Working with White Balance

White balance / Black and White

Use the Capture One White Balance tool to establish perfect, natural colors and neutral grays.

Overview of White Balance

The human visual system automatically compensates for the color of light from various sources, and it attempts to make the light white in color even when those sources are mixed. With camera sensors, each model has its own response to color that is relative to the ICC profile selected in Capture One's Base Characteristics panel and that varies under different lighting conditions. It is this response that results in a color cast in your images.

With RAW files, the color cast can be removed by neutralizing, or "balancing”, color values in Capture One. However, as white balance is interpreted in-camera at the time of capture, some care is required if you’re capturing JPEGs. Although Capture One can apply some adjustments retrospectively to JPEGs using the camera's auto white balance setting, there is far less flexibility with previously processed files. In general, it is good practise to set an appropriate white balance setting or adopt an in-camera preset for JPEG’s based on your creative intent.

Alternatively, using a gray card or reference target for custom white balance settings, either at the time in-camera or retrospectively with Capture One, can simplify and even accelerate your workflow, helping you achieve accurate and consistent results with both RAW and JPEG files.

When it is necessary to adjust the white balance, Capture One has a dedicated tool that’s both flexible and easy to use. Like every other tool in Capture One, altering the white balance has no effect on your source files until you go to process them, and even then Capture One makes identical copies to create a new image file instead.

About the White Balance tool

Capture One's White Balance panel is located within the Color inspector and has several controls, including an auto option, a number of presets, a picker (eyedropper), and two sliders which are meant to be used last to fine-tune the results if necessary.

Four White Balance presets can be found under the Mode fly-out menu. These represent the most commonly encountered light sources (i.e., Daylight, Flash, Tungsten, and Fluorescent). Simply select the most appropriate, according to the scene. In addition, the Mode menu can display Custom and Shot options. The latter refers to the White Balance used by the camera at the time the image was captured, while the former is displayed when the user makes a new white balance adjustment.

When accuracy is paramount, the picker (eyedropper) can be used on a gray card or reference chart, or you can click on any white surface that isn't clipped.

An Auto Adjust option is included in the tool's title bar. Although useful for a quick adjustment, it should be considered as an initial step. As a result, it is not enabled as one of the default settings of Capture One’s Auto Adjust option (available from the Adjustments menu or from the toolbar).

The Kelvin slider initially displays the color temperature selected by the camera and can be overridden within the range 800 to 14000 degrees Kelvin. The scale on the slider represents the actual Kelvin value, which is subject to slight variations from camera to camera. Moving the slider to the right will achieve a warmer (yellow) look and to the left for a cooler (blue) appearance.

The Tint slider also displays the setting selected by the camera to start with and can be fine-tuned to remove green and magenta tints. Both sliders are updated when new white balance adjustments are made.

Setting White Balance automatically

The Auto Adjust White Balance function automatically selects a neutral white balance for each selected variant (providing the Edit Selected Variants function is enabled). However, although this option is useful, the Auto Adjust White Balance should be used on a limited range of images taken under similar lighting conditions. Therefore, it is not enabled as one of the default settings for Capture One’s standard Auto Adjust option, available from the Adjustment menu or main toolbar.

  1. Go to the Color Inspector.
  2. Select the image or images that you want to adjust from the Browser. 
  3. Press the small Auto Adjust (A) icon in the title bar of the White Balance tool. The Temp and Tint sliders and values are updated and the Mode displays the Custom setting option, as a reminder that the camera's white balance setting has been adjusted.
  4. If further adjustment is required, edge the Tint slider to the left to remove a magenta cast, or to the right to remove a green cast.

Selecting a neutral area with the picker

Setting a custom white balance without a gray card is simple and effective though choosing an area in the image requires some care, or unexpected results will occur.

Select the white balance picker (eyedropper) (W) and click-on the brightest white area in the image that has some detail. Do not select specular highlights or other areas that are clipped, as the results are unpredictable and unlikely to be desirable.  If there is no white surface in the image, look for a bright gray area.

White or light objects that are reflecting colors should also be avoided such as light reflecting from green foliage on to a shirt or chair, for example. Where images include people, and in the absence of a gray card in the image, selecting the white of the eyes, or even the teeth, is a long-established and well-known technique with digital techs, retouchers and portrait photographers alike.

Repeated selections using the White Balance picker overrides the previous setting and, like other tools in Capture One, has no detrimental effect on your source image file.

  1. Select an image and go to the Color inspector.
  2. From White Balance tool select the White Balance picker (eyedropper icon) and click-on a bright white or light neutral area in the image with detail (do not select specular highlights or other areas that are clipped). Note the White Balance picker is also available from the cursor bar.
  3. Repeat the selection till satisfied with the result. The previous Temp and Tint values will be overwritten and updated, and the Mode field will display the word Custom, to show that you have overriden the camera's settings.

Setting a custom white balance using a gray card or chart

The simplest and most consistent method of selecting and removing color casts from neutral colors is to capture an image of a gray card or color reference chart under the same lighting conditions as your subject. Then, using the White Balance picker (eyedropper), select an area that should be neutral. Many photographers choose a neutral 18% gray patch or a white patch, but it will depend on your own preferences, experience and creative intent.

Although the reflectance of cards and charts remain consistent, within certain time limits, it is important that they are optimally exposed and illuminated evenly, avoiding flare. The same card or chart can also be used to determine the optimal exposure, see here for more details.

Over time, the reflectance or spectral response of cards and charts change and no longer remain neutral under various lighting conditions. When you’re unsure, select a gray patch that appears suitable and use the Tint slider to make adjustments. For example, when you’ve captured an image under fluorescent lighting, a green cast is likely. Use the Tint slider to remove it by edging the slider control to the right.

  1. Select an image and go to the Color inspector.
  2. From White Balance tool select the White Balance picker (eyedropper icon) or use shortcut (W) and click-on a neutral gray patch or gray card. The White Balance picker is also available from the cursor bar.
  3. Repeat the selection until satisfied with the result. The previous Temp and Tint values will be immediately overwritten.
  4. If further adjustment is required, edge the Tint slider to the left to remove a magenta cast, or to the right to remove a green cast.
  5. Copy and apply this setting to other images.

Adjusting by mode

Regardless of whether or not the variant is based on a RAW source file or JPEG. When you select an image in the viewer, Capture One will initially display the white balance you chose on your camera at the time of capture. The White Balance tool displays this choice as Shot in the Mode field.

If the variant is based on a RAW source file, then the Mode drop-down menu will contain presets to match to the light source, which you can choose from to alter the white-balance retrospectively. Besides the typical presets there may be some more advanced options available, depending on the camera model. For example, some cameras have extensive presets for fluorescent light sources, whereas others allow you to register manually set white-balance data for specific light sources. If these options are available, the White Balance tool will display them in the Mode drop-down menu (see example).

With a JPEG-based variant, there are no presets available as the White Balance was chosen at the time and processed with the setting applied when writing to the camera’s memory card. You can, however, use the White Balance picker and Kelvin and Tint sliders to make adjustments, though within much narrower range.

  1. Select an image in the Browser and go to the Color Inspector.
  2. From White Balance tool click on the Mode text field to reveal the drop-down menu.
  3. Select the preset from the list that is most relevant to the lighting in the image. For example, if the subject is in shadow, select Shade, and view the results on the image in the Viewer.
  4. Other presets may also be suitable, you can continue to apply the presets until a suitable result is found. New selections override the previous settings.
  5. If further adjustment is required consider adjusting the Kelvin (Color Temperature) slider first based on your recollection of the scene, then adjust the Tint if there’s a slight green or magenta cast. Or consider using the White Balance picker instead, it is the fastest way to making a successful white balance edit. See below for more information.

Adjusting Kelvin and Tint sliders

Manual correction, or adjusting to taste, using the sliders is nearly always necessary after adjusting by mode or after selecting a neutral point, especially when dealing with colored reflections, where the ambient light has been absorbed (e.g., underwater), and when encountering mixed lighting. It is not usually possible to neutralize the whole image in these situations without using selective editing, however, that may not be desirable. Using the tint slider can help reduce color casts to the point where the image is reminiscent of the original scene.

  1. Make a white balance adjustment using the pick, mode or Auto options.
  2. Fine tune the white balance using the two sliders:
    • Kelvin - This changes the color temperature of an image within the range 800 to 14000 degrees Kelvin. Move the slider to the right to achieve a warmer (yellow) hue and to the left for a cooler (blue) appearance. The scale on the slider represents the actual Kelvin value, which is subject to slight variations from camera to camera.
    • Tint - The adjacent text field also displays the setting selected by the camera to start with, and moving the slider to the right can remove green casts common in fluorescent strip/tube-type lighting. Moving the slider to the left removes magenta casts.

Returning the white balance to the camera's settings

When capturing images in RAW mode, the camera’s white-balance setting can be left to Auto. Most modern cameras will deliver acceptable results, however, as the neutral white point is calculated and saved in the metadata of RAW files you can make the decision to adjust it later. When left to Auto in RAW mode or when capturing JPEGs in-camera, Capture One displays the camera’s white balance settings in the White Balance tool as Shot.

  1. Go to the Color inspector.
  2. Select the image or images that you want to adjust from the Browser.
  3. From the Mode drop down menu, select Shot. The image is updated in the Browser and both Temp and Tint sliders and values return to the settings made in-camera.

Adjusting JPEGs

With the exception of the selection of the presets available under the Mode menu, all of the other functions of the White Balance tool are available for adjusting JPEGs. It should be noted that these files will have had white balance applied previously, as well as further color adjustments in some form or other, and have far less latitude for additional adjustment than RAW files. This can usually be detected in the Viewer when working on JPEG-based variants.