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Make easy white-balance corrections with the Color Balance command

Added on Wednesday 26th of May 2010 02:32 am EST


Adobe Photoshop CS/CS2/CS3/CS4

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows



The white-balance settings in most digital cameras allow you to capture normal colors in a scene, regardless of the light source. But don’t worry if your camera doesn’t offer manual settings or you accidentally use the wrong one; you can use Photoshop’s Color Balance command to fix that problem photo.


To correct image white balance, we’ll:

• Discuss what white balance is and how it affects your digital images.

• Correct a photo shot using the wrong white-balance setting.

• Save the white-balance profile, and then test it on another example.



If you’ve ever neglected to adjust your camera’s white-balance setting or used its incandescent setting outside, you know how frustrating it is to have a great photo of a red car turn out purple. If you’re lucky, and your subject hasn’t changed, you can reshoot it. But what if the scene has changed—is the shot completely lost? Luckily, you can use Photoshop’s Color Balance command to not only correctly color-balance your shot, as shown in Figure A, but you can also create a color-balance profile which you can save and apply if you encounter the problem again.





Inside and out

When film manufacturers began developing color films, they quickly discovered a problem. Although a subject looked fine when shot outside in daylight, it looked orange when shot inside in incandescent light. As the film manufacturers researched the reason for this, they discovered an interesting phenomenon—it wasn’t their product, but our perception.

What we think is there and what is actually there can be two different things. White light really isn’t pure white. It can vary in color depending on the source—reddish as from a flame, yellowish from an incandescent bulb, and bluish in daylight. And while the color of a light source may vary, our perception of the resulting colors does not. We tend to perceive the same colors under varying light sources as looking the same.

To solve the perceptual problem, the film manufacturers formulated two film types, outdoor film for daylight and indoor film for incandescent light. Many years later, with the introduction of digital photography, digital camera manufacturers discovered the same perceptual problem and likewise needed a solution for outdoor and indoor lighting adjustments.


A white-balancing act

To solve the color perception problem in digital photos, digital camera manufacturers discovered they could use the camera’s firmware to adjust for the two lighting conditions. But, unlike film manufacturers who used gray as a reference to color-balance their films, digital camera manufacturers used white as their reference.

Digital camera manufacturers went further, developing adjustments for more than the general outdoor and indoor lighting situations. They developed settings for specific situations, such as daylight, cloudy, incandescent, fluorescent, and even automatic and manual measurement modes.

No manufacturer can anticipate every type of lighting situation, especially if it’s a mixed source, and certainly, no manufacturer can prevent white-balance adjustment mistakes. However, with the help of Photoshop’s Color Balance command, you can make white mode adjustments after you’ve taken your shot.


Use test photos for visual comparison

Although you can correct any image that has a white-balance problem, you’ll find that if you first create a white-balance correction profile using two test photos, and then apply the profile to your problem image, you’ll not only save time, but you can also be much more accurate. One of the test images should be of a subject using the correct white balance for your light source, and the other should be of the same subject using an incorrect white balance. For our example, we’ll use a subject shot under a tungsten light source using an incandescent white-balance mode, and one shot using a daylight white-balance mode.

We’ll demonstrate using an image shot under incandescent light with a daylight white-balance setting. To follow along using our example, download...


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