Camera RAW White Balance: Introduction

White Balance and Using the Presets

What is white balance?

In everyday terms, white balance is making sure that the neutral tones – blacks, whites and grays,  are in fact black, white and gray. Quite often the objects in a photograph take on a color cast caused by the ambient light around them.  Typically color temperature differs from one light source to another. Even sunlight differs over the course of a day and the light at sunrise can be quite different to the light at mid day.

The human brain, the marvelous thing that it is, self-calibrates itself without us giving it a second thought. If we look at a cloud in the sky, our brain will register that cloud as being white. if we were to walk inside, turn on a light and read a book, our brain will also register that page as being white. In actual fact, the two different light sources (the sun and a light bulb) would cause a shift in white balance although we would not easily perceive it.

How do digital cameras record white balance?

At the time of exposure a light meter inside the camera records what it thinks is the correct white balance to ensure neutrality and embeds this information as metadata in the Camera RAW file. When you open up this file in Adobe Camera RAW the picture is displayed using the “As Shot” preset which is based on this data. Nine times out of ten the camera will have done its job correctly and the photo will be neutral or near neutral. However if you feel that your photos suffer from an unnatural color shift, it is probably because your white balance is off and needs to be tweaked. At other times, neutral is not always best, you may simply want to warm up or cool down a shot to enhance mood or your own creative temperament.

Camera RAW white balance presets.

In Adobe camera RAW there are a number presets to help get you started. These are based on common ligthing conditions and trying these may yield  the result that you are looking for. If not, then the next two lessons will show you how to correct white balance accurately yourself.

Below is the same file with these various presets.

Because this picture was taken outside, the daylight option has worked well and is slightly warmer than the ‘as shot’ version. As you would expect the artificial light presets of tungsten and fluorescent are now suitable for this picture.

As Shot

Auto

Daylight

Cloudy

Shade

Tungsten

Fluroescent

Flash

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