Photoshop for Beginners; Getting a Balanced Look

Since my last couple of posts have talked a lot about White Balance without going in to any great detail, I thought I’d make the second part of ‘Photoshop for Beginners’ about White Balance and, more specifically, how to correct it. I won’t be talking about how to manually control the WB in-camera, as there are plenty of other tutorials on how to do this; instead, I’ll be teaching you how to correct the WB when your camera gets it wrong, and one quick cheat to get perfect WB every single time.

Okay, so, very briefly, what is White Balance? Well, for our purposes, it’s what we use to remove unrealistic colour casts from our photographs. When your camera takes an image, it has to measure the amount of light hitting the objects in order to calculate the exposure; it also, however, has to measure the temperature of the light, in order to render the image correctly. Unfortunately, our cameras aren’t particularly great at measuring colour temperature, and whilst you can change your camera settings to give it a little nudge in the right direction, there’s also plenty you can do in post-processing to correct any unsightly mistakes.

Fixing JPEG’s

If you’ve shot in JPEG format, your options are unfortunately quite limited when it comes to fixing WB. You’re best off trying to get it right by adjusting your camera settings first, but if all else fails you can always try the channel mixer or colour balance tool within Photoshop.

The colour balance and channel mixer tools.

The colour balance and channel mixer tools.

Both of these tools are controlled with colour sliders. Take it slow, gently moving each slider just a couple of points at a time; if you move them too much, you’ll end up with an even worse colour cast. Start out with the colour opposite to that of the cast; for example, if your photograph has a yellowish cast, start by increasing the blue slider.

The colour balance palette.

These two palettes can also be used to fix colour cast in RAW files, but frankly there’s a much, much simpler way.

Fixing RAW files

If you have Photoshop, you probably also have CameraRAW; you’ve probably just never used it. There’s an easy way to find out; right click on a RAW file within Bridge, and you should find an option which says ‘open with CameraRaw’. This is the option you want; CameraRAW is a great little interface which can be used to edit RAW files before opening them in Photoshop for the final touches. Most of the controls are modified with sliders, and you’ll be able to do everything from adjusting your exposure to making some pretty awesome lens corrections.

The tool we’re interested in for white balance is on the first tab (aptly called ‘Basic’). This is where you can find all the most important sliders, including brightness/contrast and White Balance :). You can try using the presets, or simply slide the temperature and tint sliders until you’re happy with the final colour of your photograph.

WB

The second tool within CameraRaw that you can use to modify WB is the brilliant White Balance tool. That’s the third icon from the left on the main toolbar at the top of your image;

The white balance tool

The white balance tool

Now, with this tool we’re going to click on a spot in the photograph, and this clever little program is going to measure the colour and adjust the WB settings for us. For it to work correctly however, we need to select an area which is neutral coloured i.e. either a grey or white coloured area. Unfortunately, most grey areas aren’t completely neutral, instead being slightly blue or red, and this can upset the white balance tool and cause it to give an incorrect result. The fix for this? Well, it’s…

The one-click fix

For the one click fix to work, there’s one extra step you need to take. It’s very simple really; once you’ve got your shoot set up and have all your lights in place, find a piece of plain grey or white card (or paper), position it in front of the camera, and take a photograph. That’s it :); told you it was easy.

So now when you upload your photographs to your computer, you’ll have this random picture of grey card at the beginning. Now, select the images you want to edit by ctrl-clicking on them to select them within bridge, then double clicking to open (if you’re clicking on RAW files, they’ll automatically open in CameraRaw without you having to select it every time), but make sure that the photograph of the grey card is somewhere within that selection – preferably at the beginning. SELECT ALL

This time, when CameraRaw opens, you’ll see an additional toolbar on the left hand side which looks like the image on the right over there. You’ll see all of your selected images within this toolbar, and will hopefully have that grey card photo at the top. If not, just scroll through you images until you find it, then click on it to select it. Now go through the process described in the step above; select the white balance tool, then click on the centre of that bit of grey card. The software will measure the colour of this completely neutral white/grey card and automatically correct the WB for you. Now all you have to do is go back to that tool bar, click on ‘select all’, and then click ‘synchronize’. There will be a little pop-up window that appears; make sure that the ‘White balance’ box is checked, then hit okay. Ta-da! Now all of your images have the perfect white balance! If you want to edit a different photograph, just make sure you open it with that photo of the grey card as well, and then just repeat these steps to get the same WB every time 🙂

Okay, so I lied, it’s a little more than one click, but it’s still pretty quick, right?

This method of opening images is also fantastic for batch editing; if you took a ton of photographs in the same lighting set up, you can correct exposure etc for just one image and then synchronize all the rest so that you don’t have to fix each individual photograph; it’s a big time saver!

Once you’ve completed these steps, you have two options; you can either hit ‘open images’ at the bottom of the screen, which will open all the selected photographs in PS, or you can hit ‘done’ which will simply save your newly edited images without opening them in PS. If all you’re doing is making some slight adjustments to brightnes/contrast etc, or if you’re doing a batch edit, I’d recommend this option. If you’re working on one particular image, or going after a specific look, I’d recommend opening it in PS for further tweaks.

I hope you found this post full of useful information :). If you have any questions about any of the steps, please don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comments down below; I promise I’ll get back to you as quickly as possible.

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