How can I be sure to get a "good" preset white balance reading?

The only thing I know to make sure is that the card fills the frame.

Many times I get the "no good" indication when I shoot the gray card, both inside and outdoors.

How can be sure to get the "good" indication right away?

  • 4
    If you capture with RAW you shouldn't need to be too concerned with white balance on location. – Nick Bedford Sep 1 '10 at 22:14
  • @Nick, that's true but if the OP is concerned enough to shoot a gray card, it's probably worthwhile to still do that for reference in post. – Reid Oct 19 '10 at 23:30
  • 2
    When you shoot RAW you are not solving the white balance problem, you are merely postponing it. Your post processing software might be better at at finding an acceptable white balance than the camera software or you might trust your own judgment to find the right setting. Either way, having a reference is a powerful aid. I would guess that you are using a gray card because the lighting conditions are tricky. If that is the case, shooting in RAW and using a gray card reference is the way to go. – labnut Oct 20 '10 at 21:17
  • It's been about a year and a half since I asked this. Setting the exposure correctly seems to be the right answer as far as avoiding the dreaded "NO GD" indication. How much you fill the frame with the card probably affects how accurate your custom white balance is. – jfklein13 May 21 '12 at 20:27

I have had that problem when I don't have the exposure set correctly before try to do the white balance preset.

  • That could well be the problem I was having last night, at any rate. I could tell my main flash wasn't firing, so the card was not properly exposed. I knew I needed the flash to fire to get its color contribution, but I didn't think it could actually cause this issue. – jfklein13 Sep 1 '10 at 21:09
  • This definitely seems to help. So does the suggestion about not filling the frame with the card. I need to run more experiments to determine if just one of these answers is sufficient. – jfklein13 Oct 22 '10 at 18:21

I have a D300 and never had problems getting preset white balance work straight away on any decent light. I always get the WB reading with auto exposure, manual (de)focus, and the reference target filling the frame. However, when the light is way off white, I get "no good". This a limitation of the camera: if the light spectrum is extremely unbalanced (say candle light, with too much red and almost no blue), the camera would have to apply a very strong correction (hugely amplify the blue channel) with warrantied bad outcome (too much blue noise).

In this kind of situation, I switch to manual Kelvin setting and I set the color temperature to the minimum (2500 K on the D300). This gives an undercorrected picture with a usually natural-looking warm cast.

BTW, here is a cool WB trick for when you want to keep a slight warm cast under artificial light: Set WB to Kelvin mode, switch on live view, and manually adjust the color temperature to your taste.

  • +1 for the Live View trick. When my D7000 arrives I will definitely work this into my shooting style. – Jared Updike Oct 22 '10 at 18:09

On my D70s this used to happen to me until I realized that you need to include other colors/darks/etc. beside the card itself. In other words, take a step back from the white object/paper/card or zoom out and fire again. Try it.

  • This definitely seems to help. So does the suggestion about ensuring proper exposure first. I need to run more experiments to determine if just one of these answers is sufficient. – jfklein13 Oct 22 '10 at 18:21
  • After trying this a bit with the D90, it seems like it doesn't matter whether the card fills the frame or not. More important seems setting the exposure right, so I'm selecting that as the right answer. That said, it is enormously helpful to know that the card doesn't have to fill the frame in order to set the custom WB. – jfklein13 Nov 4 '10 at 14:08
  • @jfklein: thanks for testing that out and posting about it for the rest of us. – Jared Updike Nov 4 '10 at 21:21

As Nick notes, if you're shooting raw it's not necessary to set the white balance in camera on-site. However, you might find it useful to still shoot the gray card so you can use it as a reference in post (any worthwhile software will have a white balance picker).

One thing to make sure if is that the lighting can vary across the scene, so if you do this have the subject, not you, hold the white card.


I've occasionally run into this when using a high ISO (3200 or 6400). Presumably the noise from such a high ISO is causing the trouble. I turn the ISO down, shoot the reference card to get a reading, then turn it back up to shoot. There's always some color shift at high ISOs so this isn't ideal, but it can be a workable solution.

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