Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs


Workflow Techniques #046

"White/Gray balance a la Carte"

note by Uwe Steinmueller


Getting the white/gray balance right is key to any good raw conversion. In the end often personal preferences count but we find often that a good gray balance helps for a start. We took a shot of 5 different gray balancing aids:

Test shot taken at overcast

1. GretagMacbeth Mini Color Checker

This is our reference card but it is fragile and expensive

2. Robin Myers Digital Gray Card (below the Color Checker)

Nice, sturdy and reasonable priced

3. WhiBal by (we used a pre production card, we are told that the shipping version will improve the black)

Compact and sturdy but not really cheap

4. GretagMacbeth Gray Scale Balance Card (we cut it down)

We would like to see also a lighter gray.

5. Melitta Coffee Filter White #4

This is the idea of a friend of mine. The filter is bright and has no reflections. But easily to blow in some test shots.


We allow you to download the original raw file from here (Canon 1D Mark II raw).

Try to open the raw file in ACR or C1 and check out to gray balance using the different cards. You will see that the differences are pretty small though visible. In our opinion all solutions provide a good starting point.

Sample Usage

Because we had all the cards in the image the Canon 1D Mark II did quite a good auto white balance. But here is the shot without the cards (converted with ACR 2.2):


This produces very flat colors. We applied the WB we got from the first shot (with the cards) and the colors improved:

WB corrected


We then corrected exposure and tuned the contrast:

Final draft

We hope you agree that having a gray card is helpful in these situations and there are many to chose from.


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