White Balance 101: Fixing Color Temperatures in Adobe Camera Raw

Color Balance, Color Temperature, White Balance, they all go hand in hand.  Every photo should get some love in the color department, but how do you know what needs what where?  Before you just dive into those temperature sliders in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom, you have to understand the basics of how a camera records your White Balance.

All cameras record color similar to how they record tone.  You have probably seen the words Exposure Value (EV) on your camera.  The Exposure Value is what range of tones the camera records from overexposed +EV or underexposed -EV.  At any given time our camera can only store one instance of exposure value in a given shot.

Similarly, there is White Balance for Color.  Our camera can only capture one instance of White Balance at a time.   It is recorded in degrees Kelvin.  It refers to the warmth or coolness of a scene.

If you are shooting in Jpeg, you’d better make sure both your Exposure Value and White Balance are near perfect.  Jpeg’s are like snapshots of a scene, they do have some data that can be manipulated, but it cannot go as far as a RAW file.  With a RAW file, you have the ability to make serious adjustments to the Exposure Value and Color Temperature.  The severity of your adjustments relies on your camera’s sensor and how it handles Dynamic Range and Color Depth.

Just because our camera captures one instance of White Balance and Exposure does not mean we are at a loss.  To get more exposure we can push and pull the Whites, Blacks, Shadows and Highlights.  To modify the Color Temperature we can use the Temperature sliders in ACR or Lightroom.

All of that is fine and well and pretty self-explanatory for most people who have spent enough time pushing sliders around.  However, what happens when you push the color temperature to cool down the sky and the warmth of your foreground suffers?  That is where you need to use some outside the box thinking and separate your image into regions and edit them individually. You could do this in Photoshop or just about any editing program that allows for masks, but I prefer to do it at the RAW level, therefore ACR or Lightroom is the optimal choice (if you have ON1 Photo RAW you can do it there as well).

In this tutorial, I will show you how to use the Adjustment Brush and the Graduated Filter to break your image into distinct regions.  This technique will allow us to make our beautiful blue sky bluer and our red rocks warmer without the two regions color temperatures competing with one another.

Blake Rudis
f.64 Academy and f.64 Elite are the brainchildren of Blake Rudis. While he is a landscape photographer, he is most passionate about post-processing images in Photoshop and mentoring others.

For Blake, it's all about the art and process synergy. He dives deep into complex topics and makes them easy to understand through his outside-the-box thinking so that you can use these tricks in your workflow today!
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