White balance is Lightroom is so important to delivering beautiful images, but it can sometimes be so confusing! Let me help you not only understand white balance in Lightroom but to be able to know intuitively how to use it to better your images.
In this article, we will discuss the three major components needed to get the white balance of your images correct; white balance itself, exposure, and color saturation. These three key elements, when used together, allow you to get the perfect color in Lightroom.
What is white balance in Lightroom?
Before we get into how white balance can help you get the colors right in your image, let’s first begin with a definition of white balance.
Did you know that all light has color to it? It’s true! And when that light hits a white object it casts its color upon the object. Our eyes and brains, being completely awesome, can remove that color cast and see the object as it should be truly white. Digital cameras, on the other hand, can’t do this and therefore your images are rendered with this color cast caused by the light source. I have written a pretty awesome and in-depth article on the white balance of digital cameras, check it out if you want to dive deeper into the subject.
This is why it is called white balance. We are trying to balance the color cast of light to bring an actual white back to true white. Keep in mind, this color cast caused by light affects all colors in the image, we just talk about white because white is white, whereas blue to you might be azure to me.
This article will not cover the white balance in your camera, as mentioned earlier I cover that in another article. This article will focus on how to fix or adjust the white balance to get the colors right in Lightroom when they were not captured correctly in camera. Ready? Let’s do this.
Power tip: Adjust the exposure first!
To get beautiful colors in your images, you need to start with exposure. As the brightness of a photo changes so does the color value of each pixel causing the colors shift. For this reason, adjust the exposure slider first, then proceed to the white balance sliders.
Learn the White Balance Sliders in Lightroom.
The white balance sliders are unlike those found in most other image editing programs. Generally you will find RGB sliders to adjust your color, but not in Lightroom. Instead you will find two sliders: temperature and tint. This is because Lightroom uses the LAB color space rather than the RGB color model.
This can be confusing for some, but once you understand it, it actually is quite a bit more intuitive, at least in my opinion.
The Temperature Slider.
The temperature slider is the main slider you will adjust, and often will be the only slider that you need to use. We call it ‘temperature’ because the color of light is measured on the Kelvin scale by degrees.
Therefore dropping the slider to a lower temperature will cool down the tones of your image by adding blues and purples. Conversely, raising the slider to a higher temperature will warm up the tones of your image by adding oranges and yellows.
To really be good at color correcting your images, I don’t want you to think in terms of yellow and blue, rather of ‘cooling down’ or ‘warming up’ an image. By considering color in this way, you begin to understand color casts and how to fix them. Through balance.
Take a look at the color wheel below. To remove an orange color cast, what color do you need to add?
Simply move to the other side of the color wheel and add blue. This is what white balance in Lightroom is all about; balancing the color so that one color doesn’ dominate the image.
Lightroom white balance presets.
A great way to think about finding balance is by understanding the type of light the image was shot in. If you have this information, half the battle is over. Lightroom provides you with presets that will adjust the sliders and give you a good starting point with the white balance sliders.
You can use these presets as a good starting point to adjusting the sliders. By doing this, you allow Lightroom to start the editing process, and you come in and adjust to taste. For example, by setting the preset to Auto, you enable Lightroom to evaluate each image individually and try to get a correct balance of the colors. What’s left for you is to further refine the sliders for your style and taste.
Be aware, if you are shooting JPEG instead of RAW, you will not get all of the preset options you see above. You will only get those you see below.
Fixing Color Casts with White Balance in Lightroom.
Let’s get down to business now and work on an image.
Take a look at the image below. As you import photos into Lightroom, the software will default to the camera’s white balance used when the image was taken. You can see this by the preset drop-down menu being set to ‘As Shot.’
Looking at this image, we can see that it has a warm color cast, the colors have all shifted to a warmer tone.
Concerning the image above, I have a couple of ways to fix the color cast of the image.
One way would be to simply drag the temperature slider down, bringing in more blue to balance out the orange color cast of the image.
Another option would be to allow Lightroom to evaluate the image and get the sliders close by selecting a white balance preset from the drop-down menu. If I know the type of light the image was shot in, I could directly select that from the drop-down menu.
Let’s do both.
First, by changing the drop down menu to Tungsten (tungsten is another name for an incandescent or regular household lightbulb), my temp slider drops down to 2,850°, the average temperature for this type of light.
But it is too cool now, you can see that, right? Skin definitely doesn’t look like that.
Lightroom has moved the sliders to a pre-determined default temperature to balance for tungsten lighting.
Let me adjust it manually now.
I want to warm my image up from where the tungsten slider had it set, so I will drag the temperature slider to the right and increase the color temperature to add warmth.
When dragging the slider to the right, I can visually see the image getting warmer and decided that the picture looked correct when I set the color temperature at 3,820°.
Notice that the correct temperature is much closer to the ‘As Shot’ than it is to the Tungsten. This is because the drop-down menus are just default settings of the temperature for the selected type of light. Moving the sliders is the best way to achieve great color.
The Tint Slider.
The tint slider is a slider that should be used sparingly. If used too much it will dramatically change the colors of your image; much more than you would prefer. Think of tint as adding or removing too much green or magenta from an image. Often, when shooting on grass, you will find that you have a green cast, this slider is a great way to remove that.
If you’re looking to remove a bit of red from the skin tones, this is not the slider to use. We will talk about the sliders to use for that later in this article.
The main use for tint slider is if you are shooting around gas emitting lights. These types of lights, such as fluorescent and neon, often will require you to move the tint slider. For example, images shot under fluorescent lighting typically will have a green cast to them, something that is easily fixed by sliding the tint slider a bit to the right.
White Balance Selector Tool
Another easy way to get your white balance correct is to use the white balance selector tool. This tool allows you to tell Lightroom which color is a neutral color (pure gray) allowing Lightroom to adjust all of the other colors based on that neutral point.
The tool looks like an eyedropper in the WB panel, and you select it by merely clicking on it.
Once selected, your mouse cursor will become the tool, and your job is to find a spot in your image that is neutral. You do that by watching the RGB numbers as you hover over areas in your picture. A neutral spot will be a location where all 3 of the RGB numbers are the same or very close to being the same. Take a look at the image below.
All 3 of my RGB values are very close: R:24.9 G:23.2 B:20.2. To accept this location, I just click the mouse button and Lightroom will adjust the temperature and tint sliders based on that setting. The results are below.
The WB selector tool has set the Temperature slider to 3,950°. The image that I adjusted using my eye was set to 3,820°, so I was very close.
This is a great tool if you have a gray point in your image. This tool is also the reason people will shoot with a gray card. When you shoot with a gray card, you simply have your subject hold up the gray card on the first image which will allow you to correct the WB on that image very quickly by simply using the White Balance Selector Tool and clicking on the gray card. You can then sync that WB across all of the images shot in that light. Click here to see a foldable gray card you can use to do this.
Using Saturation in the HSL Panel.
The final key to getting great color is color saturation. Saturation determines the intensity of color. The HSL panel in Lightroom has a saturation tab that will allow you to tone down specific colors within an image. You can also pump up specific colors, but we will save that for a different article at a different time.
As I mentioned above, often people will try to fix the problem of too much red in the skin tones with the sliders in the white balance panel, but don’t do it! It should be done in the HSL panel, the panel that controls the Hue, Saturation, and Luminance of each color.
The S of HSL stands specifically for Saturation, so when you click on the HSL panel, make sure to also click on the tab called ‘Saturation.’ Here you will see all of the colors in your image with a slider for each.
These sliders will allow you to saturate or desaturate a specific color. If you feel the skin is too red, then slide the red slider to the left to desaturate. Slide the red slider to the right to saturate. See how easy it is? And the beautiful thing about these sliders is that you are not affecting the other colors. Only the color that you are adjusting.
You could also adjust the Hue of the reds in your image and make them more orange. This will turn the red in the skin to an orange tone, yielding better skin tones as well. You do this by selecting the Hue tab in the HSL panel and sliding it to the right.
Learn White Balance in Lightroom by watching.
Below is a video I’ve created to help you learn White Balance in Lightroom even better. Check it out!
CLICK TO READ THE TRANSCRIPT
And so it’s really important that we understand how to use the sliders correctly and understand in an intuitive way what they’re communicating to us. If you’ve ever color corrected images before in any other editing program you’ll know that the color correction tools do not look like this. They do not look how they look inside of Lightroom.
For example here is Photoshop’s and you can see that we’ve got our red our green and our blue or our RGB and then our CMY, cyan and magenta and yellow on the other side.
As as you could color correct with those sliders basically you’re adding or removing a color from your image and instead of light it works a little bit differently instead of being of the mindset of adding or removing a color you should be in the mindset of what type of light is present in the image when it was shot.
And that way you’ll start to understand why the temperature and the tint sliders are there rather than these color sliders that you see in Photoshop. Light inherently has color and that color is picked up by your camera your eye may be able to adjust for that but your camera is not. And so we need to adjust for that inside of our images or in our camera.
As you’ll look, this image is white balance is as shot and most of your images will come in looking just like this. What that means is that Lightroom is using the white balance selection that you chose on your camera. And so for example on this image my white the white balance on my camera was set to auto. And so my camera has a little sensor that is trying to detect the color of light that is around to to get the white man’s correct in my image. Now looking at this image I can see that it is too warm. I don’t like it. I want I want to cool the image down.
And so this is how we need to think about our images inside of Lightroom. We need to think about warming them up or cooling them down. And if you think in those terms instead of just asking yellow or blue it should make it a little easier.
Take a look at my beautiful color scale here that I created. And this will show you that color is measured on the Kelvin scale in degrees and that’s why it’s called temperature. The average midday sunlight is roughly 5500 degrees Kelvin, while tungsten which is a regular household light bulb is around 2500 degrees Kelvin and your average Sunrisers sunset’s can be right around 2000 degrees Kelvin and an overcast day is right around 7000-8000 thousand degrees Kelvin.
So as you look at this you can start to understand where light falls on this Kelvin scale. Now Lightroom provides a drop down menu so let’s take a look at that currently set to as shot but I could go over here and move it to any of these drop down menu options. So for example this image was shot under tungsten light under regular household light bulbs. So if switched to tungsten Lightroom is going to move my temperature slider to what the average temperature of that light is.
Nothing intuitive about it it’s simply just punching in a number that is the average for tungsten light and if you look at my image you can see that it is obviously too cool. I don’t like what it’s chosen. I could also go to Auto and instead of doing a white bounce on my camera I’m having Lightroom automatically adjust for the lighting in the image and you can see that it hasn’t changed anything it thinks this is good.
Now obviously it’s not good and so I’m going to use my sliders to kind of figure out exactly where I want it to be. So if I start to just kind of raise it right through here probably right about there. And so I’m assuming as I look at this image that the temperature of the light that is on them in this image is about 38,000 degrees Kelvin and I know that because I see that I set my temperature to three thousand eight hundred and eighty nine.
Now if I wanted to I could put my cursor inside the number and I could start typing in numbers right here and it’s going to accept those numbers and be happy about it. I can also put my cursor in there and then I can hit the up and down arrows to start to fine tune to get the colour exactly where I want it to be if I hold the shift key down and hit the arrow key it moves in much larger increments and then I can start to see or look with my eye where I want that number to be.
Sometimes when we’re using the mouse it can’t be quite as accurate as if we’re using the keyboard. So I think 38,000 is where I like this image to be. So that’s an easy way to adjust your white balance settings without using the slider.
Now the next slider that we have is called tint and this slider should be used very very sparingly. And the reason for that is because tint is really made to just remove colour casts. You can see on one end it is green and on the other end it is magenta.
Now mainly you’ll use this slider when you are shooting under the conditions of gassy emitting lights. This is going to be lights like fluorescent or neon lights. These tend to give you a green cast to your images and that’s when you’ll be able to use this slider to remove that color cast. You can also slide it gently to the left or the right to add a hint of green or a little bit magenta but you want to use it very sparingly.
Now if I have an image that I want to remove a little bit of red in the skin or or something like that this is not the best place to do that you would want to do that either in your HSL panel to just saturate the reds a little bit or you could do that with with the adjustment brush and do more of a localized adjustment where you remove the red specifically from the parts of their skin by painting on that adjustment.
So let’s move to the next image that I have here and it’s of this couple. This is an engagement and you can tell that this image is too cool. And so what I want to do is first off let me just think what type of light this was shot under. It was actually quite cloudy on this day so if I go to my drop down menu and go to cloudy it should adjust it to what the temperature is of cloudy light.
Now it’s gotten pretty close I might say that’s a little too warm for me so I’m going to go ahead and click in the numbers and I’m just going to start to hit the down arrow until I start to see where it’s warmer, but yet not quite so warm. And I would probably say about right there I’m going to hit enter and you can see what I’ve done is basically I use the drop down menu to get close to get in the vicinity of what the the temperature is for that type of lighting and then I just kind of tweak it to make it how I want.
Let’s go to the next image of this couple came in and do the same thing. It’s obviously a sunny day so I’m going to go ahead and click and go to daylight and that’s actually made the image a little cooler than what I would like. It’s also added a bit of magenta and I’m ok with the magenta there but let me warm it up I’m going to click in there and I’m going to hold down the shift key and hit the up arrow a couple of times just to start to warm this image up.
Now I’m going to let go the shift key and just two smaller amounts, somewhere in that range right there. I think I’ll be happy with. Let’s go to one more image. This couple this color already looks pretty good. This was also shot on a cloudy day, and so if I go to cloudy it moves me to 6500 and I like it. I think that that looks really great right there.
So there’s one more thing I want to teach you about the white balance tools inside of Lightroom let me go back to this first image. And let’s go ahead and I’m going to double click on the WB to reset everything inside of the white balance.
We are going to talk about the white balance selector tool and that’s this tool right here.
If I go ahead and click on that and drag it over the image you’ll see that a target comes up and that target shows me RGB values for every pixel that I hover over in my image. How you use this tool is you want to find a neutral point or a gray point inside of your image. Now it can be a darker gray almost black or a lighter grey almost white and how you’ll know that it’s a gray point as those are RGB numbers will be almost exactly the same.
And so looking it at this image I could come down here to her dress and I can see that I’ve got pretty close but they’re not close enough for me. Let me see if I can come up through here. I’m not getting it so I’m thinking her dress might not be the best spot I can come over here to her hair. And now my numbers are a lot closer. I’m I’ve got 24, 23, and 20. So that’s pretty close. Let me look through here. I think that was pretty close right there so I’m gonna to go with this one. 25, 24, and 21 and if I click on it what will happen is it will tell Lightroom that that is my neutral point and to adjust all of the colors around it and look what number it shows.
It went ahead and moved the temperature slider to thirty eight hundred. But it did one more thing it moved the tint slider a little bit as well. And so I was pretty close with my temperature but it just added a little bit of tint. And I really like how that looks. So I’m going to click on that one more time and we’re just going to talk about the toolbar at the bottom.
And so if you don’t have the tool bar at the bottom just hit the letter T-Key to get it appear to appear. Now what we have down here is I can make the squares larger or smaller. This will make my numbers harder and harder to match up to be close to the same if I make them smaller.
I can show the loop or not show the loop so I can get rid of it and just go ahead and guess what my neutral tone is. And then the auto dismiss button if I check that I basically can click anywhere on the image and it will adjust and it will not dismiss the tool until I hit the done button. So let me come back over here and just kind of get it right again pretty close. Right about there. But I like the auto dismiss button selected so I’m going to click on that.
I’m going to click done, and that’s basically how to use the tools to white balance your images inside of Lightroom. If you start to think of it as setting the white balance to the light that was present when I shot and then adding warmth or cooling down your images it will become a much more intuitive tool for you as you color correct your images.
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Now it’s your turn, try these techniques on some of your images and see if your color correcting skills improve. Sometimes, merely changing a mindset is enough, and other times it takes using the correct tools.
When coming at an image to try to get the correct color, remember these three steps:
- Start by getting the exposure correct. Adjusting brightness adjusts colors, so get the brightness correct to start.
- Next move to White Balance sliders and adjust your temperature slider to match the color temperature that was present when the image was shot. You can use the drop-down menu, the temperature slider or the White Balance Selector tool. You can also adjust the tint slider slightly to remove any color casts.
- Finally, if you feel a specific color is giving you trouble, move to the HSL panel to change that colors specific hue or saturation.
Let me know how it goes for you!