How white balance effects your video

by | Jul 7, 2015

Our eyes and brains are very sophisticated. They adjust to all different lighting situations in ways that we don’t even notice. Video and photo cameras, while advanced, don’t hold a candle to our eyes, and if we don’t set up our cameras correctly, it doesn’t matter how much you spent on that camera — the results are going to bad. One of the most important settings regarding the color and quality of your image, outside of exposure, is your white balance, and that is what we’re talking about today.

What is white balance?

White-Balance-Diptic-WebWhile we frequently don’t notice it, light comes in different colors. No, I am not talking about the party bulbs you put up in your room as a kid but the lights we have in our houses — as mature adults now — and the sunlight outside. The light inside our homes is typically a more yellow light and the light from the sun is blue. The color of lights is measured in degrees Kelvin. The lower the number, the more yellow/warm the light and the higher the number, the more blue/cool.  The light bulbs in our house usually are around 3200 degrees Kelvin (3200K) and the light outside (depending on clouds, shadows, and time of day) is typically around 5500K-6500K. So, setting a white balance is also about telling the camera the color of the light that you are shooting in. Without a good white balance, your image will look totally off. Take a look at a few shots we took with both correct and incorrect white balances.

Not all light is created equal

So, up to this point, we have talked about how light comes in different colors from yellow to blue; however, there is another issue we must worry about when setting up our cameras and that is the hue of the image. Think of it this way:  white balance is the big picture and hue is the detail. Stick with me here. As our government as taken a more active role in regulating our light bulbs there has also been a decrease in the quality of the light produced from the new bulbs, CFL and LED. These new light bulbs, while they put out light that is warm and yellow (3200K), don’t put out the full spectrum of color that was in traditional light bulbs. So, what does this do? It can make your images look green and sickly. Our eyes naturally adjust so we don’t see the problem but our cameras definitely do.

There are three ways to deal with this issue: 1) put a color gel onto the light to compensate for the problem, 2) totally block the light or turn it off, or 3) fix it when you edit (the most dangerous of all three options).

Regardless of how you choose to deal with the problem, it’s an issue that really must be dealt with to make your videos look professional.  Often times, with a little bit of planning this problem can be solved.

Take your time

Taking your time to set white balancing is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your video looks “correct”. It isn’t the only thing, but it is one of the first major steps you can take. Dealing with office lights can mess it up, however, so be aware.  So to wrap this up, here are a three tips to make sure you are getting the best out of your camera before you press record.

3 tips to get it right

• If you are shooting in an office area, make sure the lights you put on your subject match the color of the lights in the rest of the office.

• Don’t mix different colored lights. If you can use natural light from windows…do it. Shut off the other lights.

• Set your white balance before you press record. Yes it can be annoying to do every time you setup or move, but it can be much more of a pain fixing it in the computer.

That’s it for talking about white balance. In our next post concerning color, we will talk about matching two different cameras. So, be sure to check back in for more info on all that goes in to getting a video with great-looking color.