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Custom White Balance
Manual Mode Tips

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Have you ever taken a picture indoors and the photo had a yellowish tint to it? I could not for the life of me figure it out. I know how bummed I was when all our Christmas photos came out that way. Then I found out in one of my workshops that this could easily be fixed by adjusting my white balance.

How to set custom white balance

Example of in camera auto white balance (please ignore my technically incorrect picture, it was Christmas morning and I was being a mommy not a photographer :O)

Auto correction in post processing

I have also noticed that sometimes my pictures are too “cool” even with natural light. I took these and then changed to Custom White Balance (CWB).
In camera white balance

Custom white balance

I realize you can easily correct your white balance during your post processing (PP) but why waste your time when you can fix it in the camera. I know I’m super busy and one less thing I have to worry about later always sounds like a great idea to me :O) I had no idea of this magical thing called “custom white balance” (CWB) until I took my first workshop. What a wonderful trick to know about! Your camera is probably on “auto” white balance, which is fine! Mine is on auto white balance about 90% of the time. However, when I know I’m going to be doing a lot of shots with horrible indoor lighting I try to change it to CWB.

Basically, your camera doesn’t know how to adjust how a subject looks in certain lighting. You wouldn’t notice it in every day life because our eyes automatically adjust for us. Tungsten (incandescent lighting) makes your photos look yellowish, like my Christmas photo, where fluorescent light can leave a bluish tent. By using CWB you are able to tell your camera the proper colors.

What you need to do:
1. Grab your manual
2. Change your white balance to custom white balance (my camera calls it “preset”)
3. Use an 18% gray card or get something white in the same lighting.
4. Fill your frame with the white or gray card and take a picture
5. Take a picture in the lighting you will be using (it won’t focus and that is okay)
6. Ta da! Now, don’t forget to change back to auto white balance when you are done or you may mess up your next photo shoot :O)

Example of in camera white balance

Tungsten setting

Custom White Balance

Notice the difference?? What a drastic change in the CWB from the “in camera white balance” with the white fabric. You camera has lots of different settings you can choose if you don’t want to do CWB each time: auto, tungsten, flourescent, shade, cloudy, flash, and daylight. I don’t normally use these as I haven’t gotten the results I wanted from them but I definitely suggest you try them out if you are in one of those situations and your colors don’t look right on your LCD screen.

I hope you will each go out this week and at least try it. See if you notice a difference. I notice more of a difference inside than outside. How about you??

Read more about white balance

How to use Kelvins for white balance
How to nail white balance like a pro
How to correct white balance in Lightroom

40 Comments
  • October 11, 2010 at 10:49 PM

    When setting white balance you really don’t want to use anything white. A “neutral” gray is 18% gray and will reflect all colors equally. Instead of a white sheet of paper try common household neutral references like underside of a lid to a coffee or pringles container. These are both inexpensive and reasonably accurate.

    • October 12, 2010 at 9:14 PM

      Thanks for your comment, I was taught anything white would work but it is nice to know there are other options.

      • chloe
        November 26, 2014 at 2:40 PM

        Hi I just thought I’d ask considering I’m so intrigued with photography since I was younger, now learning the ropes using manual for my university degree; does a grey card make a huge difference with manual white balance?

        • December 2, 2014 at 2:53 PM

          Hey Chloe,

          When shooting indoors with overhead lighting yes it makes a big difference but with natural light it doesn’t make as big of a difference.

  • October 12, 2010 at 11:58 AM

    Thanks for the information! I will have to try this!

    • October 12, 2010 at 9:15 PM

      Let us know how it goes!!

  • October 13, 2010 at 3:35 AM

    Awesome info, thanks! I was told (by a professional photographer, ha) to keep it on auto, but I always hated how my indoor food pics came out orangish. I’m trying your suggestions. I ordered my gray card at B&H. haha.

    • October 13, 2010 at 8:14 AM

      Yay!! I hope you like it :O) Let me know if you have any questions, especially with the d90. It can save several settings for CWB so once you set it, for example, for your kitchen lights, you can just go back to that setting and not have to redo it every time :O)

  • October 17, 2010 at 10:53 AM

    Ok, Courtney, I was just thinking this morning that I was going to ask you to cover this topic and here it is! I need a lot of help with this. How many custom settings do you have set up? Or are you supposed to set up a custom setting each time you go out (or in if you’re inside)? White balance and metering are my current areas of studying so any help would be appreciated.

    • October 17, 2010 at 11:14 AM

      Yay!! I’m glad I read your mind :O) I actually only have one setting saved on my camera and it is for my living room. I don’t use CWB if I’m outside and most of the time I don’t use it indoors when using natural light. Basically, I use it at night when I’m shooting inside or if I’m at a restaurant with bad lighting. Hope that helps :O) Let me know if you have any other questions!!

  • Amber
    October 19, 2010 at 9:11 PM

    Tried this today in my “dining room” and it made a huge difference. It didn’t work so well doing the CWB…think I need to try it again. My pics had a greenish hue. It worked great though using my camera’s Tungsten setting. Thanks! I had no idea this even existed!

  • January 4, 2011 at 11:51 AM

    I’m new to the site and new to manual photograph! Thanks a million. A huge help.

  • Martin
    January 11, 2011 at 4:21 AM

    Courtney, do you ever use the flash when you set the CWB or does that throw everything out? Just popped message on other forum and someone reckoned I should just use the flash (in white balance) option for indoors with lights on (ie pitch black outside)

    Does anyone know if the use of CWB using the card works in similar way to the ISO? Ie by setting the corect WB you are able to use a faster shutter speed and this will mean the flash won’t be required. Just a thought.

    • January 11, 2011 at 2:03 PM

      CWB affects the color/tint of your photos. It doesn’t not bring any more light into your photos. I do not use my flash in low light situation. I raise my ISO, change my aperture and shutter speed to try and bring in as much light as possible. As far as using your flash to help set your white balance I don’t know. I found this article for you. It looks like if you use the preset white balance settings you should choose the “flash” option. Hope this helps!

      http://www.digital-photography-school.com/introduction-to-white-balance

  • January 17, 2011 at 10:20 AM

    Wow! Thank you for posting this!!!

  • Martin
    January 19, 2011 at 5:46 AM

    I tried using the flash WB mode but it didn’t look any good. Looked better without flash and taking a reading from paper.

    I may look into getting an expodisc. Have you thought about getting one of these Courtney?

    Thanks for reply and link.

  • amanda
    November 19, 2011 at 6:54 AM

    Thanks that was helpful!

  • December 5, 2011 at 1:42 PM

    This tutorial changed my photography! I am very beginner and even though I knew about white balance, I hadn’t yet played with it or found a tutorial that really made sense to me, but you totally spoke my language! Thank you so much! I even posted a blog about it with my example photos and a link back to your blog and this article. Thanks again!

  • Cathy
    May 25, 2012 at 6:28 AM

    I just stumbled upon your website somehow—I am so glad I did! I couldn’t figure out how to use the custom white balance but then I remembered that I was trying to focus on the grey card. I remember getting frustrated that it wouldn’t focus so I gave up on it. So I just have to fill up the frame & snap a picture? then snap a picture in the setting where the picture is to be taken? Do I focus in the second step?

    Thanks!

    • Courtney
      June 3, 2012 at 3:56 PM

      Hey Cathy!

      Sorry for the delay in getting back to you! I went into labor the day you wrote this comment :O) I remember being so frustrated as well with the gray card when it wouldn’t focus. Yes, turn your camera/lens to manual focus, fill the entire frame with the gray card and snap. If you follow the steps above about setting up your custom white balance and then take the photo of the gray card, your camera should let you know if it worked. Mine would say “good” in the view finder. Switch your camera back to auto focus and then take the picture. The white balance should be correct this time. Hope this helps!

  • September 6, 2012 at 9:50 PM

    Can I just tell you how much I could hug you for this post?! I hate taking pictures at night in my house. They are all yellow in manual. UGH! I’m totally going to try this!!!!

    • September 13, 2012 at 1:55 PM

      Oh, I’m so glad to hear that!! Yay!! Thanks!

  • Ashley
    January 5, 2013 at 12:46 AM

    uggg…I have been sitting in my craft room trying to get this figured out & I changed the white balance to custom, I set the focus to manual on my lens. I took a picture of a white piece of paper (that came out dark and pretty yellowish) & then changed back to auto on the lens & took a picture of a stack of books & I still have icky yellowish photos? What am I doing wrong? the light in the room is from a ceiling fan? Do I just not have adequate light to take any type of photo in here at night? I make & sell home made items & frequently need to photograph them in the evenings, but need them to be much truer to color. Please help.

    P.S. I am in LOVE with your site & all the help!

    • Courtney
      January 10, 2013 at 2:07 PM

      Hey Ashley!

      Do you have a gray card?? Sometimes a white piece of paper works but not always. The amount of lighting shouldn’t affect it. When you took the photo did the camera say it worked?? My camera says “good” or something along those lines so you know it worked. Let me know if you have any other questions.

  • PRAVEEN KUMAR
    July 2, 2013 at 12:26 AM

    Hi I am using 5dmk2 i find proble in indoor shoot when mixed CFL & HALOGEN pl guide me how to do Wbshiftbkt, Thank u

    • Courtney Slazinik
      July 3, 2013 at 9:12 PM

      I am not familiar with the 5DMark 2 You would need to look up in the manual how to set the white balance. Good luck :)

      • PRAVEEN KUMAR
        July 4, 2013 at 9:10 PM

        Thank u, with Regards

  • December 7, 2013 at 12:18 PM

    This is exactly what I needed. It has been my biggest struggle lately – especially now that the summer weather is over. I am going to try this as soon as I get home!

  • Sondra
    December 15, 2013 at 8:25 AM

    Thank you so much for this! I’ve always had problems with white balance and you made it so easy to fix!

  • January 26, 2014 at 11:30 PM

    I am SO impressed with what custom white balance can do! This has been my problem since I started taking indoor photos, well trying to take them! Thank you!!!

  • Debbie
    May 2, 2014 at 12:20 AM

    When filling the frame with object, gray or white, my camera wont focus, this cause my shutter not to depress. Should I manual focus?

    • May 5, 2014 at 9:23 AM

      Yes, if your shutter won’t go then switch to manual focus :)

  • Emily
    May 14, 2014 at 8:19 AM

    I tried your suggestion about using a coffee filter and paper…and I cant tell a difference…and my photo after taking one to “Set” the WB focused…am I doing something wrong??

  • Jane Margaret Visaya
    August 15, 2014 at 4:16 AM

    Hey there! I just want to ask if I could do a custom white balance without the use of a gray card? Or can you just give me some ideas or tips on how to properly set my white balance for general use? Thanks!

    • August 18, 2014 at 2:15 PM

      If you want an accurate custom white balance then you will want to use your gray card or Kelvins. Here’s a post that breaks down a couple different options for you – http://clickitupanotch.com/2013/05/white-balance-comparing-different-methods/

      • Jane Margaret Visaya
        August 18, 2014 at 5:02 PM

        I see. But I still don’t have any money to purchase a grey card right now. I’m still a newbie actually. How do I set Kelvin on my camera? I’ve been looking for it on the settings. BTW mine’s Nikon d3100. Does it have Kelvin settings?

        • August 20, 2014 at 1:24 PM

          You would need to check your manual to see if your camera has Kelvins. Not all cameras do.

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