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A lot of my photo's seem to have incorrect white balance, but as I shoot in raw I'm thinking this can be corrected. So my question is, with post processing, what's the best way to ensure correct white balance?

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2 Answers 2

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Grey Card or Neutral Object in Shot

Shoot with a gray/white card in one of your images, or select something you know to be neutral (white shirt, pavement/concrete, white wall). Most photo editors will have a white balance dropper tool. Click on the neutral area to adjust the white balance. If you then note the color temperature selected, you can sync that to your other images.

Remove Color Cast

If you have nothing gray, you can use the following trick.

  • Duplicate your background layer
  • Filter > Blur > Average (this will give you a solid color with the average color of your image)
  • Add a curves layer. Using the grey (middle) dropper and click on the solid color layer. this will turn that layer to grey (neutralize the overall color cast)
  • delete the solid color layer. The curves layer will now apply to the background layer and will remove any color cast
  • lower opacity of the curves layer to taste

Strange as it sounds, this technique works very well. Obviously if you have a macro shot of blueberries, it will remove a lot of blue, but for most images I've used it on, it works amazingly well. Even if it overdoes the correction, it tends to be in the right direction, so you can use the layer opacity to suit.

I use the above techniques to estimate what the "correct" white balance should be, but then I almost always adjust it to what looks good to my eye. "Correct" white balance may suck all the warmth out of an image for example, something you may not want.

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RAW files do not have WB applied except for the embedded JPEG used for preview by software that do not understand those files. So, it is up to you to apply the correct WB when converting those files into images. There is no correction to apply because nothing has been set.

Just to be clear, there is no WB setting which will correct all your images. Each set of images shot under the same light though should require the same WB to be set. If you use an application which allows to synchronize settings between images such as Lightroom, you will be able to set the WB once per set and then synchronize WB.

The ideal situation is that you take an image with a WB target each time you take photos under a different light. In this case, you first open that image and use the WB tool of your software to pick that as the white-point. It should turn white and colors should appear neutral.

Should you have forgotten to do that. What you need is to do the same with an object that you think should be neutral, a piece of paper in the scene, a white t-shirt, concrete, etc. Anything that you know is neutral in color.

Without any such thing, you have to do things by eye and that requires a well calibrated monitor, otherwise you can make things worse. For example, if your monitor is too yellow when you make things look neutral, they will end up blue. What helps in a scene with no neutral objects is that viewers also lack a reference point, so they will be less prone to seeing a color-cast.

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One thing that I've wondered about is what to do when the lighting isn't neutral. Say, for example, you are shooting under a yellowish sodium vapor stree lamp. You are holding out your white balance card and snap a shot. Then you shoot the scene. –  Paul Cezanne Feb 14 '13 at 15:15
    
and then you correct it in post. The card is now neutral. But, your eye saw a yellow cast. It is gone now. Is this desired? I would think that the answer is "maybe." Advice? –  Paul Cezanne Feb 14 '13 at 15:16
2  
Our brain does not always correct for color-cast, particularly with strong tinted lights. The key is knowing what you want to show your viewers. If it is what you saw, then correct WB only when you saw the scene as neutral. I know several photographers you use the incorrect WB setting on purpose to give an unnatural look to convey a certain emotion. In the film days you would use a color filter and some people still do. –  Itai Feb 14 '13 at 15:42
    
ok, that's fair. Make the shot turn out what you want. Sorta obvious but I was wondering if there was something else going on. Thanks! –  Paul Cezanne Feb 14 '13 at 15:57
1  
Unfortunately, the eye is really bad at determining 'neutral'. You only need to look at the white paint samples in the paint store to see this: 'white' is a broad range. Printer paper is not the same white as a t-shirt. Having a calibrate reference is best: white card, WhitBal, etc. T-shirts, house trim, clouds and paper, of course, are better than nothing. –  cmason Feb 14 '13 at 16:24

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