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Setting white balance

David PZ Wong

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Thought I would share this approach which I believe is valid. Perhaps many of you are doing it this way already. In most cases, I can't find a spot that has the same RGB values. So I do my best to find one that has these values as close as possible and click on it to get a new balance. I try again and the 2nd time it's always easier. In most cases, after a few tries, I always find a point that's neutral and get the correct white balance. Sometimes it could be time-consuming to find the perfect point, then I just settle for two readings identical, with the 3rd off by 0.1%, close enough.
 

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Sorry david I don't understand your post
Thought I would share this approach which I believe is valid.
Any white balance setting is "valid" if it is the one the photographer wants. Many choose a white balance for purely artistic reasons with no attempt at accuracy.

In most cases, I can't find a spot that has the same RGB values.
The same RGB values as what?
 
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Dan Marchant

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I assume David meant the individual R, G, and B percentages are the same as shown under the Histogram.
Thanks for the reply Jim but that doesn't make that much sense given the RGB numbers under the histogram show the values for whichever pixels your cursor or WB dropper are over.... so they will always "match".
 
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so they will always "match".

Perhaps we're not understanding each other, so I'll re-phrase. I think David is saying that he looks for a colour, using the eyedropper, whose RGB numbers are the same for each channel, from which he would then set the WB. As he can rarely find one that has exactly the same three values (i.e. R=G=B), he chooses one that's as close to equal as he can find, sets the white balance at that point, then rinses and repeats until he does get a neutral with equal values.
 
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Thought I would share this approach which I believe is valid. Perhaps many of you are doing it this way already. In most cases, I can't find a spot that has the same RGB values. So I do my best to find one that has these values as close as possible and click on it to get a new balance. I try again and the 2nd time it's always easier. In most cases, after a few tries, I always find a point that's neutral and get the correct white balance. Sometimes it could be time-consuming to find the perfect point, then I just settle for two readings identical, with the 3rd off by 0.1%, close enough.

If you want to get the 'colorimetric correct' white balance, you have to click on a point that must be neutral after you've set the white balance. For example a point in the neutral grey card you included in the image. The current RGB values of that point are irrelevant. That's the whole reason why you set a white balance in the first place.
 

David PZ Wong

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Jim above understood me correctly. Of course, if there are no dark or grayish colors in the image at all, I don't think my approach can work. What I am not 100% sure is if the WB I get at the end after clicking a point with equal RGB values is in theory the correct WB.

Did Johan say that you must find a neutral color the first time to get the right WB? What I did was trying until finally a neutral color showed up. Also, I don't know that I must set the WB again after I set it once, if I understood you correctly.
 
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What I am not 100% sure is if the WB I get at the end after clicking a point with equal RGB values is in theory the correct WB.

Absolutely not. The white balance eyedropper will change the pixel that you click on to have equal R, G, and B values. When it does that, it also changes the entire image by moving each pixel's RGB values in the same direction and by similar amounts as it had to move the values of the pixel you clicked on. Clicking on a pixel with all RGB values equal will make no change at all.

This is what Johan was saying.

If there is no part of the image that should be neutral and isn't, there's nowhere to click.
 
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Did Johan say that you must find a neutral color the first time to get the right WB?

No, what I said was that you must find a patch of color that must become neutral after you've applied the WB adjustment. That is acommon misunderstanding. People often think that you must find the spot that is closest to neutral, but that is not true. A spot that is close to neutral right now, is not necessarily also a spot that must be neutral after correction. Just think about the following example: suppose you photographed a model wearing a light blue shirt. Your current white balance setting is too warm, meaning your image has a yellow color cast. Yellow is the opposite of blue, so the result may be that this blue shirt has become perfectly grey! If you then click on this shirt to set the white balance, nothing will happen. The shirt will remain grey and the white balance will remain wrong.
 
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That is acommon misunderstanding. People often think that you must find the spot that is closest to neutral, but that is not true.

Absolutely correct but can I invert this to perhaps clarify: What you want to do is find a spot in the photo that in real life (not in the photo) is the closest to neutral, and then picking from that will force it in the image to be neutral, thus restoring the white balance. As Hal concluded, if there isn't something that should be, you can't do this.

In theory this is exactly correct; in practice it can be tough for three key reasons: (1) the neutral thing is in a different place in the photo and lit by somewhat different light, (2) the neutral thing is neutral in color but reflecting other colors, e.g. think aluminum or any metal, or (3) the neutral thing is not neutral; the best example of this are white clothes; manufacturers make them slightly blue to fool our eyes to thinking "really white", and if you sample from many white clothes your result ends up too warm because the "white" was too blue.

I think over all the best bet for people is a carefully calibrated monitor, and develop a good eye for what "right" is. Secondarily, if doing a pile of shots from one general place, go back to the grid mode and look through them on the grid, and see if some stand out as differently colored, and adjust. Often if people are looking through a gallery of images it is better to have consistency, than jarring the eye as you go from one to the next with a different choice.
 
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Absolutely correct but can I invert this to perhaps clarify: What you want to do is find a spot in the photo that in real life (not in the photo) is the closest to neutral, and then picking from that will force it in the image to be neutral, thus restoring the white balance. As Hal concluded, if there isn't something that should be, you can't do this.

That's the same as what I said, in different words. A spot that is neutral 'in real life', is a spot in the photo that must be neutral after correction. But that means that going over the photo with your cursor, looking for spots with the same R, G and B values is useless, because those are spots that are neutral before correction (think blue shirt in yellow light).
 
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That's the same as what I said, in different words. A spot that is neutral 'in real life', is a spot in the photo that must be neutral after correction. But that means that going over the photo with your cursor, looking for spots with the same R, G and B values is useless, because those are spots that are neutral before correction (think blue shirt in yellow light).
As I said, you were absolutely correct. :)
 
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in practice it can be tough

This is why so many people want there to be some way for Lightroom to tell them where to click. :)
 
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This is why so many people want there to be some way for Lightroom to tell them where to click. :)
In all seriousness though, it is something I wish it had but in a slightly different way. If I get one image correct, and there's a color in that image that is in others, I wish I could use that.

I.e. a "color match" that spans images, but for sampled points in both images. Think about someone with an off-grey shirt in a dozen images. Get one image right, sample the shirt. now go to either other image, sample the same shirt and say "adjust white balance so this shirt is that color".

I've tried doing it by hand, e.g. sample the off-neutral object so it becomes neutral. Note WB setting. Adjust the scene to be proper. Note WB setting on the sample again, let's say it is off by +600 and -3 from the neutral setting. Go to another image and sample the off-neutral object, then move them +600 and -3. it's kind of close, but not very good, and the further off the object is from neutral the less well this works.

But computationally the system could do it easily to calculate the WB of the skewed color. THere's a PS option for this, but I always struggle to get it to work right, on just the sampled item; plus it's a paint to go to PS for just WB (indeed it is in some ways wrong to do that, as ACR runs first).
 

David PZ Wong

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I am now confused. What I've learned online is that to set the correct white balance, you look for a spot that gives you equal or close to equal RGB readings with the eyedropper and click on it, and that's it. (Of course, that spot may not be gray at all.) So can someone tell me in simple words the steps you take to set the correct WB, if that's possible?

Another related question. What is the clear purpose of setting the WB? If some artificial light casts its light on a subject, making it appear yellow, and the camera records the image faithfully, showing the yellow cast. Wouldn't setting the correct WB actually change how the image truly looked?
 
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David, where-ever you got that impression is just plain wrong, or misunderstood.

The purpose of setting the white balance is to give your image the look you want, as the artist. Notice I did not say to make it look "right".

Key here is perception. When a human looks at a room lit by incandescent light, or another by florescent light, we do not consciously think "this is really yellow" or "this is really blue". Our minds adjust automatically.

If you shot the same scenes with a camera without some white balance adjustment, however, the resulting images (which we see out of context -- against a computer screen or similar) will look horribly yellow or blue. They are not so much wrong, as wrong-in-context. Maybe one day when we are all seeing things with virtual reality devices and are immersed inside the original scene, what we will want is a realistic reproduction.

But for images we use online or in print, and see out of that context, what we want is an image that conveys what we (as the photographer) want people to see. And for most of us, we want them at least somewhat corrected. The VERY yellow may remain warm, but we typically want them less yellow. The VERY blue of florescent or mercury vapor we want pulled back warmer, so they may appear bright and "cool" but not as bad as an uncorrected shot.

How much we correct them is a matter of taste. Even for automatic white balance in cameras, the higher end cameras let one specify how to correct, e.g. whether to err on the warm or cool side.

But as to the dropper-- you really do have that backwards. You want something that in real life is neutral (all the same values if you had a light meter at the scene of taking the shot at that time). If in the image it ALREADY shows the same values, the white balance is in theory the same as the scene. If not, you select it, the program forces the white balance so that object then has equal RGB and looks neutral. AFTER your choice it looks neutral, not before (if both before and after there is no change).

But don't think of it as a scientific, numeric thing so much as a matter of taste. It CAN be done numerically, but often the result is not something people like, even if "right". Find a technique that gives the look you want. Starting with a calibrated monitor of course.
 
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I am now confused. What I've learned online is that to set the correct white balance, you look for a spot that gives you equal or close to equal RGB readings with the eyedropper and click on it, and that's it. (Of course, that spot may not be gray at all.)

That last remark shows that you completely misunderstand what RGB-values are. A spot that has equal RGB-values is grey by definition.
 

David PZ Wong

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1st response to Johan. If equal RGB values have to be grey, then the numbers have to be at a fixed value too? I am thinking 2-2-2, 5-5-5, 9-9-9, etc. can't all be grey.

Ferguson's response above really helps me – that setting WB is an artistic decision. So it comes down to moving the Temp and Tint sliders? Then the eyedropper is only good for checking the RGB numbers? (Sorry for these elementary questions.)
 
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1st response to Johan. If equal RGB values have to be grey, then the numbers have to be at a fixed value too? I am thinking 2-2-2, 5-5-5, 9-9-9, etc. can't all be grey.

Of course they can all be grey! Ever heard of shades of grey? And I don't mean the book or the film... The higher the numbers, the lighter the shade of grey.
 
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Ferguson's response above really helps me – that setting WB is an artistic decision. So it comes down to moving the Temp and Tint sliders? Then the eyedropper is only good for checking the RGB numbers? (Sorry for these elementary questions.)

The eyedropper is good if you need colorimatrically correct white balance. White balance is not always a matter of taste. If you shoot commercially for a clothing catalog for example, then there is no room for taste. Your white balance needs to be exact, otherwise your photos show a different color than the real color of the clothes, and your client is not going to like that!
 
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Anjikun

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Hi David,

Don't feel bad about asking elementary questions. A lot of this stuff is very hard for beginners to get. I have had people explaining the whole pixel/resolution thing to me but still I can barely grasp it.

White balance is something I do get though, so I thought I would give you another type of example. I am photographing my art work (including some very colourful works). I want to make sure that the colours are true to what is actually there, and I cannot really control the colour of the light that I am using to light the works when I photograph them.

So I have to include something in the shot that I know is truly neutral. They have grey cards that are manufactured to be truly neutral (no tint either way, everything is equal so they all cancel each other out). So I can put one of these next to the work (and later crop it out, or copy the settings to the other shots done under the same conditions). That way no matter what the tint is of the light on my artworks when I photograph them, there is something in the shot I can click on, because I know it is truly neutral. Then all the colours in the work will adjust themselves around that true neutral, and I know the colours in the photograph will be true to what is actually in the art work.
 

David PZ Wong

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Johan, you said earlier that "If you want to get the 'colorimetric correct' white balance, you have to click on a point that must be neutral after you've set the white balance." I am still not clear about what you mean because it seems that I can read it in different ways. You use the work after, but how was the white balance set first? Are you saying you need to include a neutral grey card in the picture first and then use the eyedropper on it? If so, then w/o a grey card, our only choice would be to adjust the Temp and Tint sliders?
 

David PZ Wong

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Just posted the questions above before receiving Anjikun's message. When you click on that neutral card included in your shot, do you always get the same RGB values no matter the lighting was like? So if I can't find a spot (in non-studio shots) that's neutral, then the only resort is to play with the Temp and Tint sliders and guess at the correct balance?

If I do find a spot in my image that give me the same RGB values, then click on it with the eyedropper will get me the correct overall WB – I always thought that was correct and it's what you do with the grey card. After reading all the opinions, I am not even sure about that now.
 
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If I do find a spot in my image that give me the same RGB values, then click on it with the eyedropper will get me the correct overall WB – I always thought that was correct and it's what you do with the grey card.

When you need to adjust the white balance, that grey card won't be grey in the image. It will have some colour cast, maybe a little too yellow for instance. If the rest of the image was illuminated by the same light source, the rest of the image will be a little too yellow, too. The image of the card will not have equal RGB values. The G and R will be too high, probably. So when you click, LR will reduce the G and R on the card enough to make all the colour numbers equal, and it will reduce the G and R everywhere else in the image so that the colour cast is removed everywhere.

Like we've said half a dozen times, clicking on a spot in the image that already has all RGB values equal will do absolutely nothing. Nothing! Try it, and you'll see for yourself.
 
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Johan, you said earlier that "If you want to get the 'colorimetric correct' white balance, you have to click on a point that must be neutral after you've set the white balance." I am still not clear about what you mean because it seems that I can read it in different ways. You use the work after, but how was the white balance set first? Are you saying you need to include a neutral grey card in the picture first and then use the eyedropper on it? If so, then w/o a grey card, our only choice would be to adjust the Temp and Tint sliders?

Yes. Think about the following situation. You work in a studio, and you need to be sure that your final photo has an exactly correct white balance. No room for personal taste, because the products your are shooting need to have the exact same color in your photos as they have in real life. What you do then is the following: In your first photo you include a special grey card. So you know that this card should be exactly grey in your photo. So you use the white balance eye dropper and click on this card. That will set the white balance to such a value that a card you know is perfectly grey in real life, is now also grey in your photo. Then you use this white balance for the whole series.

Just posted the questions above before receiving Anjikun's message. When you click on that neutral card included in your shot, do you always get the same RGB values no matter the lighting was like?

Correct. You don't know the shade of grey (that depends on the exposure), but that is not important. What is important is that you will always get grey; meaning the same values for R, G and B.

So if I can't find a spot (in non-studio shots) that's neutral, then the only resort is to play with the Temp and Tint sliders and guess at the correct balance?

Correct again. If you really cannot find any spot in the photo you think should be pretty much neutral grey, then the only thing you can do is use the sliders until you get something you like. In reality, there are more grey spots in a photo than you would think. Concrete or tarmac, for example. The lower part of a cloud. Those are spots you can try and often give you a pretty good starting point. Of course you can always use the eyedropper first, and then change the sliders if you don't like the result.

If I do find a spot in my image that give me the same RGB values, then click on it with the eyedropper will get me the correct overall WB

NO! Forget about looking for the same RGB values. That is senseless. I said before; a spot that has the same RGB number right now, is not necessarily a spot that ought to be grey. I gave you the example of a light blue shirt in yellow light. That shirt is really blue, but because of the yellow light it looks grey right now. If you click on that shirt, nothing happens with the current white balance setting, because clicking on a spot will neutralize it, and this spot is already neutral. You must not click on a spot that is neutral right now, you must click on a spot that should be neutral.

I always thought that was correct and it's what you do with the grey card.

The point is that the grey card is not grey if the white balance of your photo is not correct yet. You click on it to make it grey, by setting the correct white balance.
 
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