Use Camera RAW White Balance to Create Moods

Most serious photographers capture in RAW
Click Images To Enlarge This Article Features Photo Zoom

Most serious photographers capture in RAW. It provides options that jpg captures can't. One relates to white balance. Striving to get the proper white balance is important. So much so, camera manufacturers put a lot of R&D money into making sure each and every camera body provides specific color parameters relative to white balance settings. While some photographers prefer the warm look of a Cloudy setting, many simply leave white balance on Auto and tweak the look in camera RAW or Lightroom. This got me to think about the topic of this week's tip. Rather than simply tweak the color, why not go all out and create a totally new look to the capture?

Experimenting with white balance does not work with every subject. The obvious is people. Purple and blue skin tones aren't right. On the other hand, if the end result is to create a special effect or to grab the viewer's attention using a contemporary twist, go for it. Should you choose to go this route, make sure the entire image fits the look rather than make it appear a mistake. To get started with white balance experimenting, go through your files and pick out a few pics of multiple subjects. Make copies and place them in an appropriately named folder. Open them in camera RAW and begin to play using the various color pull down options in the White Balance menu. Subjects that make good starting points are silhouettes and night scenes.

For quick reference, below is a basic description of each setting:

As Shot: the color is based on how the camera was set at capture
Auto: the RAW converter chooses what it thinks is proper
Daylight: accurate color as if shot during mid day hours
Cloudy: similar to daylight but more yellow
Shade: similar to cloudy but with even more yellow
Tungsten: heavy emphasis toward blue
Fluorescent: heavy emphasis toward magenta
Flash: close to daylight with a bit less magenta
Custom: This field changes as soon as any of the above defaults are tweaked

Take a look at the results of the accompanying images. As you can see, the entire feel changes based on the chosen white balance. The As Shot version provided a great capture with neutral hues and was representative of what existed at the time I pressed the shutter. In playing with the pull downs, I next went to Shade. As described above, the image took on a much warmer yellow hue. In converting the image to Tungsten, a strong blue color was imparted. If you were looking to create a moonlit appearance, it would be a great setting. Finally, the Fluorescent setting produced an image with a magenta cast. Use it for sunrises and sunsets to add warmth to the scene.




    Thanks for the article.

    While the WB presets offer basic options, they’re rarely “on the money”. For subjective scenes like silhouettes, they’re obviously more forgiving, but just using the sliders will get you right where you need to be. That might be beyond the scope of this article.

    Another very important mention is how the WB is rendered using Camera Calibration settings in LR and ACR. Again, the canned settings do various changes, but using the X-Rite Passport system custom calibrations can be created that accurately render your sensor’s RGB capture. It used to be a 45 minute complicated process from the previous decade, using a software script from Thomas Fors Now with the X-rite software you can create them in under 2 minutes.

    I hope you can elaborate on some of this in your future articles.

    Thanks again,

    Hi Russ – interesting subject – reminds me of the influence of white balance on exposure – many believe raw data is not affected by the white balance setting – I suggest raw data is affected by the exposure settings – the choice of exposure settings is made by considering the histogram, which is affected by the white balance setting. If the white balance in camera is incorrect and we correct in post-processing, aren’t we introducing additional exposure adjustments that can negatively impact noise and image quality? Would appreciate knowing your thoughts on this?

    Peter – you are correct that by making a change to the white balance in the camera, it impacts the exposure. For instance, in my recent tour to the Slot Canyons, I demonstrated the differences in color on the LCD when I switched the WB from Auto to Cloudy. In checking the red channel histogram, I had to dial in minus exposure compensation for the Cloudy exposure as it emphasized the warm tones which in turn, created an over exposure of the red channel. The bottom line is to always check the RGB histogram IN CAMERA regardless of the WB setting to make sure the photo is properly exposed.

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