Manual White Balance 2: Use a Grey Reference

This method is the only one that will give you reliably neutral colors under all lighting conditions.

To use it you need a white or grey area as a reference for neutral color. You can buy standardized white or grey cards; if you do not have one a white sheet of paper, a napkin, a white shirt or something similar can be a pragmatic alternative that also produces really good results.

Which buttons or menus you have to use for this kind of manual white balance is depending on your camera but it will need to be done along the following pattern:

  • reference areas used for manual white balanceYou choose an area as a reference for the white balance that should appear neutrally grey or white in your image.
    It should get the same light as your main subject and be large enough to fill the viewfinder image of your camera; however depending on your camera a smaller reference may also be sufficient.
    For the previous sample images in this article I have used a grey card but with the stripes on the right of the reference card it works the same, your reference picture does not need to be evenly bright.
  • With a button or menu at your camera you choose a function that means: „Watch out, now I am going to show you my reference for neutral colors.“
  • viewfinder area for manual white balanceYou point the camera to your reference area and confirm by pressing the shutter release button, maybe another one depending on your camera.
    Your viewfinder image should then look like one of the two images to the right, possibly for your camera it is enough to have a smaller part in the middle of the picture filled with the reference for white balance.
    The camera can then calculate the color correction that will let the whole area appear neutral and apply it to the whole image and all its other colors.
  • To take the picture you have to choose a setting for the manual white balance that is different from the ones for option 1 of the manual white balance, not choosing a source of light but meaning „apply the correction from the last recorded reference picture“.

In addition to these two options there are a few more variants of manual white balance that will appear in an advanced article and shall just be mentioned as bullet points here:

  • manual white balance by choosing a color temperature
  • additional fine tuning of the manual white balance described as option 1 and 2
  • manual white balance by pointing the camera into the main source of light instead of using a white or grey area of your subject.