White Balance

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Introduction

Digital images generally consist of a mixture of the three primary colors: red, green and blue. For various reasons which you can read about in-depth elsewhere, the red, green and blue values which serve as the starting point in any raw photo development program need to be corrected in various ways before they resemble the photographed scene. One of these corrections is performed by adjusting the white balance - ensuring that neutral-colored (white) objects in the photographed scene still appear neutral on the photograph. Adjusting the white balance affects all colors, though it is easiest to discern whether the white balance is correct if an object you know to be of a neutral (white, gray) color looks non-neutral.

White balancing works by multiplying each of the primary colors by a different amount, until a satisfactory result is reached. In order to make this operation more human-friendly, instead of operating on the three multipliers directly, the user is presented with an abstraction in the form of a temperature slider which adjusts colors along a blue-yellow axis, and a tint slider which adjusts them along the magenta-green axis.

A neutral color is one whose red, green and blue values are equal. For example, R=G=B=65% and R=G=B=90% are both neutral, the former being darker than the latter. You can tell whether the white balance of a spot which should be neutral is correct by checking whether that spot's RGB values match, or whether the a* and b* values in the L*a*b* color space match, or whether the RGB indicator bars under the main histogram are directly over each other. You can do this even if you have a very miscalibrated monitor. Your perception of color changes depending on the color of the surroundings and of the illumination in your room, so don't always trust your eyes - verify using the method described above.

Having an incorrect white balance results in the image having a color tint, typically warmer (orange) or colder (blue). Some people use this for creative effect, however there are various tools and operations which rely on the assumption that the white balance of the image is correct (for example highlight recovery in the Exposure tool, skin targeting in the Contrast by Detail Levels tool, sky targeting in the Wavelets tool, the CIECAM02 tool), so you should not misuse the white balance tool to create a color cast for artistic effect but rather use it to ensure that neutral areas remain neutral, and then use Color Toning or any of the other tools to render a creative color tint.

The white balance tool can be turned on/off. When off, the multipliers are set to R=1 G=1 B=1 when working with raw files. This can be useful for diagnostic purposes or when working with UniWB images.

Interface Description

Method

White balance can be set in different ways: Camera, Auto, Custom, or a host of presets for different light sources.

  • Wb-camera.png Camera
Takes the white balance used by the camera. If you shoot only in raw (so no raw+JPG), put the white balance settings of your camera on Auto. This should generally give good results.
  • Wb-auto.png Auto
Automatically corrects the white balance, by assuming that the average color of the scene is neutral gray. Works well for a wide range of scenes, and can be a good starting point for manual adjustments.
  • Wb-custom.png Custom
Set your own color temperature and green tint by moving the two sliders and/or using the Spot WB tool.
  • Light source presets
    • Wb-sun.png Daylight (Sunny)
    • Wb-cloudy.png Cloudy
    • Wb-shade.png Shade
    • Wb-water.png Underwater
    • Wb-tungsten.png Tungsten
    • Wb-fluorescent.png Fluorescent
    • Wb-lamp.png Lamp
    • Wb-led.png LED
    • Wb-flash.png Flash

Pick

This tank wagon was the whitest object in the scene. We can tell that the white balance is wrong because the RGB levels are not equal, and the RGB indicator bars directly under the histogram are spread apart.
Picking the white balance off the side of this tanker, which we know to have been the whitest object in the scene, adjusts the colors across the whole image such that the RGB levels in that spot are now equal.

When you click on the Pick button Color-picker.png (shortcut: w), the cursor changes into a pipette when it's over the preview. Click on a neutral area to set the correct white balance for the whole image based on the clicked area.

Pick a spot which should have a neutral tone - gray or white. This spot should not be clipped in any of the three channels, as clipping means that information from the clipped channel is missing. As far as white balancing is concerned, "white" does not mean R=100% G=100% B=100% as that would be clipped, but instead means a shade of gray - even a very light one, but still one without any clipping. The picked spot should also not be black, as black means that insufficient data was captured for that area, and so a correct white balance calculation cannot be performed.

You can use the picker multiple times on different places in the photo until you find an ideal spot. Use the Size drop-down box to change the size of the pipette.

This tool can be used as well inside a detail window. Right-click to cancel the tool and to get the regular cursor back.

Temperature and Tint

The temperature slider adjusts colors along the blue-yellow axis. Moving it to the left makes the image cooler (bluish); moving it to the right makes it warmer (yellowish).

The tint slider adjusts colors along the magenta-green axis. Moving it to the left makes the image more magenta; moving it to the right - more green.

Blue/Red Equalizer

The red/blue equalizer allows to deviate from the normal behavior of "white balance", via increase or decrease of the ratio between red and blue. This can be useful when shooting conditions are far from the standard illuminant, e.g. underwater, or are far from conditions where calibrations were performed, for which the color matrices in the input profile are unsuitable.

AWB Temperature Bias

The auto white balance temperature bias slider allows you to specify how much the automatically-calculated temperature should deviate. Use this if you would like the automatically-calculated white balance to be cooler or warmer.

White Balance Connection to Exposure

The white balance is described in temperature and tint, but will for raw images be translated into weights of the red, green and blue channels. The weights will be adjusted so that the channel with the smallest weight reaches clipping in the working space (usually ProPhoto RGB) when the raw channel is clipped. In other words, with exposure set to 0.0 and no highlight recovery enabled the full visible range is fully defined by the raw backing. As white balancing changes the weights you may see a slight exposure change if you make drastic changes.