I understand that if I shoot in RAW, post processing software like Lightroom is capable of adjusting colour temperature and tint to my desire.

Will I lose any image quality in process? Or is it as good as shooting with correct Kelvin value?

A common example I've encountered: say I shoot with an old flash gun that doesn't communicate with my DSLR, and it is really up to me to adjust White Balance manually. Am I good if I shoot bunch of unbalanced colour photos (most of the cases, with a blue cast) and fix them through post processing? Or should I spend time getting the colour right (or close) on the spot and be conscious about changing light so I don't need to re-adjust white balance later?

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    \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm is 100% correct, but if you shoot in mixed light conditions, there's not much you can do unless you correct the lights themselves. In that scenario, the raw option isn't going to help you. \$\endgroup\$
    – Joanne C
    Commented Dec 14, 2011 at 2:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ See also Why can I adjust the white balance of a RAW file but not a JPEG file? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Dec 25, 2011 at 16:11

2 Answers 2


No. If you shoot in RAW, there is nothing lost.

In fact, in RAW, the white balance you set in-camera is nothing but advisory information to the post-processing software. A different multiplier is applied differently to the red, green, and blue channels during RAW conversion depending on the setting, and if you're doing that conversion from a RAW file, you can always choose to do it differently unless you destroy the original.

The only exception is when the lighting is so strongly colored that it affects the metering oddly. If you have the white balance set in camera, it will apply to the displayed histogram. Some people really are concerned out about this, and have invented the idea of "uniwb", a custom white balance designed to balance the three color channels evenly. If you are very meticulous, and if you are trying to make the most of extreme scenes, you may be interested in seeing if that helps. (You probably also want to reduce the default contrast settings, for the same reason.)

Also, see this related question: If shooting RAW, is the white balance selected in camera irrelevant for exposure? I did a simple test, and my conclusion is that even in an extreme situation, the metering isn't thrown off by more than a third of a stop. This is likely to also be the case with the histogram, and therefore, I would recommend not really stressing out about uniwb.

If you shoot in JPEG only, the application of the white balance multipliers is destructive, and difficult to compensate for if you change your mind. But I don't think that's what you're asking.

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    \$\begingroup\$ True, the white balance data is in the EXIF ie. not in the actual image. With RAW, they're used in processing and with JPEG they're just nice-to-know information. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 17, 2011 at 12:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks @mattdm for detailed elaboration on how digital film work with colour temperature. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trav L
    Commented Dec 20, 2011 at 23:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ It might also be worth pointing out that the preview image for a raw file (what we see on the camera's LCD or even on our computer screen when we open a raw image file) is but one interpretation of the actual raw data. That interpretation uses a specific white balance, but that WB isn't in any way baked in to the actual raw data. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 1:37

You can easily lose colors if you set your WB incorrectly, so, yes, it matters very much how you set it. Whereas there is a lot of latitude in correcting for it in post processing, it is possible to lose colors.

The first statement of mattdm's answer is simply incorrect. He eludes to it, but doesn't emphasize that you CAN blow out individual colors if WB is set incorrectly, and not notice it. If you are shooting at night on auto-WB, it will be much too warm and the histogram will suggest that your WB is correct (showing all RGB histograms in-range) when, in fact, you are blowing out blue hues. See this blog post for an example: https://jmlobert.blogspot.com/2014/06/the-raw-file-myth-about-white-balance.html and this one for best practices and why to use them: https://jmlobert.blogspot.com/2019/01/white-balance-settings-at-night.html

As a general comment, it is always best to get the exposure right in camera, because it means less post processing. Look at the LCD screen and ask yourself: does this image I just took look like the scenery I am seeing with my eyes? If not, your settings are wrong.


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