White Balance with Neutral Density


Today’s Question: In Tim Grey TV Episode 23 (https://youtu.be/qZ3HDJmOuVs) you mentioned you set your white balance to Sunny. When using a neutral density filter do you always set your white balance for the conditions or do you use auto white balance often?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In this specific example, I was actually only using a white balance preset in order to test the relative behavior of different neutral density filters. In most cases I tend to employ the “Auto” setting for white balance provided I am capturing photos in the RAW capture mode.

More Detail: When testing gear for a particular behavior, it is important to isolate as many variables as possible. In the episode of Tim Grey TV referenced I was testing a couple of neutral density filters to get a sense of just how much variability there was in the neutrality of different filters. Therefore, I wanted all camera settings “locked in” to fixed settings, so that the only variable was the actual filter being attached to the lens.

Under normal circumstances (with or without the use of a neutral density filter), my personal preference is to simply employ the “Auto” setting for white balance when shooting RAW. This is based in large part on the fact that the white balance setting doesn’t actually affect capture data when you are using the RAW capture mode.

It is important to keep in mind, of course, that by using Auto white balance you are introducing potential variability in the appearance of one photo to the next. You are also potentially creating additional work for yourself in post-processing. Of course, it is worth noting that it is also very easy to synchronize the white balance setting (and other adjustments) for multiple photos at once with software tools such as Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom.

That said, in general I find that I don’t find that I need to synchronize the white balance setting for multiple photos all that often. I also prefer to fine-tune the overall white balance adjustments for my photos after the capture almost without exception. Based on my preferred workflow, choosing a particular white balance setting in the camera wouldn’t provide any real benefit, unless I was lucky enough to guess the perfect setting for every photo.