How do you set the perfect white balance?

A lot of photographers seem to be wondering what exactly is the best way to set their white balance. It seems like if you ask ten people you’ll get ten different answers. Some photographers use a dedicated device like an ExpoDisc to nail custom white balances based on the available light in a scene. Some folks use a gray card to achieve the same sort of thing. Other people just set their white balance off of anything white available in the frame: a shirt, a tablecloth, a sign… So who’s right? There are a lot of different ways to set white balance, and no single approach is always the best. For me, a gray card placed in a scene is perfect for custom white balancing when I process the RAW files in Lightroom, because I can simply click the eyedropper on the gray card to set the exact white balance—and I don’t have to do it before I shoot. But I don’t always worry about setting a custom white balance at all. For example, I know that with my external strobe setup I get good results with my camera’s flash white balance preset (it looks like a lightning bolt) and that I like the look of my studio strobes when the color temperature is manually set to 5200 degrees Kelvin. Of course, all of those are particular to my personal equipment, but the idea holds true: One photographer can use multiple methods to get great white balance results in a variety of situations. There is no single “best” way to set your white balance. (Also, for what it’s worth, just about the only time I use auto white balance is when I’m mixing hot-shoe strobe with ambient light in a fast-paced, changing-light scenario.) The point is this: if you’ve got a method that works for you, stick with it.

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