White Balancing Made Easy

So you just took a bunch of photos, you insert the memory card into your computer and open them up. Come to find out, they have a tinge of orange, or green, or blue. How do you fix this? You could use selection masks and hue/saturation, but this never seems to come out right. Or you can white balance the way that Photoshop likes to white balance: by the numbers!

This tutorial will cover a relatively quick way of white balancing. If you setup Actions for some of the more generic tasks, you can do this in about 10 seconds flat. Any “Actionable” item will appear in italics.

First thing you’ll want to do is open up your offending photo. I’ll be using one of my good friend Chris trying to look sly while drinking his tasty beverage.

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As you can see, the image has a bit of a green tinge to it. This is no good. If I adjust the hue and saturation, I’ll lose the orange neon lights, and setting up the proper selection masks could take far too much time- more time than I’d want to put into a job like this.

Bonus Tip!
This step isn’t necessary, but good practice, especially if you’re going to be printing your images. You never want to have absolute black or absolute white in your printed images. It’s unnatural and just doesn’t belong on a printed sheet. Luckily we can fix this as part of the white balancing process.

  1. Open your Curves Editor (Image->Adjustments->Curves, or CTRL-M on PC)
  2. This brings up your…Curves Editor! On the bottom right, just above “Preview” you will see three eyedroppers.

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  1. Double click the first (black) dropper. This sets your black point. Change it toRGB: 10,10,10 and press “OK”. Double click the third eyedropper to set your white point to RGB: 245,245,245. Now double click the center dropper to set your greypoint to RGB: 133,133,133
  2. Go ahead and close the Curves Editor. This only needs to be done once, ever.

The Actual Tutorial!
Ok, now that we got all that out of the way, we can get to business.

  1. Open your Adjustment Layers flyout. It can be found on the bottom of the layers palette. It’s a little black and white circle.

5Choose “Threshold”.

  1. Slide the slider all the way to the left and begin sliding it upwards until you get your first hint of black (you can use your arrow up/down keys to nudge it one level at a time). Once you have a black area, hold shift and click to set a dropper marker. Now move the slider all the way to the right, nudge slightly to the left until you get some white, and create another marker. Click Cancel to exit.

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  1. Create a new Layer (CTRL-Shift-N). Fill it with 50% Grey (Edit->Fill orShift+F5. Under Contents choose “50% Grey” and Press OK. Set this layer’s blending mode to Difference. Now any area that is 50% grey will show up black in your image.
  2. Create a Threshold adjustment layer again. Move the slider all the way to the left, and once again inch towards the right until you have a nice black spot, and shift-click to mark it. Click Cancel to exit.
  3. Now that we have our three markers set (if you don’t see them now, Select your eyedropper tool and they should appear, numbered), we can begin balancing. But before we do that, we want to make the eyedropper collect an average sample of the area, not just the pixel it happens to be on. This will result in more natural white balancing. With the eyedropper tool selected, right click anywhere in the image and choose 3 by 3 average.
  4. Now, Create a new adjustment layer, but this time choose “Curves”.
  5. Press Caps Lock to turn on the crosshair cursor. This will let you line up your cursor with where you placed your markers more easily.
  6. Click the left-most eyedropper in the Curves palette, and click the first marker you set (it will have a “1” next to it). Click the right-most eyedropper and choose the second marker to set your white point. Click the middle and click your third point to set your grey point. If you have “Preview” checked, you can watch the changes before your very eyes!
  7. Press “OK” and you’re done!

The Final Product:

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You can see the green tinge caused as a side effect of having the lights in the shot is gone, replaced with a much more natural blue, while keeping the color variation of the neon lights in the background. There is a slight contrast loss due to setting the black point to 10,10,10 and the white point to 245,245,245, but this is what we want for printing.

It should be noted that this method, like most photoshop effects, is less effective the more extreme the coloration. If you have an image that came out almost completely pink, for example, there’s no way you’re going to get that looking right.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial, and please leave any questions or comments here and I’ll be more than happy to answer them! Happy Photoshopping!

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