Digital Focus: Fix Your White Balance

Color can be a tricky thing. While we rarely think about it, color is not absolute. Your eyes perceive color differently in the daytime and at night, for example. In low light, your eyes can't distinguish color and you tend to see mainly in shades of gray, usually without even realizing it. Likewise, the color of light affects the color of objects we see. Something that looks white in the midday sun might look yellowish indoors, under an incandescent light bulb.

Digital cameras contend with this problem every time you take a picture. That's why all digital cameras have something called a white balance filter. Here's what it does: When you press the shutter release, the camera measures the quality of the light hitting the sensor, and automatically adjusts the image so the colors in the final picture are consistent, no matter what the lighting conditions might be. In essence, the camera makes sure that white is always white and blue is always blue.

We don't pay much attention to white balance when everything works right, and that's the way it should be. But when the white balance in a photo is wrong, the resulting color cast in the photo stands out like a minivan at a NASCAR race.

This week, let's see how you can solve color balance problems using the newest version of Corel Paint Shop Pro, version X. You can use your own photos, or this somewhat bluish portrait of my dog.

First Stop: One Step Photo Fix

I'm a big fan of Paint Shop Pro's One Step Photo Fix, which you can find in the toolbar at the top of the screen. Click the Enhance Photo button, then click One Step Photo Fix. One of the half-dozen corrections that the program makes to your photo is a white balance adjustment. If you don't like the effect, just go to the Edit menu and click Undo.

Dial-a-Color

Paint Shop Pro X consolidates a slew of white balance settings into a single place, making it easier than ever to tweak the color cast of your photos. Choose Color Balance from the Adjust menu, and you'll see a dialog box like this one.

Your first stop should be the color temperature adjustment at the top of the window, marked Presets. You can use the default setting, or pick a setting that reflects the lighting conditions when you took the picture. Choose an option (like Daylight or Cloudy, for example) and watch the preview image on the right change. It's like dialing in a color setting from a list of common light sources. If the colors snap into place the way you want, click OK--you're done.

Before you click OK, though, consider fine-tuning your colors using the slider at the bottom of the window. If you slide it to the right, you can make your photo warmer (which means you're adding red). Slide it to the left, and you make it cooler (adding more blue).

More Control Over White Balance

You might want to dive a little deeper, though, and exert even more control over the photo's colors. If that's the case, click the check box for Advanced Options. When you do, the dialog box will expand with a slew of additional controls.

My favorite setting here is the Smart Select button, which lets you pick a neutral color from the image on the left, and Paint Shop Pro automatically calculates the color balance from that one point. After you click Smart Select, just click on any white, black, or gray point in the scene--just be careful to look for a neutral point, devoid of color. Watch for the change in the preview on the right. You might have to experiment by clicking in several places until you find a spot that works well. Clicking in the snowy background removed the bluish hue from the picture and turned the dog's coat a creamy, light brown.

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