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photo editing | white balance

I think it’s about time I updated my quick guide to editing whites, or getting your white balance right, since my first post on this was more than two years ago. It is important to understand editing white balance if you would like your photographs to appear natural. Of course many people use filters which tint the image too. That's great if it is your style, but you still  need to understand the white's you are beginning with to create a cohesive portfolio.

I want to keep this short because the how-to is really simple, yet it can completely change the look of your photos. So what is white balance? And how do we fix it?

Burano, Venice, Italy
Burano - Leica d-lux 109


White balance is fixing the colour cast in a photo. Many factors influence the colour cast and - on most cameras I have used - it needs rectifying on more on less every photo. Lighting factors such as shade and low sunlight will cast strong colours where other situations may make the cast more subtle. But most cameras I have met also add their own tint - often just a hint of pink.

As an aside, the camera I find best at recording colour is actually my compact Leica d-lux 109 which doesn't tint pink like my other cameras do.

White balance also applies to ALL photos, not just those with the areas of white in the frame. The photos I am using in this post have areas of white as I want to demonstrate effectively what I am talking about, but every colour in the frame is effected. To fix a frame without white areas as a reference, you will need to use your best judgement. And actually, a tint is more forgivable in full colour frames.


Fixing white balance is relatively straightforward. Just two adjustments between four colours are involved. These four colours are paired as each colour in the pair effectively cancels the other out at their balance point. So that is the point you are looking for.

Those pairs are demonstrated and exaggerated below. Blue - yellow and pink - green.

Adjusting them is simple. Every app I have checked has this function, blue/yellow is often called temperature. Pink/green is tint. Even Instagram has this capability although to adjust the tint is slightly more complicated as it is hidden in the colour tab. But it is there.

All you need to do is adjust the balance between each colour until they cancel each other out. Hold the screen away from you if you want to see the frame as a whole, it's much easier to work out the colour cast from a distance. Use the four images above as a benchmark for each tint if it is helpful.

Where the balance sits is a case of judgement. You can train your eye to see it, if I am using an app I often use the white part of my phone screen in the camera roll as a reference for 'true white'. Actually most of the frame in this photo of Anna is grey and the only white is where the sun hits the wall, but it still needed fixing. The original had a fairly blue colour cast as it was such strong light and shade. The corrected version is below.

bougainvillea, a gift from a lovely greek lady
Canon 7D 17-55mm ISO100 f/7-1 | balanced whites

And that really is it! two simple steps that will change your editing forever. Fix your whites, it makes a difference!

J x

further reading

on editing photos - my free download includes a list of editing apps and techniques to improve your finished images


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