How to White Balance Color Cast in Lightroom
You know that awful yellow cast (or blue or green or orange, etc.) that makes an indoor photo look funky and the people in it appear like aliens? It’s called a color cast and White Balancing is how you correct it. This color cast is caused by the quality of light in a room and how the white balance is set on your camera. The room could have fluorescent or incandescent lights (you have camera settings for these) or it could be a miserable mix of daylight, fluorescent and incandescent (sorry, no camera settings for the mix of all three) that leaves your photo looking blue, green or yellow or (gasp!) all three of those color casts in the same photo. And while you have a range of white balance settings on your camera (including an Auto setting), it doesn’t always get the color right. So what’s a photographer to do?
The simple solution to neutralizing a photo’s color cast in Lightroom is by using the White Balance Selector, usually referred to as the eyedropper. It’s in the Basic panel, in the White Balance section, next to the WB, left of the Temp and Tint sliders. The eyedropper is designed specifically for correcting color cast fast! It’s not always perfect, but when you know what to do, it’s the best way to start correcting color in your photo.
How to White Balance Color Cast
Select the Eyedropper by clicking on the icon in the White Balance section. Without clicking again, hover the tip of the Eyedropper on or near something by your main subject that is a best guess for a color that is supposed be “neutral.” (You’ll get an error message if you choose something close to 0% black or 100% white.) The target grid is actually the image under the eyedropper tip highly magnified. Look over your photo for a white shirt or handkerchief, gray pants, a gray wall, or a dull silver object (but not the highlight) in your photo. In a pinch, I’ve even used the target grid to find a neutral pixel on teeth or the white of an eye to white balance a photo! When you have the tip of the eyedropper over a neutral color, click once.
Clicking the eyedropper on or near your main subject should render better color and subject skin tones in your photo. This eyedropper click in the right place tells Lightroom that these pixels shouldn’t really have any color at all. They should simply be “neutral” with no hint of color, and Lightroom adjusts the Temperature of entire photo based on your eyedropper’s selection.
How do you read the eyedropper? Easy. Hover the tip of the eyedropper over the color you want to neutralize. In the example to the left the eyedropper tip is over the shirt collar but I haven’t clicked yet because I want to read the numbers at the bottom of the target magnifier. The Red, Green and Blue values of R93.7% G89.4% B 71.4% make this white shirt yellow. These percentages would be nearly equal values if the shirt was neutral. Once I click on the collar, Lightroom will try to make those RGB values equal. That’s because equal amounts of Red, Green and Blue make a neutral tone without a color cast. For previews of white balance color changes, keep an eye on your Navigator window while hovering the eyedropper over different areas of your photo.
After I click, the magnifier disappears and the color I clicked on should appear neutral with no color cast. This will be an overall color change to the photo and, depending upon the kind of light source(s) in your scene, it should render pleasing skin tones. If I want to check the color, I select the eyedropper again, never clicking, only hovering over the same place to see if my RGB values are equal. They are close. Remember, do not click this time. From these numbers I’m very close to a perfect neutral tone. Close is close enough. I tap the keyboard escape key (esc) to place the eyedropper back in it’s dock, turning it off. Or, you can just click in the eyedropper dock to put it back.
That’s pretty much the basics of using the eyedropper in the White Balance section of the Basic panel. It won’t always work the first time, so click away until you find something that works for you. You’re letting the power of the Lightroom White Balance Selector do the color cast correction guesswork first. Now you can go and tweak your white balanced photo with the Temp and Tint sliders because you’ve got a good head start. Dragging your Temp slider left makes your photo more blue, while dragging the slider to the right makes it more yellow/red. The Tint slider fine tunes the colors – Green to Magenta – that are not part of the color temperature range. If you find the color cast getting worse, you can undo it by choosing the “White Balance: Custom” step in the History Panel on the Left of the Develop module. This is the name of the step where you used the eyedropper. After you’ve finished removing your color cast, I recommend continuing on to the next section of the Basic panel under White Balance, the Tone section. This where you should continue developing, with adjustments to exposure, highlights, shadows, etc. to further improve the details of your photo.
I know this is a long post, but I wanted to reach all levels of Lightroom users. I created the chart below to clarify this process and give some context to the Temp slider. Color has a temperature. Not a temperature like the weather, but a temperature that is used to measure color and the numbers on the right indicate color quality from different times of day and different light sources. The settings on your camera relate to these color temperatures.
And if you don’t care about this color temperature stuff. Fine. No problem!