Tip – Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Pixel Pigmentation

Sometimes when I’m batch processing thousands of photos (as I currently am for Last House on the Hill) it’s tempting to rely on Lightroom’s automatic features, which – while pretty good for a computer – aren’t always perfect. Representing color is one of the places where I definitely don’t want to cut corners, and because of that I’ve spent more than a few hours fiddling with the Temperature and Tint sliders until everything looks right. However, if you’re a thoughtful and prepared photographer, it doesn’t need to be this hard. White balancing your photos is one of the most important steps in digital documentation, and you can do it with your very first shot.

The basic idea of white balance is to eliminate any color your lighting conditions may have cast over your scene. Therefore, the best way to ensure your photos are balanced is to first take a shot of the scene with a truly neutral object in it. Depending on your budget, there are several options available. You can shoot with an ExpoDisc or white balance lens cap over your lens, both which will automatically create a profile of the lighting condition. Some cameras allow you to preset your balance based on this profile, but if yours doesn’t have this feature, you can use the image to set the balance in Lightroom (we’ll get to this in a bit).

You can also place a color checker in the first shot, and balance later in development. The X-Rite Passport comes in a swanky hard case, travels well and has additional color cards for more artistic situations (like adding some warmth back into the cheeks of that anemic cousin whose portrait you took). If these additional features are less interesting than being thrifty, you can always buy an 18% grey card or make your own. Whichever method you use, remember that for every scene you’ll need to rebalance the color, as the lighting conditions will be different too.

Lightroom's White Balance tool in action

Take the eyedropper from the top of the Basic menu and click on your neutral target. The color sliders will automatically adjust to balance your photo based off of the neutral.

The image before and after using the White Balance tool

Now to apply these changes to the rest of your scene, go to Settings->Copy Settings, and make sure White Balance is checked off.

If you did additional adjustments, either for the entire scene or for the one photo, make sure your options are checked off accordingly

Go back to Grid View in your catalog, select the rest of photos of the same scene, and paste those settings.

All photos from the scene have been color balanced

Et voila! A color balanced scene.

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