How to use custom white balance to improve colors when shooting interiors

(Image credit: Peter Fenech)

 

One of the biggest advantages offered by digital photography is the ability to adapt the camera to changeable lighting. In analogue days, should the color balance of the ambient light change, the film type would have to be swapped to compensate, wasting the remaining frames. In the majority of cases, a white balance preset can be chosen from the camera menu, which will quickly adjust the color bias to prevent strong casts. 

However, these presets are designed to cater for average lighting, under usual conditions and may lack absolute accuracy. Therefore, in order to produce the most print-ready file possible, a custom white balance can be created for the current shooting environment. This is especially useful when shooting in Jpeg format, when there is a requirement for large buffer capacity for example, since color cannot be altered non-destructively, unlike when working with RAW files. 

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Using a standard white balance target, which is usually white or 18% grey, the camera is able to calculate a colour temperature which best represents the hues present the scene, tailoring reproduction to the lighting which exits on a real-time basis. This improves colour fidelity, which can make a big difference when attempting to render natural tones in outdoor, interior or studio settings alike. 

Before and after color adjustment

Before:  

While the overall range of tones is pleasing, there is an artificial warm cast present. A cooler preset WB like Fluorescent rendered the window area overly blue.

(Image credit: Peter Fenech)

After:  

In real estate photography, true-to-life colours are essential for brochures etc. Creating a custom WB preset provided better colour precision than a standard camera setting.

(Image credit: Peter Fenech)

Step 1: Use a White Balance Preset

 It is always useful to try implementing a preset white balance (WB) in the first instance, especially in new environments, to see if any are appropriate without customisation. This may be possible under simple lighting. 

Step 2: Shoot a reference target

In mixed or studio lighting, where colour bias is obvious, hold a WB target so that it fills the frame and shoot an image using any preset. Prevent strong lighting falling on the target to avoid overexposure.

Step 3: Select an image

Depending on your camera model, enter the menu, navigate to the WB options and choose an image containing the target from which the camera can derive a reference colour balance. Choose the image which best represents light intensity.

Step 4: Choose custom preset

Once your custom WB has been defined and saved, use the command dial to select that preset name from the WB options. Be sure you choose the preset you just made, to guarantee colour accuracy. 

Step 5: Shoot a test image

With the new preset chosen, take a test shot to see if you are happy with the colour balance suggested. If there is an obvious bias, try reshooting the target, ensuring it fills the frame and is evenly lit.

Step 6: Fine-tune tint 

For small colour shifts, to improve the overall result, further customise colour balance using the fine tune screen, if your camera model has this functionality. Make small tweaks and shoot another test.

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