White Balance: comparing the choices

by Bethney Backhaus

Oh white balance. Why are there so many different ways to set you?

I remember when I was new to photography I really wanted to see a side by side of images using all the common ways to set white balance so I could really compare them all. Well two years later, here we are! I really hope this is a help to some of you new to photography as well as the seasoned pros out there who just really love visual side by sides like I do.

All of these images are straight out of my camera with no editing. They were shot with my 85mm and my settings were SS 1/500, f/2.0, ISO 100.

1. Auto White Balance

Let’s just say my daughter’s face says it all for this one. Auto white balance stinks. She looks blue and the entire image just has a way too cool feel. It is not how the color looked in real life at all. I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark III and I can usually get pretty good color indoors using my auto white balance, but outdoors it is usually way off.

White Balance: comparing the choices photo

2. Tweaking in Lightroom Using a Gray Card

This is a pretty accurate method for setting white balance and one I normally use as a back up when shooting client sessions. Basically you place a gray card in your photo so it is in the same light as your subject and take the photo. In Lightroom you can use the dropper tool to click the gray card since it is a neutral. You can use this method without a gray card as well if there is a neutral in the photo although this method doesn’t always guarantee completely accurate color. You can easily find a neutral by hovering the dropper and finding something where the RGB values are all equal. This method works best on images shot in RAW format because of the extra leeway to tweak. Even though this is a great method, I prefer to get the best white balance I can in camera and usually only rely on this method as a backup.

White Balance: comparing the choices photo

Before tweak

White Balance: comparing the choices photo

After tweaking by clicking the dropper tool on the gray card.

To me, the after is almost a bit too warm for my taste but a quick slide of the temperature slider could fix it super quickly.

3. Custom White balance using a gray card

This is a great method for getting your white balance correct in camera. Using the same gray card as before, we can fill the frame with the card, take a shot, and then set our custom white balance using the image of the gray card. This method is a bit different for Canon and Nikon cameras.

White Balance: comparing the choices photo

White Balance: comparing the choices photo

After custom white balance with gray card.

4. Custom white balance using an ExpoDisc

I love my ExpoDisc. I just feel like it has taken so much guess work out of achieving great white balance for me. To use the ExpoDisc you stand where your subject will be and point your camera towards where you will be shooting, place it on the front of your lens (I usually just hold it there because the size I have doesn’t snap on to all my lenses) and take a photo. Then just like with the gray card you set your custom white balance.

White Balance: comparing the choices photo

5. Camera Presets

Most cameras have a few preset white balance settings according to different lighting situations. When I took these photos is was close to sunset but a bit overcast out. Here is what some of the presets looked like:

White Balance: comparing the choices photo

Shade Preset

White Balance: comparing the choices photo

Cloudy Preset

White Balance: comparing the choices photo

Daylight Preset

I definitely think the shade preset looks best out of these three.

6. Kelvin

For most of my personal work where I need to quickly set my white balance I rely on Kelvin. I have experimented enough to know what Kelvin temperature usually works with my most used locations. I shoot in this field at golden hour enough to know that 7600 Kelvin usually works for me so I dialed that in my camera for this shot:

White Balance: comparing the choices photo

I love warm photos so that looked pretty close to perfect to me.

So what do you think? For most client sessions I use my ExpoDisc but also take a shot of the gray card to use just in case. For my personal work I tend to dial in a Kelvin setting real quick since I am usually chasing my two year old around. Here are all the shots side by side:

White Balance: comparing the choices photo

White Balance: comparing the choices photoBethney Backhaus, Florida
website | blog | facebook | ask a pro
Bethney resides in central Florida with her husband and 2 year old daughter. Armed with a canon 5d mark iii and a variety of prime lenses she loves following her little girl around all day and capturing their day to day life together. Jane Austen, FRIENDS, crocheting, and traveling are some of her favorite things.


Read all photography tutorials by Bethney Backhaus.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

273 Responses to “White Balance: comparing the choices”

  1. Kirsten D
    Jan 21 2014 at 9:06 pm #

    I just use auto, but I would love to step up my game.

  2. Anna
    Jan 21 2014 at 9:45 pm #

    I experiment with different ones and then tweek in lightroom

  3. courtney
    Jan 21 2014 at 10:42 pm #

    I play around with presets then shot in raw and edit in photoshop

  4. Kim
    Jan 21 2014 at 11:30 pm #

    I mainly use auto but will set manual white balance in camera if the color is distracting when I look in the back of the camera. I try to wear a white or black something and have even used a diaper to set it! I’d love to try an expo disc or gray card… seems a lot easier.

  5. Joyce
    Jan 21 2014 at 11:35 pm #

    I set mine at auto. I have never taken the time to play with the different settings. After looking at the pictures above maybe I should.

  6. Tamara Dawn
    Jan 21 2014 at 11:42 pm #

    I have mine on auto and I add warmth in Lightroom. I’ve never heard of ExpoDisc, will do some research now! Thanks for the informative article!

  7. Jacqueline C
    Jan 22 2014 at 1:01 am #

    I use the camera presets to set my white balance. Although now I think I want an expo disc!

  8. Ramona P
    Jan 22 2014 at 2:17 am #

    I actually have an Expodisc and I love that thing!! I not only use it for custom white balance but also to set a starting exposure …works like a charm. :)
    But I only have ONE Expodisc and I use two cameras and I am constantly shuffling my Expodisc back and forth between bags. The poor thing is like the Velveteen Rabbit … much loved and a little banged up! LOL! Plus I constantly worry about losing my beloved Expdisc so I would LOVE to win a new one!! Thanks for the chance! :)

  9. Jan 22 2014 at 8:17 am #

    I use auto but tweak in Lightroom. But really need to step it up! Would love this!

  10. Melissa
    Jan 22 2014 at 9:58 am #

    I use auto but am trying to move to Kelvin :)

  11. Jan 22 2014 at 10:01 am #

    Kelvin or auto and tweak in lightroom. I so could use this! WB will be the death of me! :)

  12. Jan 22 2014 at 11:17 am #

    I pick a mode in camera and then tweak in LR but i have been wanting an Expodisc for ages now.

  13. Jan 22 2014 at 11:22 am #

    Kelvin for personal work but on busy wedding days I resort to auto….an expodisc would really speed up my workflow

  14. Sara B
    Jan 22 2014 at 11:26 am #

    I use the presets on my camera to determine white balance. I am trying to learn kelvin but I have a hard time grasping it.

  15. Jan 22 2014 at 12:02 pm #

    Just got an expodisc. Can’t tell you how excited I am to use it!

  16. Tracey
    Jan 22 2014 at 6:25 pm #

    Like so many, I usually tweak mine. Sometimes you win, sometimes not! :/

  17. Monica
    Jan 27 2014 at 12:04 am #

    I usually use auto and tweak in lightroom also. I am still a beginner, so I am learning a lot, thank you for sharing! I hear Expodisc is great. :)

  18. Lauren
    Jan 27 2014 at 1:33 pm #

    I love this! What a great way to visually compare! I nag my hubby all the time about not paying enough attention to WB. I’m directing him straight to this post!

  19. Kelli
    Jan 27 2014 at 2:20 pm #

    I started using kelvin a few months ago and it has changed my life! Let me just say, getting white balance correct in camera makes all the difference in the world.

  20. Beth
    Feb 05 2014 at 9:07 am #

    Which expodisc is best? I think their are two kinds. One says portrait and the other I guess is regular.

  21. Nov 07 2014 at 10:49 am #

    I’ve been wanting to make the switch to using Kelvin. Thanks for the inspiration. The side by sidecomparisons are so helpful!


  1. 5 Simple Tips for Great Skin Tones in Photos by Kristin Ingalls -Clickin Moms - Jan 31 2014

    […] you are using a dSLR or a high end point and shoot there are plenty of ways to set your white balance. You can use a white balance card or ExpoDisc to set a custom white balance. You can set the […]

Leave a Reply

Optionally add an image (JPEG only)