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DSLR Video Weekly: Fixing White Balance in Video

This is article #12 in the DSLR Video Weekly series.  If you’d like the whole thing in one shot, check out the book Creating DSLR Video: From Snapshots to Great Shots.

Once you get the hang of video, be sure to monetize it by becoming a contributor to Adobe Stock.


White Balancing Your Camera

One of the most important settings on your camera that you need to choose is a white balance. This control allows you to set the overall color (or tone) for the scene. White is used as a reference point because it is the perfect blend of all the color channels.  When a camera is properly set up, a white object will appear neutral with no color cast. Ideally, you should set your white balance correctly before shooting in a location, but you have some flexibility to fix your footage afterwards in your editing application.

Using Auto White Balance

By default, your camera is probably set to use an automatic white balance (sometimes called AWB).  The way that auto works is that the camera will analyze the frame and create an automatic setting that attempts to neutralize any color shift.  This setting works pretty well for indoor shooting where lighting is consistent.

With that said, I am not a big fan of auto white balance.  When shooting using this setting, your camera can be sensitive to other factors, such as a passing cloud or someone walking through the frame.  Instead, it is a better idea to switch to a preset or even create your own.

Using a White Balance Preset

The presets on your camera will vary depending on the model and manufacturer.  However, they are usually easy to understand when you think about them.  Typically, the presets are named for the type of lighting they work best with:

The list of white balance presets are named for the lighting conditions they’re designed for.
  • Daylight or Direct Sunlight. This option works best for general shooting under daylight conditions where the sun is readily visible.
  • Shade. This option is used when shooting in sunlight and your subjects are in the shade. It tends to make the image more orange to compensate for the bluish tones of the shaded areas.
  • Cloudy. This setting is similar to daylight but compensates for the sky having some cloud cover (which cools down the color temperature). Many prefer this setting because it is a little warmer.
  • Tungsten or Incandescent. This white balance setting is designed for shooting indoors with standard lightbulb illumination.
  • Fluorescent. This setting works best when shooting under standard fluorescent tube lights. However, some lights are daylight balanced, which would require you to switch to the daylight setting.
  • Flash. You won’t use this option when shooting video because you can’t use a flash.

 

The same scene shot with different white balance settings produces very different results.

Manually Setting White Balance

Sometimes, you’ll want to manually set the white balance on your camera. For example, you might want to compensate for when multiple lighting sources are mixed together.  You may also want to make a change to make a shot warmer or cooler for artistic purposes.

Color Temperatures for Light Sources

TEMPERATURE             SOURCE

1,700 K                         Match flame

1,850 K                         Candle flame

2,700–3,300 K                Incandescent light bulb

3,400 K                         Studio lamps

4,100 K                         Moonlight

5,000 K                         Horizon daylight

5,500–6,000 K               Typical daylight, electronic flash

6,500 K                         Daylight, overcast

Using a Reference Image to Set White Balance

If memorizing a bunch of temperatures is too difficult and you aren’t happy with a built-in preset, it’s time to make your own preset. This is typically useful when shooting in a location that has mixed lighting (such as sunlight through a window combined with bulbs from inside).

The exact process will vary from camera to camera, but typically the process involves doing the following.

  1. Shoot a reference photo with something white in it. The white should fill most of the frame.  The subject can be a sheet of paper or a more accurate calibration target.
  2. Choose the custom white balance option in your camera’s menu.
  3. Select the reference image so the camera can calibrate itself.
  4. Visually inspect the preset’s result and ensure that skin tones and key details in the shot look natural.

 

Using a reference image lets you accurately set the white balance. In this case, a piece of white paper is used to help the camera properly measure color.

Join us each Saturday for the next installment of this weekly series.

Once you get the hang of video, be sure to monetize it by becoming a contributor to Adobe Stock.

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