Adjusting the white balance of freshly imported photos is probably the first thing every photographer does in their post-processing workflow. Even with state-of-the-art camera equipment, changing the white balance is both creative and sometimes necessary.
The white balance tool in Lightroom isn’t a complicated system to understand; However, with a little bit of deeper understanding, you’ll find it has a variety of other functionalities to take advantage of. This guide is meant to help you understand the white balance of your photo so you can make effective decisions in post-processing.
What is White Balance and What is it For?
The white balance in Lightroom refers to the color temperature of the photo. This measurement is expressed in degrees Kelvin (K), which is represented as a numeric value. Kelvin describes how warm or cool the light in your photo is.
The easiest way to wrap your head around white balance is to understand that every light source has its temperature. Think of the times you have been in various rooms and have noticed how cool or warm the area is.
Candlelight has an inviting warm look and a yellow cast, as it has a warm color temperature. Fluorescent or halogen bulbs throw off a cool blue hue making them seem cold. These various effects can change the look and feel of your photos very quickly.
You may have noticed different white balance settings in your camera menu. Adjusting these will tell your camera to adjust the color temperature of the photo based on the current lighting conditions.
Each of these preset functions has a number associated with it, usually in degrees Kelvin. Each of the individual presets lies somewhere on a color temperature spectrum, usually from blue to yellow. Your camera will try to counter the ambient light with the opposite tone and level out the white balance.
For a visual representation of what each preset is in terms of its Kelvin value, look at the chart below.
Auto mode lets the camera’s image sensor do the legwork for you as it looks at the data in the scene to decide which white balance works in this specific shot. A lot of photographers will leave it on this setting and adjust the white balance in Lightroom afterward.
If you’re worried about choosing the wrong setting or even if your camera has incorrectly guessed the proper white balance in your shot, don’t fret. As with a lot of camera setting mistakes, you can easily fix the color temperature in the post-production process.
How To Adjust The White Balance in Lightroom
The white balance in a photo is visually interpreted differently by everyone. You can easily see this if you view your photos on a computer monitor and then compare it to a smartphone. You’ll often see that the photo may be a little cooler than you remember it on the other screen.
Here are the three most common factors that impact the white balance of your photo:
- How the computer or screen is color calibrated (or not)
- How it is perceived by the human eye
- The camera white balance settings at the time of capture
The only one in that list that most photographers can directly impact is adjusting the camera settings and finally, tweaking the values during post-processing. Adobe Lightroom provides a variety of ways to adjust the white balance in your photos, with each having its strengths and optimal scenarios.
Use the White Balance Slider
The White Balance tool is located in the Develop module at the top of the global adjustments area in a section called “WB”. There are two sliders you want to pay attention to Temp and Tint.
Whenever you open an image, you’ll see that your temperature is set to 0. This applies as a reference point from where your camera applied the original white balance setting.
The temp slider has tones that range from blue to yellow depending on where you slide it. Sliding it to the left will make an image have more of a blue cast, whereas sliding it to the right will introduce a yellow cast.
The tint slider allows you to change the magenta and green color casts in your image. Use this to help offset any existing color casts in the image. Over and above this, the tint sliders allow you to add some creative effects to the overall ambiance of your image.
Most photographers use this method as a fail-safe way of making small adjustments as part of a Lightroom color correction process. You should ensure your monitor is color calibrated, as will be discussed a little later on.
Using the Eyedropper Tool to Set a Neutral Target For White Balance
To the left of the “WB”, you’ll see the eyedropper tool, much like you would see in various photo editing programs such as Photoshop. This selection tool will sample a small part of the image and determine the color of either a single pixel or an entire area. It is quite effective for narrowing down precise tones and correcting white balance in Lightroom.
Using the eyedropper will let you set a specific neutral tone that you can find in your image. Effectively you’re telling Lightroom that this one pixel is white, regardless of what it thinks it is. The program will then adjust the white balance automatically based on that input.
Using the tool is simple; you just click the eyedropper and then navigate to a white point in the image. When you do, you’ll see the slide move to the correct point for neutral. A simple trick is to ensure the RGB values are as close to the same as possible.
Of course, this process only works if you have a neutral white point in your image. If that’s the case, try to get it as close as possible to neutral and then adjust using the white balance slider.
Shoot in RAW and Use Lightroom White Balance Presets
RAW images consist of all the possible data your photo can have, meaning you have access to a lot of pixels you can manipulate. If you shoot in RAW, Lightroom has presets that can be applied just as you would in your camera settings when taking a photo.
Luckily, these presets match your camera settings which makes them easy to use. However, Lightroom only applies it to the photo after it was taken, which can alter the look slightly more than it would on a camera as the photo sensor analyzes the data and changes it in real-time.
Syncing your White Balance Adjustments Between Photos
If you’re a photographer who takes thousands of photos, then you’re going to love syncing your white balance settings. Essentially, all you need to do is shift-click the photos you want to sync, right-click and go to develop settings, and then choose sync settings.
This brings up a dialogue window that allows you to select what aspects of the settings you want to sync between the photos. Ensure that white balance is selected, and any changes you make to the first photo selected will apply to the rest of the batch as well.
White Balance for Color Correction Vs. Using it Creatively
Some photographers will use the white balance tool simply for color correction and then continue using the other adjustments for adding different colors to their images.
The most popular ways of adding color to an image are:
- The Color Grading Tool (Split Toning)
- HSL Module (Hue, Saturation, Luminance)
- Tone Curves
- Calibration Module
Adjusting the color temperature of the light in your image can have a nice effect if you keep it subtle enough, but since it permeates throughout the image, it can give it a washed-out look.
Advanced photographers make good use of the localized adjustment tool to play with the light in their image. Using the white balance slider can bring the color temperature back into balance after you make an adjustment using a radial or linear mask.
White Balance Tricks You Can Use To Improve Your Photos
Bringing out the most in your photos by using the Lightroom white balance sliders can involve more than just tweaking some numerical values. Here are some tricks you can use to get the most out of your white balance tools in Lightroom:
Color Calibrate Your Monitor
Every photo produced will not look the same on every monitor. This is one of the hardest pills to swallow as a photo editor since you could have it perfect on your end only to look slightly off on another screen.
Color calibrating your monitor provides an accurate representation of what the true colors in the image are. This means that anyone who has a properly calibrated screen will see exactly what you see on your end.
There are two types of calibration: physical and software. Most people stick to basic free tools that help ensure that the colors are true.
Use it to Adjust the Mood of your Photo
There are situations where you can adjust the white balance to add or change the mood in your image.
For example, if your image is warm and sunny and you want to give it an old-fashioned vintage look, you could push the temperature slider into the blue to give it a subtle sepia tone.
In Lightroom, using tools such as an inverted radial mask can help brighten and manipulate the light around your photo. Modifying the exposure of sunny spots can introduce a yellow hue into the mask, which requires you to slide the temp slider to the left to cool it down. Failing to do this could mean inconsistencies in your photo.
Once you have a grasp on how to adjust white balance values without the need to use the white balance selector, you can add it as an expansion of the basic panel for adding a little depth of color to your shots.
Frequently Asked Questions
As a novice, the temp and tint sliders can be a little tricky to navigate to get the right combination of color-correcting effects. Here are some of the most common questions we get about the Lightroom white balance tools.
Where are the white balance temperature and tint sliders located in Lightroom?
The white balance temp slider is located in the basic panel at the top with the tint slider directly underneath it.
Is the white balance tool in Lightroom only good for color correction?
No, the white balance tool in Lightroom has many creative applications as well. Using the white balance selector tool is the best way to fix any color casts in your image.
Will using the white balance in Lightroom permanently affect my photos?
Lightroom prides itself on being non-destructive to your photos. This means you can make the changes to your image that the program will only apply through the exporting process.
Adjusting the white balance is an essential part of the post-production process and is one of the first things budding photographers learn on their journey. Fortunately, Lightroom makes it easy to change your white balance with several presets and helpful tools at your disposal. You can also explore our own collection of presets here.
If you’re coming over from Photoshop RAW, then you’ll be happy to know that the process is identical, and you should have no issues learning a new program.