Few problems will plague a videographer more than white balance. It’s an adjustment that takes time out of your shooting and causes constant problems when transitioning between lighting conditions.
Correcting for these dramatic changes in lighting takes a little time and effort on the part of the person working the camera, and this can result in a loss of that “perfect shot.”
Amateur photographers and video producers may struggle with achieving an accurate white balance manually, and automatic white balancing makes it really easy to just pick up the camera and hit record, regardless of what’s going on in the scene.
In general, automatic white balance has come a long way in recent years as cameras have become more attuned to achieving that perfect neutral grey in various situations. Unfortunately, the technology still can’t compete with the eyes and instincts of an experienced videographer.
In this article we’ll take a look at a few techniques used to refine white balance in order to achieve the best results during editing.
Automatic White Balance
You can opt to use automatic white balancing (AWB) which will attempt to bring the average color of the video to a neutral gray or focus on what the camera believes is the most neutral color in the shot and white balance to it. This isn’t always accurate, though it can work wonders when you’re in a rush to get the shot.
One easy way to white balance using AWB is to hold a white sheet of paper in front of the lens (about a foot away) until the white balancing kicks in. This may undo itself if your subject and background are mostly yellow or blueish, unless you can lock in that detected white balance. A lot of cameras call this lockable balancing Custom White Balance.
Gray Cards and Post Production
If you plan on doing a lot of video, you may want to invest in something called a gray card. This is basically a neutral gray index card that is comprised of exactly the same levels of red, green, and blue.
You can place the gray card next to your primary subject for a few seconds before shooting. This will give your editor something to refine the white balance off of as it will be a neutral point to direct the eyedropper, which is lit the exact same way as your subject. The result is a much easier and more accurate white balance during post production.
You can also use the white balance eyedropper (a key component to many video editing programs out there) to an object that is either as white as you can find or the darkest black you can find. This will likely not be very accurate, but it can give you a good starting point on which to refine the color correction from. Often, I’ll use white lettering in someone’s t-shirt or a dark black object sitting in a shadow if I can find one. Either way, a little extra effort before a take can make all the difference.
Never underestimate the power of camera presets. In your camera’s white balance menu, you probably have icons for sunlight, tungsten, incandescent, and fluorescent light. If you’re in a hurry, these settings should help you white balance in a snap. They’ve been designed to accommodate the most typical light sources out there, and I’ve found them to be invaluable assets once you get used to various shooting conditions.
Mixed lighting happens all the time, even in homes. My living room is lit by a yellowish CFL while my adjoined kitchen has fluorescent lighting. Shooting in conditions like these aren’t optimal for using presets, but shooting outdoors absolutely would be. You may even have a preset for a cloudy day, which is slightly cooler (bluer) than a sunny day.
We think of sunlight as being this true source of white light, but the reality is that our sun is a yellow dwarf, meaning that at certain times of day the light it produces is yellower than others where a great deal of light is diffused by our predominantly blue sky.
This means that when the sun is on the horizon, it gives off a warmer hue than if it were high noon. Even the times of year can make a slight difference in color.
No matter what your preferred method of white balancing, it’s important to remember that this is a key first step in getting the video ready for editing. White balancing makes a huge difference in how your audience perceives the end product.
Skin tones, grass, and other common elements don’t look right when they’re even a little off. Your audience will pick this up right away, even if they can’t name exactly what’s wrong. Meanwhile, a perfectly balanced image can appear dramatically more professional and easier to watch.
What are your tips for achieving the perfect white balance in video?