Power of Post: White Balance & Shooting RAW

Posted by CWade in Power of Post | Tagged | 1 Comment

If you know me, you know I shoot RAW 99% of the time.

(If you’re unfamiliar with RAW file format, this is a good article to peruse.)

There aren’t many cicumstances in which I’d choose to shoot JPEG, a lossy format, over RAW, a lossless file format. The only situation that comes readily to mind is when, during sports photography, you shoot in ‘burst’ mode, and don’t want your camera’s write buffer to fill up so quickly. In this case, you might prefer JPEG as it’d allow more shots with each burst before filling the buffer and forcing you to pause, possibly missing that critical moment when the left winger scores a touchdown in the fourth inning. (I don’t really watch sports.)

Why, you ask, do I prefer to fill up SD cards twice as quickly with larger RAW files? It’s simple. There’s an abundance of data in RAW which compressed files lack. Recoverable data. Did you blow the correct exposure by a stop? It’s okay, you shot RAW!

Possibly my favorite type of this stored data is color temperature- or white balance- information. It’s one of the easiest things to forget about in the heat of the moment, and one of the most critical elements of a successful photo. I don’t usually shoot with a grey card, or take the time to calibrate white balance other than selecting a WB preset based on my best educated guess. I rely on RAW to provide embedded information with which to correct any egregious color errors I made in-camera.

I’m going to cut the chatter and share some examples. These are white balance corrections in post (Lightroom 3) made possible by recoverable temperature data in RAW format. (Please disregard exposure disparities; I never claimed to always nail exposure on the first try.)

Before is on left/ After is on right:

As you can see, the main objective is to render the whites…well, white.

This can be done easily in Lightroom with the White Balance Selector (eye dropper) located in the WB section of the Basic panel in the Develop module. There’s a reason the white balance controls are at the top of the Basic panel- color balancing is that important.

The idea is to select an area which is supposed to appear white or neutral grey; this lets the computer calculate the difference between true white/grey and your selection, and it can then adjust the overall white balance accordingly.

Alternatively, you can select one of Lightroom’s white balance presets in the drop-down menu; these mimic the settings found on most DSLRS. Or, you can custom balance the color yourself using the ‘Temp’ and ‘Tint’ sliders. The latter is what I normally end up doing to correct wonky color.

These next two photos demonstrate to what extent color information can be recovered when shooting RAW without compromising image quality:

Obviously, I had chosen a poor in-camera white balance preset, probably tungsten judging by the harsh blue color cast. Lighting conditions can change so rapidly that sometimes it’s all you can do to just wing-it and correct in post. Of course, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t try to get it right in-camera. The latter is preferable if time and the situation permit.

If you’re like me, you love seeing before/after photo comparisons. A few more, just for fun:

Correcting white balance in post is simple when dealing with RAW files, and can often save “muddy”-looking photos without compromising image quality.

Good Links:

Understanding White Balance

Color Temperature in Photography

How to White Balance in Lightroom 3 (video tutorial)

One Response to Power of Post: White Balance & Shooting RAW

  1. Kyoudai says:

    You know, I actually prefer the before shots for the pink flower with the stamens, the cupcakes and the lighter. I like that they're a bit warmer, which I like, albeit darker.

    My prosumer cam can't shoot raw but I aim to master it while I save for a DSLR ^_^

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