Is White Balance in Camera Important while shooting Raw?

Discussion in 'Digital Darkroom' started by iqbal, Mar 2, 2011.

  1. If you shoot raw and then manipulate in PS or Lightroom, where a photo can be caliberated any type of white balance, my question: Is it really necessary to have right white balance in the camera at the time of shooting? Why? What am I going to loose, if I do not adjust white balance in my camera? Thanks.
  2. I don't know what the policy is about piggy-backing, but while I can't answer that question, I'd like to know because I want to do more night photography, and I want to use as little flash (too harsh) as possible.
  3. In most cases I keep it on auto... auto's pretty good about 75% of the time, and yes you can change it in post and getting it right in camera won't affect it.
    When I'm shooting a series of photos or in-studio I tend to set a white balance so when the images are uploaded the white balance doesn't go back and forth while I'm scrolling through. And you can absolutely just highlight them and set them at the same white balance, but I like it done already so I can scroll through with them as they're loading.
  4. I'm coming at this from the Canon side of things, so I can't say with absolute certainty that this applies to all brands, but as far as I know it does.
    If you're shooting RAW, your white balance setting doesn't affect the actual image data in the RAW file. It does affect the image displayed on the camera's LCD (which is a JPEG embedded within the RAW file for most Canon models, and probably similar for other brands). Since the embedded JPEG is what's typically used for any histograms and over/under-exposure warnings displayed by the camera, it affects those, too. So if you're using anything displayed on the camera to help you judge whether you got the shot right, then the white balance could be important in helping you make that judgment.
    When you bring the RAW image into an image editor/RAW converter on your computer, the white balance you set in the camera should be irrelevant, with the possible exception that the software may use it as a default when it first presents the image (but then you can choose any WB you want, of course).
    The same generally applies to other processing parameters that you can set in the camera, such as picture styles, sharpness, noise reduction*, and colour space. Shooting parameters (such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and any settings such as exposure compensation which affect the camera's choice of any of those parameters), of course, affect RAW images because aperture and shutter speed change the amount of light reaching the sensor and ISO affects the gain of the sensor's analog amplifiers.
    I shoot RAW almost exclusively, and usually use auto WB in the camera. I also find it's close enough most of the time for the embedded JPEG and all the things the camera does with it, and then I can set whatever WB I want when I'm processing the images on my computer.
    *: Many cameras have two completely separate types of noise reduction. I'm talking about the ordinary one that tries to reduce the noise seen in higher-ISO shots, with the unfortunate side-effect of blurring fine detail. Generally, that's not applied to RAW files. I'm not talking about long-exposure noise reduction, or dark frame subtraction, in which after a long exposure is completed, the camera closes the shutter, takes a second exposure of the same length, and then subtracts it from the original exposure, to get rid of things like thermal noise and hot pixels; that one, at least in Canon bodies, does affect the RAW file.
  5. technically, the WB of the camera doesn't matter if shooting raw but realize that the LCD image and histogram will be 'wrong' because of it (since the LCD shows the JPG thumbnail and not the raw)
  6. I shoot RAW all the time too. I always set my white balance to automatic and adjust it in the software later. I like to play around with the white balance to cool or warm pictures to my taste anyway. But when I need to make sure the white bablance is much more accurate; I use a grey card shot and use that in the software later to match the light. I shoot lots of photos of figure skaters and the lighting is terrible. there are so many different types of lights at different rinks, so I always take a grey card and colorchecker shot for use in photoshop or lightroom later. If you shoot jpeg, it's more important to get it right in the camera. The best way to do that would be to shoot a grey card and set a custom white balance right in your camera for all the images with the same lighting. But for most situations I never set it in the camera. And if you shoot RAW; it doesn't have have any effect anyway.
  7. ted_marcus|1

    ted_marcus|1 Ted R. Marcus

    One of the under-publicized advantages of raw is that it frees you from the obsession with white balance many digital shooters seem to have. Set it to "auto" and forget it. With one less parameter to worry about, you're free to be obsessed about getting the best composition, which is by far more important than any "technical" parameter. Unless you'd rather be obsessed with "expose to the right" or the "digital zone system"....
  8. White balance is applied TO the raw data, either in camera or in post-processing on the computer.
    It does not affect the contents of the raw file at all.
    So leave it on auto and you should get a decent image on the camera's LCD screen, but that's the result of applying the WB to the raw data before it's displayed.
    - Leigh
  9. Camera WB set on auto for me as well, then correct in post as/if necessary.
  10. What Ted said, and a hundred times over, for sure!
    Also Steve's elaborate and accurate answer is instructive if you even have to ask this question.
    Like suggested: shoot raw, use AWB, and in certain instances a grey card will be helpful when postprocessing.
    "One of the under-publicized advantages of raw is that it frees you from the obsession with white balance many digital shooters seem to have. Set it to "auto" and forget it. With one less parameter to worry about..."
  11. One of the under-publicized advantages of raw is that it frees you from the obsession with white balance many digital shooters seem to have. Set it to "auto" and forget it. With one less parameter to worry about, you're free to be obsessed about getting the best composition, which is by far more important than any "technical" parameter.​
    +1 @110%. I leave WB set on auto and worry about the things that matter. WB is a total freebie with raw - there's no image quality penalty whatsoever for adjusting it in post as much as you want to. I do adjust in-camera jpg settings to be as neutral as possible so my eye (and the camera histogram, although I seldom use it) isn't 'tricked' by the LCD preview. I probably haven't set the WB on a DSLR in about 5 years. If I really need to get the color and WB right, I use an x-rite color checker.
    Unless you'd rather be obsessed with "expose to the right" or the "digital zone system"....​
    While I don't use a histogram other than to check for blown highlights or shadow blocking, IMO WB is one thing, but exposure is an entirely different matter.
  12. The white balance may affect your exposure. I just use exposure compensation when I'm in a situation where I know the metering may be affected by the light temperature and leave color balance on auto.
  13. Coming from the Canon side, when I download my images using DPP, the software allows you to change the WB automatically, but it also gives you the "AS Shot" option which is the White Balance that was set on the camera when the image was shot. I'm assuming the software must have some type of criteria or determining factor to base all other changes to the WB.
  14. digitaldog

    digitaldog Andrew Rodney

    WB has zero effect on the raw. Only Exposure and ISO have an effect, the other settings like Picture styles only affect the JPEG. WB is a metadata 'suggestion' for a raw process.
  15. I set white balance to daylight, as auto has given me variable results. At the time of raw conversion, then, I can apply the same settings to all photos taken at one time in the same lighting.
  16. White balance is a piece of data only applied to a raw file at the time of conversion, and even then does not alter the image file itself, only its representation. White balance is nothing more than a red/blue balance at constant luminance (green is immaterial, since there are only two degrees of freedom), which can be done at any time. The main advantage of using auto or custom white balance at the time of capture is that it uses the actual lighting of the subject, saving a little time later guessing what that might be.
    Profiling adds another dimension to white balance, allowing the red/blue balance to vary with luminance. Film sensitivity varies with the level of exposure, and each layer in color film has its own characteristic curve. In theory, digital sensors are linear, but cameras and editing programs usually apply curves emulating the response of film (and more important, the human eye).
    I seldom use the auto WB mode, except in casual shooting. Since it can be changed later, it is better to be consistent than "correct", especially when you are shooting portraits, formal groups, stage productions and interiors. Being consistent saves a LOT of time in post processing, since you can apply settings to whole blocks of images. The same logic applies to manual v. auto-exposure, in the same situations.
  17. An interesting discussion. For myself (I shoot RAW), I typically shoot a custom white balance with an Expodisc at the start of a session or whenever I feel the light has changed enough (e.g. morning versus evening). It only takes a few seconds and then I feel reasonably comfortable that I've captured the data.
    As has been commented, the WB doesn't affect the RAW data (although it does affect the displayed histogram on the camera as the camera processes from raw to jpg for that display), and does affect the initial conversion when you load the RAW file into your converter (unless you have another default selected in your software).
    I have found through my personal experience that it does make a difference and saves me the step of trying to remember the "look" of the scene temperature-wise, as well as typically removing a step from my post processing.
    Then I am free to fiddle with it (WB) to my heart's content in post if I have the desire.
  18. Yes! Think about it, cameras capture individual channels RGB. Depending on the white balance you are going to need a varied amount of these values to get the correct exposure considering what white balance you want.
    You can always change the WB in raw afterwards, but the biggest issue is that if you expose your file with the incorrect WB, your histogram/file are kafluy! You end up stretching certain channels, and when you correct in post (even with raw) it produces strange color results.
    In summary:
    It does matter.
    Cameras expose each RGB channel according to the WB set at capture time
    Incorrect WB might result in an improperly exposed RAW file
    Correcting under/overly exposed files can and generally will produce bad color.
  19. digitaldog

    digitaldog Andrew Rodney

    Incorrect WB might result in an improperly exposed RAW file​
    No, it doesn’t. Only ISO and exposure affect the raw data. WB is simply a metadata suggestion for rendering (the JPEG). Or a suggestion for the raw converter. Raw is just that. And no, the camera doesn’t capture RGB channels per say. The data is essentially grayscale data, there are three colored filters but the raw converter (each being different) makes its own assumption of the color space based on what may be the spectral sensitivities of the chip+filters.
  20. Incorrect WB might result in an improperly exposed RAW file​
    As Andrew said, exposure is based on light levels and ISO settings, not on WB.
    - Leigh
  21. If you are composing through an electronic viewfinder, you might want to adjust white balance just as a way to match the "mood" that most inspires you in the quest for your shot.

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