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Setting white balance

From: Up and Running with Lightroom 3

Video: Setting white balance

The White Balance controls in the Basic panel of the Develop module are usually the first stop in the exciting process of adjusting a photo in Lightroom. In this chapter, I'll walk you through my basic photo-correction workflow in this Basic panel, starting here with the White Balance adjustment. As I've said, the Basic panel contains the essential controls for correcting tone and color. The nice thing about the Basic panel is that its controls are presented in the order in which you'll usually use them, with a little variation. You don't have to tackle adjustments in a particular order in Lightroom, but I think it makes sense to start with white balance in most cases, because a color- cast can affect your perception of the other variables you'll be adjusting.

Setting white balance

The White Balance controls in the Basic panel of the Develop module are usually the first stop in the exciting process of adjusting a photo in Lightroom. In this chapter, I'll walk you through my basic photo-correction workflow in this Basic panel, starting here with the White Balance adjustment. As I've said, the Basic panel contains the essential controls for correcting tone and color. The nice thing about the Basic panel is that its controls are presented in the order in which you'll usually use them, with a little variation. You don't have to tackle adjustments in a particular order in Lightroom, but I think it makes sense to start with white balance in most cases, because a color- cast can affect your perception of the other variables you'll be adjusting.

Before I get started adjusting the white balance, I'd like to change my workspace around a little to make it easier to work here. I'm going to start by widening the right panel group, moving my mouse over the border of that panel group and dragging as far to the left as I can and that makes the sliders wider, so there is more room to get in here and fine-tune. Now, there isn't much room for the photo, so I'm going to collapse the left panel group by clicking in its outer border. Now back to White Balance. The purpose of White Balance is to neutralize any unwanted colorcast in the photo.

A colorcast is the result of the color temperature of the light on the scene at the time that you shoot the photo. Now, sometimes you do want a colorcast, for example, if you're photographing a sunset. But in many cases, a colorcast will make a photo look unnatural. Here, for example, there was a mix of artificial light from the lighting fixtures in the ceiling and natural light from a large window just behind where I was shooting, and that fooled the auto white balance control on my camera, so there is a strong orange colorcast in the photo that we can clearly see.

By the way, if you're ever not sure whether there is a colorcast, just move your mouse over something that you think should be neutral in the photo, like this coffee cup, and then take a look at the numbers under the Histogram at the top-right of the screen. Those numbers represent the red, green, and blue components of color in the pixels under my cursor. If those pixels were neutral, those numbers would be equal, or nearly equal, so the numbers confirm that there is indeed a colorcast in this photo. There is more red than there is blue and green. There are two ways to start correcting color balance: one is to use the White Balance tool; the other is to use the White Balance presets in this menu.

Let me show you the White Balance tool first. I'll click on the White Balance tool to enable it, and then I'm going to move into the image. Now, before I use the tool, I want to take a look at these two options for the tool. When Show Loupe is checked, as it is by default, you'll see this target following you around as you move in the image. The target is displaying the pixels that are underneath the cursor at the moment, and their RGB values. This can be really useful when you're correcting color, but right now I'm finding it to be in the way, so I'm going to uncheck Show Loupe.

I also leave Auto Dismiss unchecked. If Auto Dismiss is checked, then after I click once with the White Balance tool, that tool will automatically return itself to its spot in the Basic panel. And if I want to try clicking again on a different spot, I would have to go get the tool again. It's just easier to leave it out in the main window so that I can click as many times as I want until I get the color balance that I want, so I usually leave Auto Dismiss unchecked. Now in the main window, I'm going to look for an area that I think should be neutral.

If there is something in the photo that should be solid gray, that would be a good choice to click on. There really isn't anything like that in this photo, so I'm going to go for the next best thing. I'm going to click on this coffee cup, which is kind of off-white, and I think this should be neutral. So I'll click there, and Lightroom goes ahead and makes the color under my cursor neutral. To confirm that, take a look up at the RGB numbers in the Histogram again, and you can see that they're now almost all the same, and the other colors in the image have also shifted around that neutral color.

Now often, my first click gets me a result that I'm not entirely happy with, and that's the case here. That's okay because I can continue to click around on other spots that I think should be neutral, like other parts of this coffee cup, until I get a result that I like better. Notice that I can click multiple times with the White Balance tool without having to undo in between. When I'm finished with the White Balance tool, I'll click the Done button here at the bottom of the main window, and that parks the White Balance tool back in its spot in the Basic panel.

The next thing I'll do is to tweak these initial results that I got from the White Balance tool. I almost always have to do this, because you know that color balancing is really subjective. So this way, I can get it just the way I like it. To do that, I'll use the Temperature and Tint sliders here in the Basic panel. I think that the color balance is a bit too blue right now. I'd like it to be a bit more gold, so I go to the Temperature slider and I'm going to drag the Temperature slider slightly to the right. I like that better.

Dragging the Temperature slider to the right like this assigns a warmer color temperature to the image, so that the photo appears more gold. If I were to drag the Temperature slider to the left instead, like this, that would assign a cooler color temperature to the image, so it would appear more blue. I'm going to put that back at about 4500 degrees Kelvin and leave it there. There is another slider here, the Tint slider. Sometimes you won't need to touch that. But if you've shot an image under fluorescent lights so that it's got a green colorcast, or if you're shooting a portrait like this, you'll sometimes want to add a little magenta.

So I'll come in and drag this slider toward magenta just a little bit. So that's where I'm going to stop with the white balance on this image. I do want to preview how it looks now as compared to how I started. To do that, I could press the Backslash key on my keyboard-- so that's where I started and that's where I am now--or I can come down to the Before and After button here at the bottom of the main window, click the arrow there, and I'm going to choose to view Before and After with a Top and Bottom Split, because now I can really see the difference between the original color balance of the image and the way it's color balanced now, and now I'll click on the Loupe view icon to go back to the regular view.

So that's how to work with the White Balance tool and with the Temperature and Tint sliders. Let's see how to work with the Presets menu. I'll switch to another image for that. Now here, I think that the colorcast in the image is less obvious, but there is a colorcast. If I move my mouse over this rather neutral ball of cream-colored yarn and take a look up at the numbers in the Histogram, I can see that there is more blue here, than there is red, and a little bit more blue than green. Now I could use the White Balance tool on this image, but sometimes I find that this menu of preset white balance is just a lot quicker.

So what I do here is click on the menu to open it, and then I just cycle through the various white balance presets here one at a time, and you can see what each preset is doing, it's just moving the Temperature and Tint sliders. So I don't think Daylight looks bad. How about Cloudy? That's too warm. Shady, too warm. Tungsten, too cool. So I am going to go back up and start with Daylight, and then I can tweak those results using the Temperature and Tint slider, just as I showed you in the last example.

So in this case, if I think that result is a little too warm, a little too gold, I'll take the Temperature slider, and I'll drag it back to the left a little. Now, I should mention that the examples I've shown you are RAW files. When you shoot RAW files, you have lots of opportunity to change the white balance. But when you shoot JPEG, you have fewer options. With a JPEG, I would only have a couple of choices here in the Presets menu, but I still could use the White Balance tool and the Temperature and Tints sliders on a JPEG.

So that's how to balance color in a photo using Lightroom's White Balance controls. The next step in my photo-correction workflow is to adjust brightness and contrast using the tonal controls in the Basic panel. Stay tuned for that, next!

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Up and Running with Lightroom 3

29 video lessons · 11058 viewers

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