AB Friday Forum – Week 46 (Fixing White Balance Problems in GIMP)…

I bought a new camera, a Nikon CoolPix P900.  I’ve talked about it here and here.  I received the camera at 5pm on Thursday night, the following images were taken the next morning at sunrise.

I tell you this because I have this overwhelming need to explain my rookie mistake.  While learning about the new camera I took some images of my dog under incandescent/tungsten light the night before, and I forgot to set my white balance back to sunny the next morning.

The camera does not shoot in RAW, only JPG.  Being new to the camera, I didn’t realize that the images were coming out rather blue, mostly because I was concentrating on focusing and metering.  After 50 images on the wrong white balance I finally realized it and switched it to sunny.

This post is about fixing that mistake, we can talk about my camera default settings in another post.  I also want to  reveal what the pup is looking at. 😀

I will have a few after/before shots in this post to show how my method might work on many different images.  Of course, the caveat being that all the images I tried this out on were taken at the same place around the same time under the same wrong white balance, so your results may vary.

Here is my After, the how and the wow will be discussed further in this post (click to enlarge)…





What is the pup looking at, you ask?  A squirrel 😀 (click to enlarge)


Sunny WB, edited with a bit of grungy and a bit of increased saturation

Kind thoughts and comments are welcome!

Go find out what everyone else did this week for AB Friday Forum here.

I have joined ABFriday (after before Friday), it is a forum hosted by Stacy at Visual Venturing. This week’s forum can be seen here.

Every Friday Stacy showcases after/before photos we’ve submitted. Then, if we choose, we can tell how we did it on our own blogs.


I thought of three ways to fix the white balance problem in GIMP*:

  1. Split-toning where I add the opposite color to the ‘problem’ color.
  2. Auto White Balance correction [Colors->Auto->White Balance].
  3. Pick a white or grey point in Levels [Colors->Levels].

I tried all three with varying results (click to enlarge)…

I felt the split-tone was a bit flat and was a lot of work with little reward.  The Auto WB Correction worked well on this photo, but on others it was a disaster.  Levels seemed to be the best of my choices; it didn’t require a bunch of steps, more often resulted in a good color balance, and increased exposure as needed at the same time.


Levels is a pretty neat tool, it has all kinds of options on it and I am constantly finding new ways to use it to alter my images.  Today we will just cover using it to find a white point and/or a grey point in our image to try to fix a white balance problem.

Go to Colors->Levels

You will get this option pop-up window…

When you click on one of these boxes (either grey point or white point), you will get an eyedropper as your cursor.  Click on an area of your image that is white (with the white point) or middle grey (with the grey point).  If you have neither a white nor a middle grey in your image, you will have to try something else.

Let’s explore trying this method on a few of my images (remember I have 50 images that are incandescent/tungsten instead of sunny or cloudy – so all of my images are way too blue).

On the opening image, I tried various places for the white point or grey point, settling on the dog owner’s pants as the best color balance.  You will have to try various spots in your image until you find a good balance (click to enlarge)…

*** For the sake of this After-Before How-To, I further edited my image by adding a brightness-contrast layer (lowering brightness, increasing contrast), and a square gradient (50-30) to lessen the brightness of the buildings in the background.  I also cropped the image. ***

For this white ship, I picked a grey on one of the passengers.  When I tried the white of the ship the image looked too blown out.  (click to enlarge)….

For this grey ship, I picked the white on one of the little white squares (click to enlarge)…

This image of the seal is one of those images that I may not be able to truly save.  Picking a white point was impossible.  Trying auto wb correction yielded bad results.  Picking a grey point (his back) was only slightly better (and now the water looks rather purple).  The split-tone is somewhat better but still doesn’t feel like I’m quite there yet (click to enlarge)…

So like I said at the beginning, it is one way to try to fix a white balance problem.  It doesn’t always work.

Moral of the story?

Make sure your white balance is set correctly, or you may have a lot of work on your hands.

Do you have a tried and true method for fixing white balance problems with JPG images?  Tell me about it in the comments section.  Do you want to comment on the opening images or any of the other images in this post?  I’d love to hear from you! 😀

Until next time…

* GIMP is Open Source software that is available for all platforms (Linux, Mac, and Windows), it is a photo editor that does many (if not all) of the things you can do in Photoshop. You can download it for free here. The GIMP online manual can be found here.

17 thoughts on “AB Friday Forum – Week 46 (Fixing White Balance Problems in GIMP)…

  1. Nic, what a great post. You remind me that WB can be set in LR by using the same approach – use the eyedropper to find a middle grey tone. I never used that method with my jpegs as I always forget it’s there. Luckily, since I now shoot in RAW, this is one adjustment I don’t have to worry about resetting. WB is the only setting I leave on auto.

    • Thanks, Stacy! 😀 I think because I shoot in RAW with my Canon, it was something I forgot to set because it is something you can easily fix on a RAW image. The new Nikon camera only shoots in JPG, so I suddenly had a problem on my hands. :/ I usually leave my camera on Sunny unless I’m inside, then I change it to the type of light… which is what happened here.

      • Interesting trade-off between the long lens and the jpeg only. Wonder why Nikon removed the RAW capability. Having finally switched to RAW this fall, I can’t imagine going back to jpeg. Though, that being said, perhaps if I was adept enough to get exposure and composition right in camera every time, jpeg might just be enough 😉

        • Honestly, I don’t know why Nikon chose not to have RAW files with their Bridge Camera, apparently other brands do RAW files. But as I stated, I bought the camera for the lens and was willing to deal with the compromise. I took images of the moon the other night, and that alone tells me it was worth it. As for me getting the wrong WB, the camera very much wants to do everything for you, there are so many AUTO modes, but I went as manual as I could and then because I wasn’t paying attention to every setting, I got bit. Really, no big deal because I hadn’t had the camera 24 hours yet and I was/am still learning the camera. None of the images I captured at the wrong WB is an image I will cry over if I can’t fix it. Most of the images were me playing around trying to get to know the camera… so I’m not worried about it. Having found that it can be a bear to fix, it will be something I remember to set correctly in camera next time. 😀

  2. This is an excellent post, you put so much effort in it, so thank you for that. I like your edit of the dog image, because I feel it is close to what you really saw. Your work on dealing with the white balance problem is very informative. I have some very nice winter images that I took with my phone, but I messed up the white balance and it is impossible to correct it, due to all the snow. I might try some of the things you explained here.

    • Thanks, Lore. I have found that images that have a clear white or middle grey are easier to make more color balanced. The image like the seal in blue water, I still haven’t found a solution for unfortunately. :/ Hopefully you can try picking the snow with the white point and get an image a bit closer to what you saw, but as you can see, it isn’t an easy journey back to normal when you’ve made this kind of mistake. Good Luck! 😀

  3. White balance is a huge issue, I always switch between wb modes as it is something that was ingrained into me before raw existed. It is interesting to see how gimp works when it comes to white balance. Due to personal taste i would have made the dog example at the beginning a little warmer as the wall still feels a bit cold. Then again I wasn’t there and that could be the tone of the wall.

    Nice post and thanks for the hard work in putting the post together.

    • Thanks, Ben! It was early morning light, and the wall was in shadow, the color of the dog owner and dog look to be about what I remember. Who knows, I was trying to find a quick fix that wouldn’t take a long time to do. This is my current idea. There is probably a better fix out there, I just haven’t found it yet. 🙂

    • Oh, I see that you ‘liked’ the dog image where I picked the fence in the background, the problem with that choice is that the whites get blown out in her pants and the silver awning thing behind her, so I kept trying other white spots, and settled on her pants – you can actually see the creases and shadows in her pants in that one.

        • Thanks, Ben. I still haven’t found a solution for the seal in the blue water. I’ve tried all kinds of things not mentioned in this post. And I am thinking this one can’t be saved, it doesn’t even make a very good B&W. But it’s not an image I *have* to fix, it’s not that good, it’s not that sharp, etc. But it is a very good example of how making sure your white balance is correct is VERY important, some images cannot be saved. :/

  4. When I first bought my T2i I was out taking landscapes and the photos came out just like yours. I had no idea what white balance was. I thought something was wrong with the camera and I was ready to take it back. I wonder if I still have any of those old photos to play with now. I know they were shot in JPEG because I had no idea about RAW either back then. This was a great tutorial in getting rid of that blue cast!

    • Exactly, Emilio! When I first bought my T2i, I didn’t know much either. It was an upgrade from a Sony point-n-shoot. It was my first ever camera that I could change the lens. I did everything in auto. Then I took some classes at UCSD Extension, and was taught (required) to shoot in manual mode, learned about white balance, and RAW. It’s funny that the first thing I did when I opened this new camera was turn off everything auto I could find. 😀 Of course, by evidence of this post, it bit me pretty good to not be cognizant of my settings, since I demanded to do it all manual. 😛

      • And I’m sure it will happen again- at least to me. I always forget to focus or reset the f stop, or something, on my first shot of the day.

        • I’m thinking about writing a post on default settings. I’m curious what everyone else uses as their camera default settings. 😀 I’m fairly confident I won’t make the white balance mistake for a while, there are several photos that have neither white nor grey, so I’m not sure how to save them… hence, I learned my lesson, at least for a little while. 😛

    • Thanks, Robin. I know that one of the benefits of shooting in RAW is that white balance is a non-issue. Now that I have a camera that only shoots in JPG, I’m back to trying to figure out how to fix this mistake. I hoped to help others with my attempts and to possibly get some advice from others on their methods. 😀

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