David Cardinal: Setting White Balance in Adobe Photoshop Elements using the SpyderCUBE
Oct 2013 22

As more and more photographers turn to Adobe Photoshop Elements for their image editing needs, it’s great to know that pro-quality tools like Datacolor’s SpyderCUBE can be used with it, as well as with its big brother Photoshop. Especially with the updates in Elements version 12, Elements is all that many photographers need to produce top quality work. The SpyderCUBE helps them make the most of their photo shoots by allowing accurate adjustment of white balance, as well as exposure and black level settings.

Shooting the SpyderCUBE for use with Photoshop Elements

Fortunately the workflow for shooting the SpyderCUBE is identical whether you are using Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. It is well covered in the SpyderCUBE User’s Guide.

Setting White Balance with SpyderCUBE and Photoshop Elements for RAW shooters

To be able to set the White Balance for an image during post processing, it has to have been captured in RAW mode. Fortunately Photoshop Elements has an excellent RAW image processing module. It doesn’t offer all the bells and whistles of Photoshop, but it features an almost identical method for setting White Balance, as follows:

Once you have your image including a SpyderCUBE open in the RAW module of Photoshop Elements (double clicking on any RAW file will trigger ACE for Elements), click on the White Balance eye-dropper and then on the brighter of the two gray faces on the SpyderCUBE. The brighter face represents your primary light source, while the face represents your secondary light source. The gray is used instead of white, to avoid white balance errors caused by overexposed whites.

Photoshop Elements will automatically balance your image to reflect the actual white balance at the time it was captured. Don’t worry if the numerical Kelvin values shown don’t correlate to what you think the conditions were. Adobe’s Kelvin settings don’t always seem to match what you’d expect. The key is whether the image now appears natural — or at least the way it did to your eye under the primary light source.

To apply your new White Balance to your other images shot under the same lighting conditions, you can do one of two things: Either remember the color temperature and tint and set them by hand for your other images, or Open your test image into the Photoshop Elements Editor (so that it remembers the White Balance you’ve used) — and then use the “Previous Settings” dropdown in the Raw module for your target images.

Setting White Balance with SpyderCUBE and Photoshop Elements for JPEG shooters

If you really don’t want to (or can’t) shoot RAW, SpyderCUBE can still help you set the White Balance in your images. If you are willing to leave a SpyderCUBE visible in your target images (and perhaps crop it out later), then Elements gives you a relatively simple way to set your White Balance, by eye in Quick Mode, or with an eyedropper in Expert Mode:

In Quick mode, simply select the “Balance” panel on the right side of your Elements Editor window, and then click through the various thumbnails that will preview different white balances. You can try to eyeball which makes the gray side of the SpyderCUBE look the most neutral (or move the Temperature and Tint sliders by hand), although obviously this method isn’t very precise. For a more accurate technique, switch to Expert mode.

In Expert Mode, Adobe offers a powerful Remove Color Cast command in the Enhance->Adjust Color menu. Using it you can simply click on the brighter gray side of your SpyderCUBE, just like you would with a RAW file.

However, you probably don’t want to have a SpyderCUBE in all your images. To avoid that, there is a little more complex technique you can use instead. It’s a bit tricky, but once you learn how, it shouldn’t take more than a few seconds for each image:

  1. Switch to Expert mode while editing your SpyderCUBE test image
  2. Create a new Levels Adjustment layer using the Layer->New Adjustment Layer->Levels command
  3. Click the “Gray” eyedropper in the Levels Dialog
  4. Then click the brighter gray face on your SpyderCUBE, removing the color cast for your test image
  5. Now, open your target image (but don’t close your test image), and use Window->Images->Tile so you can see both images at once.
  6. Drag the Levels layer from your Test image onto your Target image. It will appear on top of the Layer stack and will remove the Color Cast of your image the same way it did for your Test image.

Following all of those steps may take a bit of fiddling the first time, but in no time you’ll be able to do it very quickly. All this is necessary because Elements doesn’t support a simpler way to let you re-use your Layers adjustment.

is a veteran travel and nature photographer who specializes in Southern Africa and Southeast Asia as well as North American mammals and birds. His images of creatures in the wild help communicate the importance of our natural heritage and our responsibility to preserve it. You can learn more about David on our Friends with Vision page, or on his own website, Cardinal Photo, and its sister site, Nikon Digital, which are both full of tips, reviews and forums where photographers compare notes and tips. Or you can follow David on Facebook or join him on one of his Photo Tours and Safaris for plenty of experience