White Balance

It has recently occurred to me that a lot of students pursuing a degree in media production might not be aware of the power of the white balance.

I was working on an in class production this past week, and I was shocked to find that the professor made no mention about white balancing the studio cameras. Now, I know there is a possibility that the professor had talked about this in previous classes, but I also know that some of the students in this particular class had never taken a production class before.

They do not know about white balance, and I don’t know when they will.

White balancing is incredibly important in media production. It can be the main difference between a crisp, professional looking video and a terribly yellow/blue, amateur looking video.

When I was first taught about why we white balance, my professor told me this: We white balance because the camera is stupid and doesn’t know what white is.

Our eyes are given the amazing ability to always know what the color white looks like, no matter the situation. The camera does not have this ability. If the camera isn’t reminded what white looks like, then we end up with footage that is unnaturally yellow or unnaturally blue, depending on our filming location.

Image

This is a photo that has not been white balanced. The colors are very blue. Yes, it was quite cold on this day, but that shouldn’t be the feeling that we get from the picture.

Each camera has a different location of its white balance feature, but the process is always the same.

  1. Locate your camera’s white balance feature. This may be in a menu or a button that is generally at the front of the camera.
  2. Find something white in the scene that you are filming. For my productions, we usually have a grip hold a piece of paper horizontally for each camera to see.
  3. Zoom in on the white object so that the color white is all that is visible. Make sure that your iris is set to capture enough light in the scene and the object is in focus.
  4. Set your white balance by either the menu or the white balance button on the camera.
  5. Zoom out and frame your shot how you like.

Stylistically, some cinematographers prefer their shots to be warmer or cooler, but I find that it is always best to white balance first and then adjust the kelvin later, either on the camera or in post production. You don’t want to be stuck with footage or photos that can’t be fixed.

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