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Use Camera RAW White Balance to Create Moods

Serious photographers know that capturing the image is simply the first step in the digital process. Most tend to capture in RAW. It provides options that jpg captures can’t. One of these relates to white balance. Striving to get the proper white balance is high on all photographer’s minds. So much so, camera manufacturers put a lot of R&D money into making sure that each and every camera body that rolls off the assembly line provides specific color parameters relative to the white balance setting the photographer chooses. While some photographers prefer the warm look of a Cloudy setting, many simply leave the white balance on Auto and tweak the look in camera RAW. This is what got me thinking about the topic of this article. Rather than simply tweak the color, why not go all out and create a totally new look to the capture?


Experimenting with white balance is not something that will work with every subject. The obvious is with people. Purple and blue skin tones aren’t natural. 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 having it appear to be a mistake. To get started with your white balance experimenting, I suggest you 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 your camera RAW converter and begin to play using the various color pull down options – see the screen shot as a reference. Subjects that make good starting points are silhouettes and night time scenes.

0__DSJ4470 As Shot copy.jpg

As a quick reference, here’s 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: 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 of the image changes based on the chosen white balance. The As Shot version provided a great capture with very 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 to the image. If you were looking to create a moonlit appearance, it would be a great setting to use. Finally, the Fluorescent setting produced an image with a magenta cast. Try using it for sunrises and sunsets to add warmth to the scene.


To learn more about this topic, join me on one of my Photographic Nature Tours. Visit and click on the NATURE TOURS button for more information. Also, pick up a copy of my new book, Amphoto’s Complete Book of Photography. You can purchase a signed copy directly from me or visit your local book store or Amazon. Contact me at   to order your signed copy



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