older Comments

  • Ramesh Perla August 18, 2011 04:56 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?

    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?

    I am assuming you will switch to WB = FLASH. Is my interpretation correct?

  • Toysoldier Thor August 6, 2011 09:05 am

    Hi Scott,

    Although your stat that compares JPG to RAW in number of captured shades of R G B (256 vs 4096) sounds like the main reason alone for taking photos in RAW vs JPG, in actuality this would be one of the facts that is not an argument to use RAW over JPG. Why?

    JPG with an RGB range of 256x256x256 would equal a max # of colors of 16,777,216
    RAW with RGB range of 4096,4096,4096 would equal max of 1,073,741,824 colors

    Sounds impressive.... except when you then put into perspective the target audience of the photos you are creating to be viewed...... THE HUMAN EYE.

    It is generally accepted that the Human Eye can see a range of only 10,000,000 colors. So, although RAW can store an impressive range of colors - the human eye can only perceive just under 1% of those colors.

    JPG at 16 million colors has enough range to fully address the human eye's full range of the color spectrum.

    Conclusion - RAW might have clear advantages of JPG but color range is a moot point and not one of them.

    PS - JPG has advantages over RAW which can also not be dismissed - Data storage space & a much much wider acceptance of use in the world.

  • bryan August 2, 2011 01:34 am

    im a big fan of levels for the speed factor

  • Scott Smith July 28, 2011 09:04 pm

    I recommend using the Curves Adjustment Layer instead of Levels in photoshop for a number of reasons:
    1/ You get finer control over the white balance.
    2/ You can use the Eye Dropper tools for Black, Neutral Gray, White the same as you can in Levels
    3/ The curves for the individual colour channels can be tweaked and adjusted, as well as the global RGB channel.
    4/ You can mask out areas of the photo you don't want to apply the white balance change to
    5/ You can edit it again if you save the image as a PSD file.

  • scott detweiler July 28, 2011 11:09 am

    JPG = 256 shades or red, green and blue. RAW = 4,096 of each. Which would you prefer to capture and keep forever?

  • Lori July 28, 2011 06:14 am

    PLEASE keep those jpeg adjustment tutorials coming! As you said, not everyone shoots in RAW all the time. Thanks for a great article.

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