White Balancing

What is white balancing? Why white balance your camera?

Videos primary colors are RED, GREEN, and BLUE. All of the colors on the screen are made by combinations of the three primary colors, RED, GREEN, and BLUE.  All of the primary colors combined create WHITE. An absence of all color creates BLACK. Setting your cameras correct level for WHITE in your scene, therefore, sets the correct levels for RED, GREEN, and BLUE, and therefore for all combinations of these colors, i.e. all of the colors in your shot.

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White balance (WB) is therefore the process of removing unrealistic color casts, so that objects which appear white in person are rendered white in your video. Proper camera white balance has to take into account the “color temperature” of a light source, which refers to the relative warmth or coolness of white light. Our eyes are very good at judging what is white under different light sources, but digital video cameras often have great difficulty with auto white balance (AWB) — and can create unsightly blue, orange, or even green color casts. Understanding digital white balance can help you avoid these color casts, thereby improving your photos under a wider range of lighting conditions.

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The image on the left shows the cool light of daylight; the image on the right shows the effects of proper white-balancing.

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Preset White Balance Settings

Here are some of the basic White Balance settings you’ll find on cameras:

    • Auto – this is where the camera makes a best guess on a shot by shot basis. You’ll find it works in many situations but it’s worth venturing out of it for trickier lighting.
    • Tungsten – this mode is usually symbolized with a little bulb and is for shooting indoors, especially under tungsten (incandescent) lighting (such as bulb lighting). It generally cools down the colors in photos.
    • Fluorescent – this compensates for the ‘cool’ light of fluorescent light and will warm up your shots.
    • Daylight/Sunny – not all cameras have this setting because it sets things as fairly ‘normal’ white balance settings.
    • Cloudy – this setting generally warms things up a touch more than ‘daylight’ mode.
    • Flash – the flash of a camera can be quite a cool light so in Flash WB mode you’ll find it warms up your shots a touch.
    • Shade – the light in shade is generally cooler (bluer) than shooting in direct sunlight so this mode will warm things up a little.

Manual White Balance Adjustments

Using presets makes it easy, but they are not always accurate. The best way to get an accurate white balance reading is to do it yourself, manually.

In essence, what you do is to tell your camera what white looks like in a shot so that it has something as a reference point for deciding how other colors should look. You can do this by placing a white card in front of the lens, at a distance from the lens where the card is in the light that you will be shooting in, use soft-focus (out of focus), and fill the frame with white. Press the White Balance button (each camcorder is a little different in this case – some require menu settings and some have a WB button on the camera body). When the WB icon stops flashing, you have set your white balance. If theicon continues flashing for a long time, there is not enough light on the card or white surface to perform a proper white balance.

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