photoshop creative

Set a custom white balance

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Tips from Digital Photographer, by Mark White
May 3, 2016

Save time in post-processing and ensure that you’re capturing completely consistent colours in-camera, with this tutorial from Digital Photographer


Thankfully, the auto white balance capability of the vast majority of digital cameras on the market today is generally excellent – something that wasn’t necessarily the case a few years ago. It’s relatively unusual now for any camera to grossly miscalculate the white balance and to produce an image colour temperature that looks noticeably incorrect.

However, the algorithms involved are not infallible; fluctuations, albeit slight, can sometimes occur, even when the shooting environment and the lighting have not changed at all. Though this won’t always be a problem, there are situations in which complete colour consistency is absolutely vital, such as when shooting a sequence of images for a product or commercial shoot.

If you are capturing RAW files, any minor inconsistencies in the white balance can be corrected and adjusted post-capture, although this adds an extra step into the editing workflow – a process that most photographers prefer to decrease, not increase.

A solution is to create a custom white balance at the start of a sequence of images that can then be used for the entire shoot. Different manufacturers have slightly different implementations of this, but a common method is to photograph a grey card, select the image in the menu and then set this as the basis for a custom white balance.

It shouldn’t take any more time than the equivalent task in Camera Raw or Lightroom, while also ensuring that the white balance is extremely accurate.

1. Use a grey card


A professional grey card should ideally be used for creating a custom white balance. This must be positioned in the same setting as your subject in terms of lighting, facing back towards your position.

2. Shoot the card


Your camera should be set to the closest white balance factory setting possible, or auto white balance. Take an image of the grey card, ensuring it fills the frame, and don’t over or underexpose.

3. Go to the menu


You now need to find the relevant menu on your camera. On a Nikon you’re looking for the White Balance menu to select Preset Manual. If you use a Canon, you need to find Custom White Balance.

4. Choose a preset destination


If you happen to use a Canon DSLR, you will be able to skip the two next steps. On a Nikon DSLR, at this stage you’ll need to choose a Preset Destination, such as d-1.

5. Choose Select Image


On a Nikon, you need to scroll down to where it says Select Image. If this option has been greyed out for any reason, you’ll need to select a different Preset Destination from the previous menu.

6. Find the grey card


Now find your grey card image, remembering that you need one that’s neither over nor underexposed. Press OK to select this as your chosen custom white balance reference image. 

For more photography tips, tricks and techniques, head over to our sister magazine, Digital Photographer! You can also find the team posting on their Facebook and Twitter pages.