Setting a Custom White Balance

While White Balance presets and Auto White Balance can be quite useful, many choose to manually set the white balance on their cameras.  This is a useful approach if you need to compensate for when multiple lighting sources are mixed together in the same scene.  It is also a way to warm or cool a shot for stylistic purposes.

If you want to work numerically, you can use these numbers in degrees Kelvin as a guide.

  • 1,700K Match flame
  • 1,850K Candle flame
  • 2,700–3,300K Incandescent lightbulb
  • 3,400K Studio lamps
  • 4,100K Moonlight
  • 5,000K Horizon daylight
  • 5,500–6,000K Typical daylight, electronic flash
  • 6,500K Daylight, overcast

If memorizing a bunch of temperatures is too difficult or you aren’t happy with a built-in preset, it’s time to make your own preset. The exact process will vary from camera to camera, but typically the process involves doing the following.

  1. Shoot a reference photo with something white in the shot.  The white should fill most of the frame.
  2. The subject can be a sheet of paper or a more accurate calibration target.
  3. Choose the custom white balance option in your camera’s menu.
  4. Select the reference image so the camera can calibrate itself.
  5. Take a few more photos under the lighting conditions used to make the preset.
  6. Visually inspect the preset’s result and ensure that skin tones and key details in the shot look natural.

Here’s a short video tutorial showing the process.

DP BestFlow - Manually White-Balancing a Camera from ASMP dpBestflow on Vimeo.

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