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Setting the White Balance

I always start editing my photos by setting the white balance first, because if you get the white balance right, the color is right, and your color correction problems pretty much go away. You adjust the white balance in the Basic panel, which is the most misnamed panel in Lightroom. It should be called the “Essentials” panel, because it contains the most important, and the most used, controls in the entire Develop module.

Step One:

In the Library module, click on the photo you want to edit, and then press the letter D on your keyboard to jump over to the Develop module. By the way, you’re probably figuring that since you press D for the Develop module, it must be S for Slideshow, P for Print, W for Web, etc., right? Sadly, no—that would make things too easy. Nope, it’s just Develop that uses the first letter. (Arrrrgggh!) Anyway, once you’re in the Develop module, the White Balance controls appear at the top of the Basic panel, and the photo is displayed using whatever you had the white balance set on in your digital camera (that’s why it says “As Shot” to the right of WB. You’re seeing the white balance “as it was shot,” which in this case is way too blue).

Step Two:

There are three main ways to set the white balance, and we’ll start with trying out the different built-in White Balance presets (if you shot in RAW, Lightroom lets you choose the same white balance settings you could have chosen in the camera. If you shot in JPEG mode, all these presets won’t be available—just Auto will be available because your white balance choice is already embedded in the file. We can still change the white balance for JPEG files, but aside from choosing Auto, not from this pop-up menu). Click-and-hold on As Shot and the pop-up menu of White Balance presets appears (as seen here).


Step Three:

In our photo in Step One, the overall tone is really blue (not very flattering to most folks), so it definitely needs a white balance adjustment. (Note: If you want to follow along using this same image, you’re welcome to download it from We need to make it warmer, so choose Auto from the White Balance pop-up menu and see how that looks (as you can see here, it’s much better all-around, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right one, so we have to try a few others to see which one gets us closest to how he looked in real life). The next three White Balance presets down will make things warmer (more yellow), with Daylight being a bit warmer, and Cloudy and Shade being a lot warmer. Go ahead and choose Cloudy (just so you can see it), and now the whole photo is much too warm.

If you choose either of the next two down—Tungsten or Fluorescent—they’re going to be way crazy blue, so you don’t want either of those. In this case (since I lit the shot with flash), I tried the Flash preset (as shown here), and it looks pretty decent. It’s warmer than Auto and people generally look better with a warmer skin tone, so I might stick with that one. By the way, the last preset isn’t really a preset at all—Custom just means you’re going to create the white balance manually using one of the two other methods we’re going to look at. Now, here’s what I do: First, quickly run through all the presets and see if one of them happens to be right on the money (it happens more than you might think). If one looks right on the money, that’s it. I’m done. If not, then I just use the one that is closest as a starting point, and I go on to method #2.

Method #2 is, again, to start with a preset that is close to what you want, then tweak it using the Temp (short for Temperature) and Tint sliders found just below the WB preset menu. I zoomed in here on the Basic panel so you can get a nice close-up of these sliders, because Adobe did something really great to help you out here—they colorized the slider bars, so you can see what will happen if you drag in a particular direction. See how the left side of the Temp slider is blue, and the right side graduates over to yellow? That tells you exactly what the slider does. So, without any further explanation, which way would you drag the Temp slider to make the photo more blue? To the left, of course. Which way would you drag the Tint slider to make the image more magenta? See, it’s a little thing, but it’s a big help. Note: To reset both the Temp and Tint sliders to their original settings, double-click on the letters “WB.”


Here’s the White Balance temperature settings when you choose the Flash preset

Step Six:

Let’s put this to use. I wound up sticking with the Flash preset, but I felt it was a little too warm (yellowish). So, let’s drag the Temp slider slowly toward the blue side (to the left), so the skin tone doesn’t look quite so yellow. In this case, that had me dragging over to 5168 (when I chose the Flash preset, it set the Temperature to 5500—the higher the number, the warmer the color). That’s all there is to it—use a White Balance preset as your starting place, then use the Temp and/or Tint sliders to tweak it until it looks right (here’s a before/after from the original to the one we corrected). Okay, those are Methods #1 and #2, but Method #3 is my favorite and the way I think you’ll usually get the best, most accurate results, and that is to use the White Balance Selector tool (it’s that huge eyedropper on the top-left side of the white balance section, or press W).

Step Seven:

First, choose As Shot from the White Balance pop-up menu, so we’re starting from scratch with this. Now click on the tool to get it, then ideally, you’d click it on something in your photo that’s supposed to be gray (that’s right—don’t click on something white, look for something gray. Video cameras white balance on solid white, but digital still cameras need to white balance on a gray instead). All you have to do for this image is click the White Balance Selector tool on his jacket (I clicked just to the right of his jacket collar) and the white balance is fixed (as seen here).

TIP: Dismiss the White Balance Selector Tool

In the toolbar, there’s an Auto Dismiss checkbox. With this turned on, after you click the White Balance Selector tool once, it automatically returns to its home in the Basic panel.

Step Eight:

This is more of a tip than a step, but it’s super-helpful. When you’re using the White Balance Selector tool, look over at the Navigator panel on the top of the left side Panels area. As you hover the White Balance Selector tool over different parts of your photo, it gives you a live preview (as shown here) of what the white balance would look like if you clicked there. This is huge, and saves you lots of clicks and lots of time when trying to find a white balance that looks good to you. Next, you’ll probably notice a large pixelated grid that appears while you’re using the White Balance Selector tool. It’s supposed to magnify the area your cursor is over to help you find a neutral gray area but if it drives you crazy (like it does me), you can get rid of it by turning off the Show Loupe checkbox down in the toolbar (I’ve circled it here in red, because my guess is you’ll be searching for that checkbox pretty quickly).

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