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’s 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’s usually way off.

auto white balance 1

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.

2 Lightroom Tweak Gray Card
Before tweak.
3 Lightroom Tweak Gray Card
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.

4 custom white balance Gray Card
5 custom white balance Gray Card
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.

6 custom white balance Expodisc

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:

7 Camera Preset Shade
Shade preset.
8 Camera Preset Cloudy
Cloudy preset.
9 Camera Preset Daylight
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:

10 Kelvin

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:

11 Whitebalance Side by Side