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WhiBal greycards for white balancing digital photography and video
WhiteBal greycards for white balancing digital photography and video

Thorsten Overgaard on Color Photography

By: Thorsten Overgaard. November 14, 2008. Latest edited May 29, 2019.

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  Thorsten von Overgaard Articles on Color Photography:
  Introduction   The Story Behind That Picture: "Adjusting the White Balance in Photography"
  Part I   "Easy White Balancing for More Beauty in Color Photography - The WhiBal Card"
  Part II   "The X-Rite Color Checker for correct colors in digital photography"
  Part III   "Sekonic, LUMU, Kenko and other Color Meters for Correct Color Photography"
  Part IV   "You can’t make beauty using ugly light" on Color Rendering Index, SSI and more
  Part V   "The Color Signature of the Digital Camera Sensor"
  Part VI   "The Photographers Guide to Calibrating your Computer Screen"
  Video   "White Balance Made Easy" Video Tutorial on Magic of Light Television
  Video   "How to Set the White Balance Manually on the Leica Q" Video Tutorial
  Video   "How to Set the White Balance Manually on the Leica M240" Video Tutorial
  Video   "How to Set the White Balance Manually on the Leica M9" Video Tutorial
  Video   "How to Set the White Balance Manually on the Nikon D700" Video Tutorial
  In-depth course   "The Lightroom Survival Kit" workflow guide by Thorsten Overgaard
  In depth course   "The Capture One Pro Survival Kit" workflow guide by Thorsten Overgaard
  In depth eBook   "Composition in Photography - The Photographer as Storyteller"
  In depth eBook   "Getting the Colors Right"
  in depth eBook   "Finding the Magic of Light"


White balancing for more beauty [PART I]

More on the right colors and White Balancing PART II with the X-Rite ColorChecker --->
More on the right colors and White Balancing PART III with the Sekonic C-700 SpectroMaster color meter --->


Many camera owners find the symbol "WB" so strange, they never even thought "what is it?" why they never discovered what White Balance means for pictures.

In my photo seminars, learning about WB (white balance) is the single most important part - it's where people learn to take much better pictures. And the answer was right at their fingertips all the time! Thing is, many people are in apathy about modern cameras that seemingly does everything for you, and they specifically asked the clerk in the shop for "a camera that takes great pictures" why it's a great disappointment that it doesn't always..!

Now, the trick is not to get a camera that can do all for you, but a camera that does what you tell it to do. A simple camera easy enough to grasp so that one can learn to take control over the camera, understand the photographic process and make the right decisions.

And the most important thing about photography is control of light (how much light to hit the film or sensor).

And the second most important thing about photography is quality of light.

Using a white balance card is the easiest and most direct way to get accurate colors. You use it first to set the right balance in the camera (not in Lightroom after). This way the colors are instantly right and you may correct just a little bit.


Light have different color temperatures - also known as Kelvin
Look "Kelvin" up on Wikipedia if you must (it's just the guy who discovered color temperatures) but in short terms, cold light is blue, daylight is white and warm light is orange-red. Unfortunately the human eye adjust very quickly for these differences in color and temperature (even when there's different color temperatures within the same viewing field of the eye) so you seldom notice how big a difference there is.

But film, in the old days, was designed for daylight. Which is why you will notice very reddish photos from indoor birthday christmas and birthday dinners, nice natural colors in the pictures taken outside in daylight, and very bluish and cold colors in the cold areas of the planet.

Cold winther daylight not adjusted for. It's clear in the aluminum, but also notice the skin colors and even the "blue" trees!   Warm artificial light not adjusted. Note the skin colors and how all look a bit dirty and old. It's also cosy, except if you want the true colors and the sparkling image quality of correct color temperature.

Professional photographers are nuts about natural skin colors and natural colors all in all. So the way to fix this color temperature problem was to make either different specialized films for certain color temperatures, but mainly lots of glass filters of various colors so as to adjust the colors into "daylight" temperature by mounting the glass filters in front of the lens. For example - what appears to be very - blue filters would adjust warm indoor light to a cooler color that equals daylight. And even darker/stronger blue filters for very warm colors such as candelight.

When digital "film" (sensors) entered the market with video and digital cameras, so did a digital way of filtering color temperatures into daylight temperature.

One setting is "Auto white balance" which can vary in its ability to get the colors right. Some cameras does it very well in most cases, some other cameras doesn't -  and it's not entirely a matter of how new and advanced the camera is. Unfortunately many persons using professional cameras depend on the automatic white balance, which is a fact one can see in the daily news coverage on the television. There's a lot of bluish and reddish footage, which never ends to surprise me, given the fact that they often use the best equipment available (but forgot to read the manual).

Daylight and adjusted white balance; a bit to the warm side. Note how clear the eyes, the skin and all looks when the colors are "true".


Using a white balance card is the easiest and most direct way to get accurate colors.


How to set the white balance professionally and correct
But the right way to use WB or white balance, is to use the camera menus and find the symbol WB >< (or "Manual"). When you find that, the camera will ask you to focus the camera towards a white piece of paper or something white enabling the camera to measure the color temperature. And - actually - voilà you get a correct daylight color temperature! Some cameras require you to press the shutter at the white paper (with or without taking a picture) while other cameras require you to press some other button while pointing the camera. In any case it's easy and quick to do - just look it up in the manual of the camera.
Now, one thing to make sure is that the light hitting the white paper is the same light as hitting the subject you are photographing. I'm just mentioning this because I've seen more than one person walking over to the window to make sure enough light was hitting the paper. And then walk back to a setting with artificial light and shooting the picture (the daylight by the window is ca. 5500 kelvin whereas the artificial light is 3200 kelvin or lower, making the picuture yellow or orange; and the skin colors red, the white in the persons eyes yellow and any expensive female dress in that picture look filthy and old. In short, a deadly sin, but easily overlooked as our eyes doesn't recognize these color differences).

Here is a 60 seconds video on how to set the White Balance manually on the Leica M9:
(If you use iPad you may click here to visit the original video on Vimeo)

Video: Setting the White Balance manually on the Leica M9 from Thorsten Overgaard on Vimeo. The WhiBal acrd in the video is the small one in this 65$ set from B&H Photo.

Here is a video on how to set the White Balance manually on the Leica M Type 240:

Setting the White Balance manually on the Leica M Type 240.

Here is a video on how to set the White Balance manually on the Nikon D700 (that will also work on the Nikon D800 and Nikon E800):

Setting the White Balance Manually on the Nikon D700 dSLR and Nikon D800 and Nikon E800.  


How to use WhiBal
The rather inexpensive WhiBal card displayed in the picuter above and in the video can be gotten in different sizes varying from the above to the size of a magazine frontpage. If your camera will respect a neutral grey card instead of a white (and it will, even if it says "point at something white") you can use the WhiBal card to point the camera at, and voilà - you always have a standardized neutral card in your pocket do set the WB.
Another use is placing the WhiBal card in the picuture (again; make sure it reflects the actual light of the scene) on one or several shots, and then, when developing the files in a program like Adobe Lightroom, Apple Aperture, Hasselblad Phocus, CaptureOne, Imacon FlexColor or other, you can adjust the white balance after the fact, simply by selecting the WB tool in that program and point it to the GreyBal in the picture. And when the correct color temperature has been determined in one picture, you can copy that to all pictures in that series. Thought, to do this, you must shoot RAW or DNG which is a picure format where the digital camera capture the picuture with several layers of light and color information, enabling you to adjust it quite a lot after the fact. As the "RAW converters" gets better and better, this is done more and more precisely today than just two years ago.

The Lightroom Survival Kit

This implies another fact which is that if you shoot in JPG or TIFF, you shoot a "final picture" with no layers to adjust in.

My own take on color temperature, as well as the amount of light, is to measure it before you shoot, get it right, thus having a final picure at once - and only adjust for perfection. Because no matter how grand the software and the cameras may become, nothing beats doing it right in the first place. It's better handcraft, less time spent on figuring out what might be right, and less depending on software engineers to be greater artists than you.

Photography is simple. There's you and then there's the camera which is a piece of machinery able to control how much light hits the film or digital sensor (by controlling exposure time, aperture [size of the hole through the lens] and the film or digital sensors sensibility to light [referred to as ISO 100, ISO 200, ISO 1600, etc].) So don't make it into rocket science.

You can see and buy WhiBal at B&H Photo right here. The ones that I use is the WhiBal G6 Pocket White Balance Gray Card (3.5 x 2") for my pocket and the for my photo bag, the larger studio WhiBal. There's a set of those two here at B&H Photo.


Here is a very good comparison of the different White Balance settings made by one of my students on the Overgaard Photography Extension Course (using a Leica X1):

© 2010 Jan Martijn Metselaar
Manual white balance using grey card    
© 2010 Jan Martijn Metselaar   © 2010 Jan Martijn Metselaar   © 2010 Jan Martijn Metselaar
Electronic flash setting   Outdoor sunlight   Incandescent light
© 2010 Jan Martijn Metselaar   © 2010 Jan Martijn Metselaar   © 2010 Jan Martijn Metselaar
Auto white balance   Cloudy   Shade

More on the right colors and White Balancing in PART II with the X-Rite ColorChecker --->





Thorsten Overgaard's Leica Article Index
Leica M cameras:   Small Leica cameras:
Leica M10   Leica Q full-frame mirrorless
Leica M10-P   Leica CL
Leica M Type 240 and M-P Typ240   Leica TL2
Leica M-D Typ 262 and Leica M60   Leica Digilux 2 vintage digital rangefinder
Leica M Monochrom Typ246 digital rangefinder   Leica Digilux 1
Leica M Monochrom MM digital rangefinder   Leica Sofort instant camera
Leica M9 and Leica M-E digital rangefinder   Leica Minilux 35mm film camera
Leica M9-Professional digital rangefinder   Leica CM 35mm film camera
Leica M4 35mm film rangefinder    
Leica M lenses:   Leica SLR cameras:
Leica 21mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4   Leica SL 2015 Type 601 mirrorless fullframe
Leica 21mm Leica Super-Elmar-M ASPH f/3.4   Leica R8/R9/DMR film & digital 35mm dSLR cameras
Leica 21mm Super-Angulon-M f/3.4   Leica R10 [cancelled]
Leica 28mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4   Leica R4 35mm film SLR
Leica 35mm Summilux-M ASPH FLE f/1.4 and f/1.4 AA   Leica R3 electronic 35mm film SLR
Leica 35mm Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0   Leicaflex SL/SL mot 35mm film SLR
Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95    
Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0 and f/1.2   Leica SL and TL lenses:
Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f//1.4    
Leica 50mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0    
Leitz 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 "rigid" Series II   Leica R lenses:
Leica 75mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/1.25   Leica 19mm Elmarit-R f/2.8
Leica 75mm Summilux-M f/1.4   Leica 35mm Elmarit-R f/2.8
Leica 75mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0   Leica 50mm Summicron-R f/2.0
Leica 90mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0   Leica 60mm Macro-Elmarit f/2.8
Leica 90mm Summarit-M f/2.5   Leica 80mm Summilux-F f/1.4
Leica 90mm Elmarit f/2.8   Leica 90mm Summicron-R f/2.0
Leitz 90mm Thambar f/2.2   Leica 180mm R lenses
    Leica 400mm Telyt-R f/6.8
Leica Cine Lenses:   Leica 35-70mm Vario-Elmarit-R f/2.8
Leica Cine lenses from CW Sonderoptic   Leica 35-70mm Vario-Elmarit-R f/4.0
History and overview:   Leica S:
Leica History   Leica S1 digital scan camera
Leica Definitions   Leica S2 digital medium format
Leica Lens Compendium   Leica S digital medium format
Leica Camera Compendium    
The Solms factory and Leica Wetzlar Campus   "Magic of Light" Television Channel
    Thorsten von Overgaard YouTube Channel
Photography Knowledge   Thorsten Overgaard books and education:
Calibrating computer screen for photographers   Thorsten Overgaard Masterclasses & Workshops
Which Computer for Photographers?   Lightroom Survival Kit (Classic)
What is Copyright? Advice for Photogarphers   Lightroom Presets
Synchronizing Large Photo Archive with iPhone   Capture One Survival Kit
Quality of Light   "Finding the Magic of Light" eBook (English)
Lightmeters   "Die Magie des Lichts Finden" eBook (German)
Color meters for accurate colors (White Balance)   "The Moment of Impact in Photography" eBook
White Balance & WhiBal   "Freedom of Photographic Expression" eBook
Film in Digital Age   "Composition in Photography" eBook
Dodge and Burn   "A Little Book on Photography" eBook
All You Need is Love   "After the Tsunami" Free eBook
How to shoot Rock'n'Roll   The Overgaard New Inspiration Extension Course I
X-Rite   The Overgaard Photography Extension Course
The Origin of Photography    
Hasselblad/Imacon Flextight 35mm and 6x6 scanner   Leica M9 Masterclass (video course)
Leica OSX folder icons   Leica M10 Masterclass (video course)
    Leica M240 Masterclass (video course)
    Leica Q Masterclass (video course)
Bespoke Camera Bags by Thorsten Overgaard:   Leica TL2 Quick Start (video course)
"The Von" travel camera bag   Street Photography Masterclass (video course)
"Messenger" walkabout bag    
"24hr Bag" travel bag   Thorsten von Overgaard oin Amazon:
"The Von Backup" camera backpack   "Finding the Magic of Light"
Leica Photographers:    
Jan Grarup   Riccis Valladares
Henri Cartier-Bresson   Christopher Tribble
Birgit Krippner   Martin Munkácsi
John Botte   Jose Galhoz
Douglas Herr   Milan Swolf
Vivian Maier  
Morten Albek    
Byron Prukston   Richard Avedon
The Story Behind That Picture:   Thorsten Overgaard on Instagram
More than 200 articles by Thorsten Overgaard   Join the Thorsten Overgaard Mailing List
Thorsten Overgaard Workshop Schedule   Thorsten Overgaard on Twitter
    Thorsten Overgaard on Facebook
Leica Forums and Blogs:    
Leica M10 / M240 / M246 User Forum on Facebook   Heinz Richter's Leica Barnack Berek Blog
Jono Slack   Leica Camera AG
Steve Huff Photos (reviews)   Leica Fotopark
Erwin Puts (reviews)   The Leica Pool on Flickr (blog)   Eric Kim (blog)
Luminous Landscape (reviews)   Adam Marelli (blog)
Sean Reid Review (reviews)   The Leica User Forum
Ken Rockwell (reviews)   Shoot Tokyo (blog)
John Thawley (blog)   I-Shot-It photo competition
The Von Overgaard Gallery Store:    
Hardware for Photography   Von Overgaard Ventilated lens shades:
Bespoke Camera Bags and Luxury Travel Bags   Ventilated Shade for Current 35mm Summilux FLE
Software for Photography   Ventilated Shade E46 for old Leica 35mm/1.4 lens
Signed Prints   Ventilated Shade for Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH
Mega Size Signed Prints   Ventilated Shade E43 for older 50mm Summilux
Mega Size Signed Limited Prints   Ventilated Shade for 35mm Summicron-M ASPH
Medium Size Signed Limited Prints   Ventilated Shade for older 35mm/f2 lenses
Small Size Signed Limited Prints   Ventilated Shade E39 for 50mm Summicron lenses
Commisioning Thorsten Overgaard Worldwide   Ventilated Shade for Leica 28mm Summilux
Thorsten Overgaard Archive Licencing   Ventilated Shade for current 28mm Elmarit-M
Video Masterclasses   Ventilated Shade for older 28mm Elmarti-M
Photography Books by Thorsten Overgaard   Ventilated Shade E49 for 75mm Summicron
Home School Photography Extension Courses   ventilated Shade E55 for 90mm Summicron
Overgaard Workshops & Masterclasses   Ventilated Shade for 28mm Summaron
Artists Nights   Ventilated Shade for 24mm Elmarit
Gallery Store Specials   Ventilated Shade E60 for 50mm Noctilux and 75/1.4




Above: My daughter Robin Isabella with the original WhiBal card (2009) atching cartoons on the laptop while she thinks of the WhiBal greycard as a neckless...

Also visit:

Overgaard Photography Workshops
Von Overgaard Gallery Store
Von Overgaard Ventilated Shades
Books by Thorsten Overgaard
Leica Definitions
Leica History
"Photographer For Sale"
Leica Lens Compendium
Leica Camera Compendium
Leica 21mm Super-Elmar-M ASPH f/3.4
Leica 21mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4

Leica 28mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4
Leica 35mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4
Leica 35mm Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0
Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95
Leica 50mm APO-Summicron-M f/2.0
Leica 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0
Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4
Leica 75mm Summilux-M f/1.4
Leica 75mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/1.25
Leica 90mm Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0
Leica 35-70mm Vario-Elmarit-R f/2.8
Leitz Cine lenses from CW Sonderoptic
7artisans 50mm f/1.1
Leica Digilux 2

Leica M10
Leica M10-P
Leica M10-D
Leica M9, M9-P and Leica ME
Leica M 240
Leica M 240 for video
Leica M 262
Leica M-D 262
Leica M Monochrom
Leica M 246 Monochrom

Leica SL full-frame mirrorless
Leica R9 and R8 SLR with digital back
Leica Q
Leica CL
Leica TL2
Leica Sofort
Leica S digital medium format
Leica X
"On The Road With von Overgaard"
Light metering
White Balance for More Beauty
Color Meters

Screen Calibration
Which computer to get
Sync'ing photo archive to iPhone
Lightroom Survival Kit 8
Capture One Survival Kit 12

The Story Behind That Picture

Von Overgaard Masterclasses:
M10 / M9 / M240 / Q / TL2 /


WhiBal PocketWhiBal product homepage

ColorRight Max
ColorRight Max homepage

NovoFlex ZEBRA
NovoFlex ZEBRA homepage



Thorsten Overgaard
Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish writer and photographer, specializing in portrait photography and documentary photography, known for writings about photography and as an educator. Some photos are available as signed editions via galleries or online. For specific photography needs, contact Thorsten Overgaard via e-mail.

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