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Understanding White Balance & Video

When shooting video, it is important to achieve a white balancing setting that gives you the desired color temperature at the point of acquisition.  While you can apply filters or effects during editing, these can add additional processing time to your workflow. Taking the time to manually white balance your camera will reduce shifts in color temperature as the subjects move in the scene.  The last thing you want is shifts in color.

White balance presets

All digital cameras have some white balance presets for common lighting types. These may get your white balance close enough, but for high quality work, you’ll want to create a custom white balance.  The chart below outlines some typical color temperature settings for different light sources.


Temperature source

The following list is a rough guide of the color temperature of various light sources. Note that this table will get you close, but it won’t be absolutely accurate. Paint color, light fixture design, time of day and more can all shift the temperature one way or the other. To be precise, you’ll want to consider creating a measured white balance from a reference card.

  • 1,700 K Match flame
  • 1,850 K Candle flame
  • 2,700–3,300 K Incandescent lightbulb
  • 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


White balance has a color temperature component, which describes the change from yellow to blue, but it also has another component, the green-magenta axis, which is generally referred to as Tint. Unfortunately, there’s no neat table of values you can use to set tint.  If you are dialing in a setting, this one is generally a matter of trial and error. Once again, this is most accurately set by taking a reading from a reference card or using a good color meter.


Measured white balance

Many cameras also allow you to measure the color of the light falling on a subject and create a custom white balance. In most cases, this is done by shooting putting the camera in a custom mode and shooting a still photo of a neutral-colored object. Ideally this is done with a reference card made specifically for this purpose, but you can also use a piece of white paper in a pinch.  Check your camera’s manual for information on white balance.


Camera Presets

In addition to White Balance presets, many DSLR cameras offer presets for how the images are toned.  Camera makers have names such as: “standard”, “portrait”, “landscape”, “neutral”, and “faithful” for these presets. These are essentially a combination of tone curves and saturation settings applied (baked-in) to the movies.

Generally speaking, these styles or looks should be avoided.  To alter these “looks” later is problematic as much of the information is discarded (leading to problems like too much contrast or crushed blacks).  For this reason, choose to shoot with a “neutral”, “flat” or “natural” style.  You can achieve better control over color grading and image stylization during the postproduction stage in your video editing application.


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