Does a DSLR's white balance setting (whether a preset like cloudy or a custom WB setting) affect the raw file at all, or does that setting only determine the WB of the JPG that the camera generates?

A related way to ask this is whether this procedure makes sense: 1. shoot in RAW mode only 2. set the white balance using a gray card, but not by taking a picture of the gray card

If the WB setting only affects the JPGs and not the RAW files, and you want to shoot RAW only, then you must have a photo with the gray card to use in post processing.


The white balance setting doesn't affect the image data in the RAW file, but the setting is recorded in the meta data in the file, so you can still use it to process the RAW image if you like.

  • Ah, that's the connection. That's how ACR knows the WB "As shot".
    – jfklein13
    Sep 27 '10 at 17:28
  • It's worth noting that in most cameras this is true of the exposure index (Incorrectly referred to as ISO) setting as well. Assuming you don't change the shutter/aperture combo, when you change the EI only the metadata for the EI is changed. The EI is used to determine the gain factor be applied in raw conversion. There are some cases where cameras apply difference noise reduction to the raw data based on the EI on the camera but this is rare.
    – agf1997
    May 19 '15 at 7:12

Short answer: No, changing the WB does not affect the RAW image.

But you don't need a gray card to shoot RAW and get a WB; the camera can provide you with an auto WB, or you can select one prior to your shoot, either through a gray card or through a camera preset.

So here's a tricky WB situation: you're shooting in a church with different naves. One has a gold chalice that the light from a stained glass window is hitting and bouncing everywhere, and everything looks pretty cool. Back and the main altar, you've got light from all over, maybe from incandescent lights above. You're moving back and forth between shrines during the wedding/baptism/whatever. Switching WB might be very tricky to do on the fly, and fraught with the possibility of a mistake. For this, I'd shoot the gray card in both areas ahead of time (if possible, if the light isn't changing much) and then apply the appropriate white balance setting to your raw file later.

In practice, I almost never use a gray card, and several of the other wedding photogs I have worked with have also ditched their gray cards as well. The Auto WB setting in the Canon and Nikon bodies is good enough, and the light changes so quickly, that shooting in RAW and then fixing the rare mistakes made by the auto wb is easier and faster than using the gray card.

  • Interesting on the tricky situation, with varying colors, thanks for sharing that.
    – jfklein13
    Sep 27 '10 at 17:33
  • 2
    Often, neutral gray is not even the white balance you want anyway. Sep 11 '11 at 23:24

The white balance setting selected on the camera is stored in the RAW file; however, when processing the file, you can choose to "develop" it using an alternate setting (most software also supports an eye dropper mode to select the white balance based on a known even tone within the image).


As far as I have heard, the WB does not affect the RAW data, but it does affect the exposure.

So in difficult lighting situations the camera auto exposure might react differently depending on the WB.

Sadly I got no source for this information.

  • How would colour temperature effect exposure? That doesn't alter the amount of light so all that you could really argue is that it might have fooled the spot meter on the camera.
    – Joanne C
    Nov 14 '12 at 2:57
  • As I said "I've heard", not "I know". I'm not sure myself how WB does affect exposure, but I can imagine it making a difference since I don't know for sure how color information is affecting exposure.
    – Sam
    Nov 14 '12 at 14:22
  • 1
    JoanneC: The color of the ambient light does affect metering in cameras that have a light meter that is more sensitive to certain colors of light than others. Most cameras with built in meters produced over the last few decades fit that description.
    – Michael C
    Dec 30 '13 at 4:23

The answer to this can also be "depends". Some cameras apply filters like denoise to the raw data before saving it. Without getting manufacturer to assert something, we can only say that most cameras currently do not apply white balance to the sensor data before saving it.


[Looking into how auto-white balance affects RAW image files]. As to how white balance can affect exposure, check out an additive color wheel and the sliders in Adobe Lightroom. As you adjust "temp" you're shifting across the color wheel yellow-to-blue, with white in the center. Same with "tint" but you're shifting across green-to-magenta, again with white in the center. So as you adjust "temp" or "tint" you can pull up the white level as you hit the sweet spot in the middle -- it's very subtle -- and you can see the image brighten or darken very slightly as the overall white balance shifts.

My theory, anyway...


Settings in the camera (except exposure) do NOT affect the Raw data. Raw is raw.

However, Nikon raw software has options to pull the settings from the Exif and apply them.

Adobe raw software can pull the WB and use it as "AS SHOT" WB (but only WB).

Probably the other software can do something, but I can't tell you what.

So if you want Vivid, you set Vivid in the raw software, after you see the image and what it does.

But of course, the camera WB is crude, not affected by the actual scene. Camera settings are just nominal notions we decided a few months ago, and are not representative of each scene in front of us now. One big reason we shoot raw, to be able to fix it easily.

So the point of raw is to actually see the image before we have to decide and set these things. The raw software has features to set it After you see it, and can judge what is best.

  • 1
    Thos doesn't seem to add anything to the answers from 5 years ago, also it mixes in pictuire styles and factually incorrect info (see "Auto wb").
    – ths
    May 18 '15 at 19:39

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