July 2, 2007 HelpLine

Q) I’m shooting RAW and my friends tell me to ignore white balance because I can fix it on the computer. Is that right?
Cindy Z., Via the Internet

A) I hate to be blunt, but when someone tells me not to worry because I can “fix” it on the computer, my first response is, “Why do I have to fix anything?” How did I break it? Your friend is correct in that when you shoot RAW the white balance setting is just a piece of metadata. The pixels are not changed.

But why not pay attention to white balance when you shoot? Consider first that your LCD display will make use of the white balance when it displays an image. If you have the correct white balance setting when you evaluate your image, you won’t be distracted by colors that may be way out of whack.

Second, if you get it right in the field, you save yourself processing time at the computer. If your workflow includes stepping quickly through all of your shots to mark the good ones, a more accurate white balance will let you concentrate on other aspects of your shot, such as exposure and composition.

Third, if you have a camera that allows you to shoot RAW and JPEG, you might use that mode to create JPEGs that you can output without much computer time (for e-mail or other uses). It would be nice if you didn’t have to make many adjustments on the JPEGs in order to correct poor white balance.

White balance doesn’t take that long when you shoot, but it can add processing time at the computer.

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