Comparison: 18% Grey card with white balance grey card

Hi there.
My name is Marlene Hielema from Today I’m going to talk to
you about grey cards. There are two different kinds of grey cards that you
can use in photography. This large 18% gray card, is for exposure or meter
readings. And this card is a digital gray card, and also called a white balance
card, and it’s for adjusting your white balance. So, when you’re using an exposure
gray card, what you’re doing is using it for metering. Now your camera has a
built-in reflective meter and when you point your
cameras meter at a scene when you’re taking a picture, it bases the exposure
or the amount of light it lets into the sensor (or the film) based on the
brightness of the scene. Now there are certain things that can fool your meter
and one of them is snow, so in a situation like snow you could use your
exposure compensation or you could meter off this grey card instead. So
instead of pointing your camera at your scene or your model, or whatever your
subject is, you point your camera at the grey card, and you make note of what the
f-stops and shutter speed value that it gives you. Then you take the card away
and you take your picture again with that meter reading that the card gave
you, and then you’ll have perfect exposure Okay, now I’m going to talk
about the white balance gray card. Now the camera doesn’t know the white
balance of your picture. If you point your camera at a scene, it doesn’t really
know if you’re shooting in daylight, or tungsten lighting, or if you’re using
your flash. (Well it does actually know if you’re using your flash, most cameras
anyway.) But it doesn’t really know the value of the color temperature. So this
little card comes in handy for that. If you use this calibration tool as a
reference in your photos, it’s easy to color correct them after the fact in
Photoshop, Photoshop Elements Picnic, any image editing program will
have a custom white balance one-click button. So how do you use this? Well take
a photo with the card in the picture, and then, take the rest of your photos. When
you get to your computer download your photos, this is your reference photo. So
you click on this whether you’re using curves, or if you’re shooting in RAW, you
just click on it using the white balance tool. When you have that reading, then you
apply that number, or that white balance that’s a custom white balance, to the
rest of your photos taken under the same color temperature. So whether it’s in the
sun, in the shade, whatever, that will be your custom white balance reading. And
that’s really handy to have. Now, it gives you neutral when you click this, and
sometimes neutrals not really beautiful. So, this is your starting point, and you
can go warmer or cooler once you have a good starting point.
So just to recap, we have a grey card for exposure and a grey card for white
balance, and they aren’t the same kind of cards. They both have different purposes.
Well I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and we’ll see you next time.

100 Replies to “Comparison: 18% Grey card with white balance grey card”

  1. So just to make sure I'm doing it properly.
    If you want to shoot at a fixed shutter speed, you play with your aperture and ISO using the manual mode until the cue thing got to 0 on the camera's meter scale ?

    Thanks a lot!

  2. Yes, using the 18% Grey card. Keep in mind that as your ISO goes up so does the noise (at the extreme high ISOs) so make sure you have enough light to work with too. Outdoors in the day, should have no problem but indoors it's more of an issue.

  3. I use the PRE manual setting with WB, tutorials have show to shoot a grey card near full frame to set this WB, though I have found that I sometimes have to over expose about 1 to 1.5 stops to get the GOOD or I will get a No Good. This is not all the time. I have assessed if I was blocking a light source at the time. So I am wondering, do I shoot a white card full frame or a grey card full frame. I get told both

  4. Thanks for this! It really helped explain how to use them. Just got my first set of cards featuring a gray card, white card, and a black card. I am photographing an outdoor wedding next week for the first time in my life and I am wondering what the best way is to use the gray card in that situation, since it is an event and not a predictable scene.

  5. Something I'm not too sure to understand, on eBay I can find many kits of 3 cards (White/Grey/Black) for only 8$ from China obviously but the way they talk about it is that their card works for both Metering and WB rather than just one of the two O_o

    So I guess it's best to use their 5x7in grey card for metering, the white one for WB but then what's the purpose of the black card???

  6. According to my Canon EOS 6D owner's manual (page 122), one can get more accurate custom WB using 18% gray card than the white card. Apparently, the 18% gray card can serve dual purposes which is handy.

  7. I'm not talking about White Cards – but White Balance cards. Very big difference. The Canon manual is wrong. 18% Grey cards are for exposure, not for White Balance. In my classroom, I have lined up several 18% Grey cards in a row and they are visibly different colours, because that is not their purpose. Their purpose is to reflect a certain amount of light for metering purposes. You might think they are neutral and maybe you'll get lucky once in awhile, but they are not exactly neutral.

  8. If they are both accurate, then I'd buy the one that is easiest to use. For me, that means something that I can fit into my camera bag. I prefer the 4×6 WhiBal card as it's small enough to fit into my small camera bag, but large enough to get a decent reading from. I also really like the Xrite Color Checker Passport. It has a color patch as well as the white-balance patch. And the Xrite, stays cleaner as it has a cover, but it's more pricey.

  9. I teach in the classroom at Red Deer College, in Alberta – portrait lighting workshop. I've also taught for 10+ years at SAIT and ACAD in Calgary. I still do workshops for SAIT. I teach online as well, and you can find my courses listed on imagemaven [dot] com. And just yesterday my first VOD was released. I'm sending out a newsletter with the VOD info this week and I'll also be putting that info on my fb page. Thanks for your comments 🙂

  10. Expodisc doesn't work with studio strobes. But Yes, I love the ColorCheck Passport too. I got one after I made this video.

  11. I'm and older gent and new to photography – since I retired. Have had a hard time with the difference between exposure and white balance grey cards. You have nailed it with this video. Thanks so much !!!!!

  12. Well that cleared some clouds in my head! What a clever way to cheat manual mode. It's as if you're making the camera automatic in manual. Oh no the clouds are coming back!

  13. Thank you for you explanation – this also explain the not so good result when I've tried to use my grey card for white balance (DOH!) – so now's the time for me to order a white balance card. (my photo blog at

  14. Thank you. I have 3 cards; White, Grey and Black. Now I am clear as to what to use the White and Grey for. Now just got to find out how to use the Black card. Anyway thank you for this video.

  15. Very informative , Merelene.  I used to spend a lot of time on 'colour balance'  Photoshop  to correct WB of some ofmy photos.   Thanks.

  16. Someone at the camera store showed me how to white balance using the 18% grey card. I tested it & it worked.

  17. Great video. You're right about using an 18%  grey card to get correct exposure to meter off.

    However you can use a neutral grey to white balance but not a white card to meter off. That's what grey cards were designed for in the first place exposure 'and' colour correction. Long before digital was invented we would meter off and shoot a grey card on a reference frame of a roll of negative (or include it in the corner of the image to be cropped out later) then in the enlarger do a colour correction and enlarging exposure off the grey card and swap out to the desired frame. It took the guess work out of using a diffuser because if there was a lot of one colour in the image it threw out the reading on the colour meter.

    In digital photography you can shoot a grey card as a reference frame to do a custom white balance in camera. The reason manufacturers produce white cards to white balance off is because it scrambles the brains of the average consumer telling them to white balance off a grey card (Brian Regan would love this). And if you underexpose a white card it becomes grey anyway. In the Canon manual they actually recommend you to do an ambient white balance on auto exposure mode, the resulting image is always going to be mid toned but not neutral until you do your custom white adjustment.

    Grey cards vary from brand to brand that's the fault of the manufacturer (Kodak was best) and you will see a difference because there is more tonality to make a judgment on, but so do white cards vary. All you need is a grey card and if you want it to be white over expose it a couple of stops. Personally if I'm outdoors I just shoot a piece of white polystyrene using TTL metering and custom white balance off that. The most critical factor is not to overexpose your white card or the image will be completely bleached out and have no colour/tone left in the pixels to make a white balance from. At the end of the day if colour is that critical then you always have to adjust HSM in post no mater what method you use to white balance.


  18. I heard that you can simply set your white balance if you cover the lens on manual focus with a white styrofoam cup and set it with your back to the subject so the reflective light is going in the correct direction, is this correct?

  19. I have a Lastolite 12 % grey card, one side is grey and the other is white. Do I set my white balance with the white side? A bit confused…

  20. Some people use their 18% grey card for the white balance issues. and that seem to be work well. So the question here is that why i have to use the digital grey card( the smaller one that you were holding) and why those shoot for different purpose if the 18% grey works well for white balance pre-set. Thanks

  21. Hi, thanks for the video. I've been learning and following most of your amazing video.
    I used some grey card bought from eBay (comes in 3 colour plastic card) for white balance, the colours seems worst after white balance with it. After watching this video, I realized white balance card and Grey card are different.

    If Option 1 or 2 are good to go, they are a little cheaper. May I listen to your suggestion. Thanks

  22. hi. can you use that card in one scenario just like in the snow with a couple with a wedding dress and the sun is a high orange contrast? what would you first thing to do, meter for the exposure then lastly use the white balance card to get a neutral effect from the sun??? tnx in advance. i mean without photoshop…

  23. You can also take a picture of the white board and save it as a custom white balance in the camera itself and then every photo you take afterwards will use that photo as a white balance reference and they'll all be color-corrected without the need to apply the correction in post-production, which is the same thing.
    Great video!

  24. a bit ironic how the white balance is off, in a video discussing white balance. Your grey cards look yellow.

  25. Out of interest, does the white-balance card represent a fixed reflectiveness with reference to the exposure card, or not? i.e. if the grey card is zone V, is the white card reliably zone VII, or VIII, or something else fixed?

    Blessed is s/he who has a card with white on one side and grey on the other!

  26. Interesting. I had not heard about using white card for WB and had always heard to use the grey card! Now you say use grey card for exposure and white card for WB! I have no reason to doubt you. Have to let it sink in. Thanks for the video!

  27. I was unaware that there are two different gray cards. From 99% of the tutorials on YouTube, they only suggest that there is one gray card – both used, with different methods for exposure and white balance.

  28. so why when you get white balance cards do they have a Black, White and Grey if you only click on the Grey with the picker?

  29. Love the video! I have that gray card but I will go buy the other one tomorrow 🙌🏼 I will safe so much time! Thank you!

  30. I get your point, and thanks for the video. However, I'm left with lots of questions? Why isn't a 18% grey card appropriate for color balance? You say that they fade over time (I guess years). But if the issue is facing over the years, then I don't care because I buy a new card every six month. Also, why doesn't the WB digital gray card fade? And why don't they just make a %18 gray card that has the right tone, and doesn't fade, and then we can use it for both exposure and WB? It seems silly to make a gray card that fades if there are ways to make a card that doesn't fade. Lots of questions. Sorry.

  31. So what you're saying is that I"ve been doing it wrong all this time and have been listening to the wrong people? 🙂 Thanks for straightening that out for me. I also clicked on 5 more videos after your video and they all use the gray card for white balance. One guy started with the white card and then flipped it over and said, "You can just use the gray side instead. Lots of bad info.

  32. The linear scale of black to white is, by nature, completely "desaturated" and absolutely void of any color. Theoretically, and especially with today's equipment, one should be able to use either pure white or 99% black to correctly adjust the color temperature. Assuming this is true, could you explain why "white" cards are to be used with preference over "grey" cards when setting color temperature? I have yet to hear an explanation for this in videos like these.

  33. Good concise explanation on the use of the gray card. I do have to say that the video's white balance is waaay off.

  34. Very interesting video, HOWEVER, (and maybe it's just my monitor) the color is waaaay off! How is it possible that you teach about white balance while your own video is so terribly unbalanced? Just wondering…

  35. The 18% grey card should fill the frame. What if it's the same size as the small white-balance card? would simply placing in the frame do?

  36. я плохо знаю английский, но даже я понял все слова и смысл.. удивительная дикция и ясность речи )) Спасибо

  37. Thank you so much for this! So many photographers on YouTube(even ones who call themselves professionals) say that this calibrates the settings in your camera. They way I see it, it only changes exposure, you have to adjust for accurate colors and WB in post using the pictures with the card/color checker. Very confusing when they don’t point that out

  38. Could you please somehow get all of the photo 'experts' on YouTube to watch this video? So many of them teaching people to use a gray card for white balance. It's like fingernails on a blackboard. Thanks!

  39. great video, when you say , point your camera at the gray card , take a picture and make note of F stop and shutter speed values , you did not mention what mode should the camera be in , Manual, Shutter Priority or Aperture Priority ?
    do you have to use a manual mode to adjust for 0 meter reading ?

  40. Why are there dozens if not hundreds of professional photographers that disagree, and use the 18% gray card for setting WB? Also, as soon as I hear someone say they will fix the White balance in PP I become skeptical. I want the WB correct when I shoot the picture. Also, I would like to see scientific proof that you can't set White balance with a gray card.

  41. Where can I get a Whibal digital gray card. The same as you are using there? Also does it come in a set with the card used for exposure? Thanks for your help

  42. Very informative video Marlene. Thanks to this more people will enjoy photography. Shame that video don't have any text. English is not my native language, so sometimes i read text when watching video.

  43. I have been experimenting with my Nikon D810 and the white balance settings indoors and outdoors. I shoot JPEG so in camera WB is important, l can tweak it later in editing but not much. I have found that a Promaster 18% grey card and the reverse white side fails badly when using them to set the in camera custom WB. I have tried an ivory coloured card with greater success. This might make sense because the collapsible Manfrotto Lastolite white balance device is NOT white, it is also an ivory colour. I have not tried the Whi bal plastic card you use. But my conclusion is the term white is misleading because l find the card needs to be ivory in colour. Ivory meaning a light cream colour without getting much into the yellow look.

  44. I learned this the hard way today. I thought I could white balance using the gray card. Nope. I guess I gotta eyeball all my shots.

  45. LOL I have seen manufactures use exposure grey cards to set white balance its nice to see someone who knows better. I also like the fact that you said the white balance grey sets neutral and it is a good start for reference. I have also found that setting accurate white balance with my card makes some images look flat. Most photographic lighting Kelvin temperatures with the exception of color calibrated images is subjective.

  46. Best explanation I have come across. I too join all those who was confused by exposure vs white balance. Now it is clear.

  47. Both cards are in different Zones. Take a photo of white balance card next to a gray 18% exposure card. The 18% exposure card is supposed to be in Zone V (middle gray). The white balance card will be over exposed because it's in a different zone because it's the lighter of the 2 cards. For this reason you cannot meter for exposure off of the white balance card because your images will always be under exposed because the white balance card is lighter than the gray 18% card. They are in different zones in the zone system. So a properly exposed white balance card will under expose the 18% gray exposure card. A properly exposed 18% gray exposure card will over expose the white balance card.

  48. Hello Marlene ,again.
    I am the owner of Nikon D610 which is known for its green tint which I am not fond of so I bought the white (and gray card) to get the accurate WB. I put the white card close to the object, take the picture in Raw and in PP, using View NX2, click on the option "Use gray card, point sample(from the white card in the picture of course). The white balance changes immediately but it becomes moderately warm. Even in histogram, the red moves slightly to the right.
    I tried numerous times inside and outside but the result is always the same. Too warm.
    Now I have paradoxical situation: if shooting Auto WB the picture is notoriously Nikon green-cold. With the help of white card it is too warm.
    I can shoot of course Auto WB adding M1 or M2 but I never get exact colours that I want.
    The card looks white enough to me. I also tried with a sheet of clean white paper but it is always the same – too warm.
    What am I doing wrong? Should I better buy a WB filtre?Thanks.

  49. The only problem is that your video is not white balanced. Cheap white cards and cheap grey cards – it's a crap shoot. Even your headline is a mistake. Cheap cards use ink that may or may not have equal amounts of red,green and blue in the hues ( pigments ) in the dye. People are being mislead here – good 18% reflectance grey cards can be bought – Even some white cards have too much blue in the mix. What everybody needs to do is do a custom white balance with whatever they have – take it into post and either use a scope or even just a color picker in r,g,b and note the values that the card is showing. In the case of the white card if it is 255,255,255 shown by the picker then your camera and the white card are calibrated and good to use. If the grey card shows 126,126,126 then the grey card can be used. Yours is way off- your grey card is showing to have way too much green – it is not as obvious in your white card until you scope it showing extents on a vectorscope- but it shows too much green also – I would guess that your blouse is reflecting green of something to the cards. Anyway – not very accurate information here- you might want to do custom white balances on your video or fix it in post as well.

  50. I subscribed just for this video alone. A superb, no nonsense, well articulated explanation on how to use both types of card. Loved it, especially as I do both for video just to be "safe". Thank you 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *