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Adobe Camera RAW for Beginners: Histogram & White Balance

This post is part of a series called Camera RAW for Beginners.
Adobe Camera Raw in 60 Seconds
Adobe Camera RAW for Beginners: Basic Adjustments

Adobe Camera RAW (not to be confused with RAW picture format your camera takes) is a powerful tool for editing and tweaking your photography. The software gives you artistic control over your files while still maintaining the original photo. I like to call it non-destructive editing.

Adobe Camera RAW comes packaged with Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements, and while it is similar to Adobe Lightroom, it is more of an editing program than a complete digital darkroom and management program like Lightroom.

If you’re wondering about which program you should use, Scott Kelby has a good article on the differences of Camera Raw, Bridge, and Lightroom. In this tutorial you'll learn how to manipulate the histogram and white balance in your RAW images.

Typically you’ll start your work in Adobe Bridge and open your photos in Camera Raw by either right clicking on the file and choosing Open in Camera Raw, or holding down Cmd+R/Ctrl+R (Mac/PC) while clicking on the file.

View Tutorial

The Histogram

The histogram can be a little intimidating at first, and a lot of first-time users tend to skip over it. However, the histogram can be a great tool to quickly get an overall feel for the photo and diagnose any trouble areas quickly.

Here’s a quick rundown of the histogram:

camera raw histogram white balance
  • The furthest left contains your shadow information. Here you will find how much dark areas you have in your photo.
  • The middle is you midtones.
  • The furthest right is your highlights. Here you will find your light areas of the photo.
  • If you histogram is dominating either side it means your photo is either under or overexposed.


camera raw histogram white balance

The spikes found on the right or left of the histogram indicate clipping is occurring. Clipping is usually bad; it signals that you have no detail in certain areas of your photo. That means that some of your blacks or whites are 100% solid color.

You can see where clipping is occurring by using the triangle buttons found on the upper right and left of the histogram. Blue areas signal trouble in your shadows. Red areas indicate blown out highlights.

As a tip, it’s better for your pictures to be underexposed rather than over.

White Balance

When you take a picture your camera’s sensor attempts to define what is white in the photograph so that it can determine the correct color balance. While the Auto White Balance (AWD) setting works really well on most digital cameras, there are times when you will need to set and tweak the white balance of a photograph after you have shot it.
If you find that the colors are off in a photo, or the picture appears too cool or warm, you will need to adjust the white balance using one of several methods.

camera raw histogram white balance

The White Balance drop down menu allows you to choose from several lighting conditions. You will only be able to use this if you captured your photo in the RAW format.

camera raw histogram white balance

The White Balance Tool allows you to pick a spot on your photo that is supposed to be neutral. Neutral colors found in a sidewalk, blue jeans, shirt collar, etc. are best. If you choose an area that is not neutral you can always click again and pick a better area.

The Temperature and Tint bars allow you to manually adjust your white balance making it warmer/cooler or adding more green or magenta.

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