How To White Balance A Camera | Ultimate Guide For Videographers

Updated on October 28, 2021

A right white balance has a few purposes for a videographer or cinematographer. It can fix color temperature issues in a video, it can retain the same color temperature across different cameras and lenses in multi-camera shoots, and it can make sure that the camera is rendering colors accurately. So how to white balance a camera? In this article, we will explain the following:

  • Basic white balance terminology for videographers
  • How to set a white balance in your camera within daylight?
  • How to set a white balance in your camera within the nighttime?
  • How to apply white balance under artificial light conclusion?
  • Is it worth doing extreme compensation in white balance?

#1: Basic video white balance terminology

Before starting, let's go through some basic terminology and language that is often used when talking about white balance in the video.

  • WB stands for "White Balance"
  • Temp: a numerical representation of color temperature.  Usually expressed in Kelvin (K)
  • Kelvin (K) is a temperature scale used to indicate the warmth of a light source. If your white balance is set to 3000K it means that your image is being lit by a 3000K light source. If your white balance is set to 5500K it means that your image is being lit by a 5500K light source, and so on. The lower the number, the warmer your light source will be. The higher the number, the cooler your light source.
  • Tint - a numerical representation of the green/magenta color cast in an image. Usually expressed in mireds.
  • Mired is the inverse of a Kelvin degree, so if it's 10,000K, then its value is -400, if it is 2000K, then it will have a value equal to 400.

#2: How to set a white balance in your camera within daylight

If you're shooting within daylight or in an area with a relatively constant color temperature, it could be useful to set a custom white balance in order to get a more accurate rendition of the colors.  You can do this easily by setting your camera on manual mode and following these steps:

1) Find something that is pure white or neutral grey in color, such as a piece of paper, a lit wall, etc.  Make sure it's within the frame.

2) Press your camera's WB button to open up the white balance menu and use the selector dial or push buttons to set a preset manual white balance.

3) Take off auto-focus from whatever you're shooting and make sure you keep a distance between your camera and your white piece of paper.  This is important for the next steps.

4) Zoom in on whatever you're shooting until it fills up 80% or more of the screen.  This is also important because it will allow you to see subtle color temperature changes more easily.

5) Take a picture of your white piece of paper and check the result.  Make sure that it is pure white, with no color tint at all.

6) Repeat steps 4 and 5 until you get a perfect result or as close as possible.  

7) Save this custom white balance under a specific name so that you can quickly apply it later if needed.

8) You're done! From now on, your custom white balance is set.

#3: How to set a white balance in your camera within the nighttime

Choosing the right white balance at night can be tricky. This is mostly because the light sources we use at night usually have a very strong color cast, such as street lights or car headlights. In this case, even with the right white balance setting, you might end up with colors that are too blue or too orange and not what you're looking for. My advice here would be to pay attention to the main light source, then use it as your reference point to set your WB.

#4: How to apply white balance under artificial light?

Setting your WB under artificial light is not even easier but it also recommended, this is because artificial lighting (as long as it is in your control), is not as tricky as natural lighting.

Natural lighting tends to change, for example, despite the sun is shining outside, after 5-10 minutes your environment can be very different, especially on sunsets and sunrises. So first thing when you have an artificial light you have to check what temperature is the bulbs. You can do that with a cheap color meter, or just google your bulb's name and you'll find the temperature for sure. Once you've done this, it's time to set your camera white balance manually.

#5: Is it worth doing extreme compensation in white balance?

The answer to this question depends on what type of look you want. If you look for a creative look then maybe yes, but the general answer is BIG no, and there is the reason behind it. When you try to compensate your color temperature too much, your video footage starts to look unnatural. In order to keep the natural look, it is always best to find the right time of the day or just set up proper lighting to get the color temperature that you seek.

Final Thoughts

So to sum up everything, while setting WB is not that easy a task as it looks at first, it is always better to take your time and try to get the right balance from the beginning. If you see that you need a little bit more cold or warm color temperature, just try to go step by step and try not to overdo with WB settings. When it comes to WB it is better too little, than too much, because you can always enhance your WB further in the post-production stage.

If you enjoyed reading this article, don't hesitate to check out my other articles as well. In case you have a question or would like to add something, feel free to write a comment down below! Thanks!

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