A Quick and Easy Way to Adjust White Balance in Lightroom

Have you ever noticed that the colors don’t look quite right when taking pictures? Maybe they look too blue, too yellow or just have some weird color cast that you didn’t expect?

Take a look at these two images. The first is straight out of camera, the second is shown after fixing the white balance in Lightroom.

white balance bad examplewhite balance corrected

Photos via Laurence Norah, findingtheuniverse.com

Quite a difference, right?

The odd color is because the lighting in this shot was tricky for the camera to deal with, with the end result being an oddly pink person.

In today’s post I’m going to explain how to use Lightroom to adjust the white balance of your photos.

This is one of the easiest things to adjust in Lightroom, and also one of the first adjustments you are likely going to need to make to your photos — in certain shooting conditions — so it’s important you know how to do it.

What is white balance and why do we need to adjust it?

Modern digital cameras are pretty clever, but they aren’t infallible. One area they particularly struggle with is weird lighting conditions, which is where white balance comes in.

Most cameras have a variety of options for setting the white balance, but the majority of users likely leave the camera in the automatic white balance mode.

This means that when a camera takes a picture, it evaluates the colors in the scene to try and figure out what is known as the “temperature” of the light. Temperature is just color in this case — warm temperatures are more yellow, and cold temperatures are more blue.

Our eyes are very good at handling temperature. If you hold a white piece of paper up in various lighting conditions, your brain will still see it as a white piece of paper. Unfortunately, cameras aren’t always so clever, and if they get it wrong, then the whole image can have an odd color cast to it, which is usually particularly notable with skin tones. Luckily, it’s easy to fix.

Prerequisites to fixing white balance in Lightroom

You will need a copy of Lightroom for this particular tutorial, although any image processing program capable of reading RAW files will have a white balance adjustment tool.

You will also need to shoot in RAW for the best results.

How to adjust white balance in Lightroom

Step 1.

In Lightroom, pick the image you want to work with and load it in the Develop Module.

I’ll be using this shot:

Image loaded in the Develop Module

Step 2.

In the develop panel on the right, ensure that the “basic” module is expanded. Here, the first two sliders allow you to control the temperature as well as the tint of the image, with which you can adjust the color tone.

There is also a dropper to the left side of the sliders. If you hover over this with your mouse, you can select it and your mouse will turn into a dropper icon.


Step 3.

If you move the dropper over the image, it will show an enlarged version of the colors under the dropper. For example, if I move it over the skin tones on this image, you will see those represented in a large grid format.

Skin tone with dropper

What you want to do is move the mouse over an object which you know is a neutral color. I would advise picking an object you know should be either white or black, and click that. In the case of this photo, the hair of the person in the shot should be black, so I will click that.

Selecting hair to be black

Once clicked, Lightroom will apply the new white balance algorithm, and the image changes to something like this:

Corrected white balance

As you can see, the temperature and tint sliders have adjusted themselves, and the resulting skin tones are much more natural.

Obviously, white balance is just a part of the processing. In this photo, I have also adjusted the exposure and some of the other basic settings to improve the look of the image, but I think you will agree that the adjusted white balance is the most dramatic change.

The dropper doesn’t always give a highly accurate result, and you might find yourself needing to tweak the sliders slightly to get a more accurate result.

Tip: After editing, leave the image for a while and then come back to it. Our eyes can fool us with white balance quite easily, so it’s good to let an image “sit” for a while before coming back to it and ensuring it all looks right before sharing it.

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