{Solved} How To Adjust the White Balance Of Your Photos with GIMP

white balanced featured large

One of the most neglected photo color correction edits that photographers make is adjusting the White Balance. It’s also a very confusing idea. In today’s tutorial, you’ll discover what the White Balance is, how to color correct your photos with two different tools, and more.
If you’re ready to learn about White Balance + color correction in GIMP… let’s do it!

Table of Contents

What Is White Balance?

color of light

The majority of the colors in this image are yellow to orange.  There’s another source of light emitting a white to a blue hue.  Do you see it?  If so, let me know where in the comments below.  Due to the White Balance, I selected at the time of capture I was able to color balance in-camera!

Before you learn how to fix the White Balance in GIMP, you first need to know what it is! The White Balance refers to the color cast (of light) in your image.

Different light sources emit a variety of colors and a resulting color cast. For example, a table lamp is usually tungsten-based and emits a yellow to orange hue. A fluorescent light tends to be more green. Compare those to the light on an overcast day, which is bluer.

White Balance Adjustment

original white balanced

Fixing the “White” Balance for a sunset photo strips the warm, beautiful yellows from the image. I used Levels to alter the WB.

The process of setting the “White” Balance (or the Color Temperature) is to remove any color casts in the image. This can be achieved by setting the grays (or “white”) to neutral. Doing this removes the offending tones from your photos!

Although you don’t always want to set the WB to neutral. Take a sunrise or sunset photo as an example. Photos from this time of day are rich with warm colors. Neutralizing the grays will remove these beautiful colors, and it won’t look like a sunset anymore!

too green the individual pixels are now balanced

The “before” image was captured with a green tone. Fixing the White Balanced in GIMP provided a more natural result!

Pro Tip

white balanced

For this image, the main light source was the sun shining through a window.  The tone of the light was cooler (blue).  To keep the skin tones looking natural I chose a White Balance (5400 Kelvin) that gave a result that was warmer. 

Auto White Balance At Time of Capture

Before capturing an image, most digital cameras will allow you to choose a specific White Balance (WB). 

Pre-programmed WB settings usually include Color Temperatures for; Sunny or Cloudy days, fluorescent or tungsten lamps, etc.

You can also dial in a specific “Temperature,” known as “Kelvin,” with most modern digital cameras. This provides precise control over the value of light captured. 

When done correctly, you will not need to adjust the color levels (WB) in post-production!

Color Temperature Tool Deep Dive

color temperature tool

As of the writing of this tutorial, in GIMP 2.10+, you have two main Color Balance options: Original Temperature + Intended Temperature. In GIMP 3.0, it looks like you’ll have two additional choices: Blending Options (Layer Modes) + Opacity.

Original Temperature

too red image colors balanced

This option is used to estimate the light source’s temperature in Kelvin that the image was taken with.

Since you’re only able to work with a JPG image in GIMP, you don’t know the White Balance captured when recorded with your camera. Unless, of course, you wrote it down, remembered it, or shot it in RAW and have access to the metadata. You can also use your RAW editing software of choice to find it.

Intended Temperature

This White Balance setting is used for correcting the estimated temperature of the light source in Kelvin. You’ll use this option to adjust the White Balance to your preference.

Step-by-Step

To activate the Temperature tool, go to the menu under, Colors > Color Temperature to reveal the tools panel.

Step 1

original temperature

A range of Kelvin temperatures (or different colors) are preprogrammed to give you a starting point.  This will improve your workflow when editing your image.

The first step in adjusting your colors is setting the “Original” option to what you saw at the time of capture. But how do you know what that (number) is?

Unless you have experience reading the hues of a scene and Kelvin’s, you might be clueless. No worries! GIMP has you covered. To the right of the slider, you’ll see a left-pointing arrow; click on it.

This reveals a drop-down menu of lighting conditions with its corresponding Kelvin. Keep in mind that these are estimates and are used as a starting point. If you’re new to editing, it’s o.k. to use the default setting for your photo. If you have more experience, you can adjust the levels accordingly.

Step 2

The original image was a bit warm.  To balance the colors I adjusted only the Intended temperature.

The next step is to set the “Intended” Kelvin… or your preferred preference based on your creative vision. Again, you can choose from the menu (to the right of the second slider), adjust the slider manually, or type in a specific number. Once you’re happy with your image… click o.k.

How To Use the Color Balance to Fix White Balance in GIMP

second option for color correcting

The Color Balance tool provides options for adjusting colors in a specific tone range via three sliders. Let’s explore this tool and learn how to use it for editing your images.

Select Range to Adjust

As mentioned previously, the tone levels of an image consist of 5 segments; Black point (pure black), Shadows, Midtones, Highlights, and the White point (pure white). Once you identify where the color cast is in the tonal range of an image, you can then target it. Or if it covers two or more ranges then you’ll need to make a color level adjustment for each.

Adjust Color Levels

The next step is identifying the hue that needs to be removed. Often, you can see the color cast clearly in bright or dark areas. Like a wall or in the shadows. If you find the color to be too yellow you’ll need to add blue to balance the colors. Vice versa if it’s too blue.

Preserve Luminosity

This option allows you to keep the brightness levels of the colors intact.

Blending Options

From here, you can adjust the settings to “blend” in with the layer. Also, once you expand this option an Opacity slider will be revealed. This can be used to tone down the settings and or tone down the blending option chosen.

What's Next?

Are you striving to improve your photo editing skills? If so, I’d recommend learning how to read your histograms to guide your photo editing workflow. If you’ve ever been confused about using 8, 16, or 32 bits, wonder no more with this tutorial.

To elevate your photo editing skills check out my entire library of tutorials here. Oh, and if you’d like to escalate your editing skills, these are perfect for you!

Also, as a photographer, you can improve your photography skills by checking out these tutorials.

Like this article? If so, please share!

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Hello! My name is Chris Parker and I run this place. But, more importantly, what’s in it for you? Well, my passion is to help you achieve your creative vision.

With 30 years experience I believe I can help you do just that. So, if you’re ready… let’s do it!

 

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