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Breaking Away From Auto White Balance: Setting Custom White Balance in Mixed Lighting

Breaking away from the standard white balance settings in your camera can be intimidating, but so worth it. Once you learn how to set your own custom white balance, you will wonder why you never tried it before. It’s an effective way to streamline your workflow and ensure consistency with a given batch of photos. Today’s tutorial will focus on doing just that.

Setting Your Custom White Balance

In order to get our white balance correct, we’ll be using a handy compact tool called The Impact Quikbalance 12″ Grey Panel. It’s all of 12 inches, folds up well to fit in most any camera bag, and is quite inexpensive.

Here’s what it looks like, next to one of my lenses:

Method #1: Setting Your Custom White Balance In Camera

The easiest way to get started is to first prepare your lighting conditions. For this tutorial, I purposely chose a mixed lighting situation of natural daylight coming through my office windows and overhead artificial light from the ceiling, which can be quite tricky. It’s those tough lighting situations where knowing how to control your white balance especially comes in handy.

Once you have your lighting set, take a shot filling the frame with the gray panel. For this first shot, you will actually have your White Balance on Auto. Your photo will look something like this:

Sexy, right? From there, you’re going to head over to the White Balance settings in your camera. I shoot on a Canon, so if you’re using something else you’ll need to consult your manual. But the premise is the same.

Select the Custom White Balance option, and then select the image you would like to sue as a source photo. From there, head over to your actual White Balance settings, and select the Custom option.

And that’s it! Now you can shoot away and know that your white balance is set correctly.

Here’s a before photo before we set the custom white balance:

Auto White Balance – a little warm

And here’s a shot after we set the white balance. It’s ever so slightly more neutral.

Custom White Balance – a little more cool and neutral


Of course, depending on their personal preference some folks may prefer the warmer photo over the more neutral photo, and visa versa. But the key is to understand how to control your white balance in tough lighting situations. I prefer to take neutrally-balanced photos, and then apply style to them later on in post-processing.

Method #2: Setting your custom balance in the Lightroom

As a second option, you can take a photo with the grey panel in only part of the frame, and then continue on with the rest of your shoot. Once you’re in Lightroom, use that initial photo as a reference image to set the white balance for the rest of your photos.

Let’s jump to Lightroom. Head over to the initial photo with the gray panel in it. We’re going to use the White Balance Eyedropper tool as a reference point to set the correct white balance.

Within the Develop panel, you will select the White Balance Eyedropper tool within the White Balance settings. Once you click it, your mouse will turn into an eyedropper. Click on the gray panel within your image, and you’ll see the photo become adjusted as the white balance is set for that shot.

From there, you will hold down the Command key on a Mac (or Ctrl if you’re on Windows), and then select the other photos from the bottom photo strip that you want to share those same settings. Click the Sync button in the bottom of the right panel.

The Synchronize Settings menu will pop up. Make sure the White Balance option is selected, and then press Synchronize. The additional photos will be updated to the current White Balance settings.



Final Thoughts

Imagine that wonderful feeling of taking consistent, well-balanced photos without having to worry about your photos looking “off”. Even better, taking a well-balanced photo in RAW gives you the creative freedom to style your photo any way you desire afterwards. I firmly believe that taking a true-to-life photo from the start actually gives you more creative freedom later on, as you have a solid starting point from which you can branch off in any direction.

It’s an action you can take to bring your photography to the next level. It’s also an excellent confidence builder!

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