White Balance in Lightroom – A photographer approach

Header white balance

When we talk about Photography, White Balance is one of the key elements we must know for things to work smoothly.

Nowadays, most cameras, even compact ones, let us change the White Balance settings.

Basically, they will have the following modes:

  1. Auto – Where the camera sensor guesses the illumination condition
  2. Tungsten – Remember the little bulb? Used for interior incandescent lighting conditions
  3. Fluorescent – For compensating the “cool” effect of fluorescent lighting at interior scenes
  4. Daylight/Sunny – Even though not all the cameras have these settings, most of them do. For exteriors only
  5. Cloudy – Warms up the image even more than Daylight; for exteriors only

Some camera makers may add more modes (like Flash or Shade), but the ones mentioned above are the basic.

So, to which these modes apply to?

White balance can be defined as the method both cameras and digital software use to adjust the colour so the image looks more natural. And this is linked in theory to one of the key elements of illumination that is the temperature of lighting sources.

Because most of the known light sources don’t emit pure white light, they have been classified according to the colour ‘temperature’ they emit.

Colour Temperature is measured in Kelvin degrees. Below I add a chart for making clear of which range of temperature we are talking about when referring to the WB modes.

White Balance Chart

Lower values of temperature mean warmer light meanwhile higher values mean cooler light sources. The intermediate point is around 6500K which defines the illumination for a cloudy (outcast) day.

This means that Auto mode will guess the illumination conditions, Tungsten applies to illumination conditions between 2500-3000 K, Fluorescent between 3000-6000 K (even though it roughly goes past 4500 K for common cameras), Daylight for values between 12000-15000 K and Cloudy for 6500 K.

Working with White Balance – Basics of Digital Retouch

Imagine you shot a picture, and when you look at it at home you realize something is not right. Perhaps it’s too yellow, perhaps too blue. That’s the key point of retouching white balance digitally.

Even though some cameras can achieve quite good results in which regards with White Balance, honestly you will always end up retouching White Balance for getting better results. It is part of the post processing workflow.

Also retouching White Balance gives us the chance of changing the “feel” of a Photography in a non-destructive way. Like when you apply a Warming or Cooling Filter in Photoshop/Lightroom and you can always save the file with another name to have two versions of it.

My recommendation? Try to always work with your camera White Balance. Don’t use Auto unless you are really new to this world. Use the different settings of white balance and you will get more of your photos. But also keep in mind you are going to use Lightroom afterwards to fix White Balance to a most proper setting.

Workflow in Lightroom

We start by importing the image into Lightroom.

01_wb_lightroom

At the Develop tab, below the Histogram, there are the basic adjustments. Lightroom has three methods for fixing WB:

  1. Via WB Preset: Same as with digital cameras. Works better with RAW files as it shows all options (if you work with JPEG you will only see the options “As Shot”, “Auto” and “Custom”)
  2. Sliders: It comes with two sliders. One for Temperature and another for Tint. At the temperature slider, sliding to the left compensates for too-warm values, making the image temp cooler, whilst doing it to the right does the opposite. The tint slider assigns magenta or green tints.
    The workflow is first correcting the temperature, then using the tint slider to neutralize any remaining green/magenta tint at the photos
  3. Dropper tool: It is quite the useful method, even more for JPG images. After selecting the eyedrop tool, Lightroom is going to ask you to select a neutral colour, meaning a neutral grey. If the case ends up being that you don’t have any grey colour area at your image, then you will have to look for a neutral colour. You notice the colour is neutral when its values for R, G, B are about the same. Click on that colour and Lightroom will adjust automatically the White Balance (you can, of course, adjust it manually later if you are not satisfied with the results).

You stick to a method and that is all you need to do for fixing White Balance in Lightroom unless you want to apply warming/cooling filters for other effects after giving a neutral White Balance to the image.

In my opinion – The way I tend to work

My favourite method is the Dropper tool. Mostly because 80% of the time I am working with JPGs and also I find it the most accurate one. As with Architectural Renderings, I tend to use the Kelvin temperature to set lighting conditions, an equal approach to applying corrections of White Balance in Photography is this one.

Presets in JPGs as you can see don’t work. And for me, sliders have the problem of not giving that much accuracy.

Also one of the advantages of using the Dropper tool is the possibility of using as well the sliders if we don’t feel satisfied with the results.

Below I will show you how selecting different points of with the Dropper can change the overall temperature of the image

02_wb_lightroom

As you can see, this is a neutral grey

04_wb_lightroom

And this is the overall result of giving a neutral WB

05_wb_lightroom

But what if I apply another scene colour, like this soft Cyan, to the Dropper tool?

06_wb_lightroom

Lightroom’s WB will compensate for the colour taken as neutral (in this case soft cyan) adding its opposite tint, given the fact that using the wrong WB colour means Lightroom will make the scene look either too warm or too cold (colour ranges will vary from red to yellow for too warm, to blues

In the end, what really matters is how trained your eye is to appreciate the changes between similar lighting conditions, as well as your personal preferences to set your “success point”. After all, White Balance depends on the eye of the photographer.

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