Photography 101 Series
Why Should I Shoot in RAW Mode, or White Balance Follies
©Darrell Young

Since so many of us have switched to digital photography these days, we are now having to deal with White Balance, and different image file types. But, many are unsure just what White Balance is, and how to work with it. Lots of new digital users also wonder whether they should shoot primarily in RAW or JPEG modes.

Each Nikon Digital SLR camera has some way to change the white balance, and it is beyond the scope of this basic article to show you how. But, instead I want to talk about how white balance affects images, and how to correct white balance problems later, if you are shooting in RAW mode.

When you take a picture with your digital Nikon, it collects analog light data, and then converts it to a digital image file. If you are shooting in JPEG mode, the camera is creating the final image on the fly. If you are shooting in RAW mode (.NEF files) the camera is creating a file that is not yet really a picture. It is only the raw black and white image data and markers for what your camera settings were at the time you created the image. Nothing has been applied to the final image until you use a raw converter like Nikon Capture or Adobe Camera Ready (Photoshop), and then save the image out to another format like JPEG or TIFF.

Below is an image that I originally shot with an incorrect White Balance. I had been inside shooting under fluorescent lights and had used the fluorescent preset in my Nikon D2X. I then went outside to get a flash shot of my son gazing at the snow. I am displaying the image with the original white balance, and then after I corrected it in Nikon Capture:


The original image had a white balance of less than 4000K, a very cool temperature. When I was shooting under the fluorescent lights, I needed more blue light frequency for the light to be balanced and normal looking, since that type of light has very little blue. The first image shows how it looks when I used flash. Flash light is about 5000K, which is much warmer, and has plenty of blue light mixed in, so my image had too much blue.

Now, had I been shooting in JPEG mode, I would have been in trouble. JPEGS are created by the camera immediately and any white balance color information selected in the camera is applied as soon as you take the picture. You may be able to adjust some of the blue out later, but only by degrading the image slightly. And, it will never really look right with a huge color shift applied to a JPEG. But, since I was shooting in RAW mode, I was not in trouble at all. Since no color information is applied to the image until later, all I had to do was select "Flash" from the Nikon Capture white balance selections, and my image popped into correct color like you see in the second picture below:

Many people have chosen to shoot in NEF (RAW) mode, so that they will have complete control over the image later during post-processing. Of course, this implies that you have time for post-processing in the first place. If not, JPEG mode is great, unless you do what I did and forget about your white balance.

I love RAW mode, and use it almost exclusively. Even when I shoot a large number of images, such as at a wedding, I can batch process the entire bunch of images, while converting them to JPEGS in the process. In effect, I am doing later in-computer what the camera does when you shoot JPEGS natively.

If you choose to shoot in RAW mode, you have then created a file that you can use later over and over, each time reapplying different settings for various effects. This reminds me of a negative in the old film days. If one shoots JPEG, you are trusting your camera to do a good job, and end up with a file that can be adjusted only a little without degrading it seriously. That is fine, if you're not interested in taking the time to post-process all your images after you shoot them.

However, if you consider yourself an image fanatic, you might want to look seriously at using RAW mode frequently.

Keep on capturing time...

Visit Digital Darrell's PlanetNikon Forums
Copyright © MMVI by Darrell Young, a.k.a. Digital Darrell, All Rights Reserved