In this post I will show you how to set your white balance with a gray card and shoot like a pro. You might be tempted to think “Why bother to set your white balance with a gray card, when you can use one of the camera default white balance settings?”

custom white balance canon

Most cameras come with a variety of settings to choose from

As you can see photographic cameras come with numerous white balance settings. Most photographers are content to shoot with the white balance set to AWB. Which stands for auto white balance. Generally the settings are ok and deliver reasonable results. But if you want to shoot like a pro, I recommend you set a custom white balance.

How to set your white balance

This photo was taken with the white balance set to Auto, Tungsten and Custom

If you look at the photo above, the left hand side was taken using a white balance setting “Tungsten”. This was not far off, but it had a subtle greyness to the image. You can best see it in her skin tones.

The top right was AWB, the image ended up having a slight pink/purple hue to the photos.  On the bottom right I set the white balance with a gray card.

This was a studio photoshoot. If I had not set up a custom white balance. I would have had at least an extra hour of editing the photos to achieve the correct white balance. Another factor to consider if you need to correct the white balance. Is the more you edit the photo, the more you degrade the quality of the image.

When shooting product photos. It is essential for the client that the colours are an exact match in the photos.

If you decide to start using a custom white balance. It is good to know that you can pick up a gray card quite cheaply from Amazon or Ebay.

How to set your white balance with a gray card

How to set your white balance with a gray card

Once you are set up and ready to start shooting, the first thing you do is take a picture of the gray card. You should see nothing but the card in the photo. If your gray card does not have a target on it, your camera will not be able to focus on it.

Switch to manual focus and take the shot. It’s okay if it is out of focus – that doesn’t matter.

Navigate through your white balance menu, until you find “Custom White Balance”. You will then need to choose an image. Select the image of the gray card, and select “Use WB data from this image for custom WB”.

I use a canon Eos camera, if yours is a different make, your menu function might be slightly different.

One thing to bear in mind is if you are shooting in a studio and change the lighting setup or move the subject. You will need to redo your white balance as the lighting has changed.

I do not recommend using a custom white balance if you are moving around a lot, or if you are outside. When outside, light is constantly changing, even though you might not notice it.

If you do want to set your white balance with a gray card outside. You will have to do this often to make sure it is always correctly set up.

Once you have gotten used to setting up your white balance with a gray card. You will find the benefits of doing a custom white balance, far outweigh the time you lose editing the photos to correct a colour cast.

I hope this short tutorial has been useful, I will regularly be posting more “How To” articles in my blog