Understanding White Balance | A Guide For Beginners

Have you ever recorded a video and noticed an odd bluish or orange tent to the footage? If so, the likely culprit is your white balance settings. When it comes to making video content, there are a lot of moving parts. From the gear you choose to work with, to framing choices, and locations, there’s a lot to keep track of. One of the most important aspects to making sure your footage comes out the way you intended it to, is to make sure your camera settings are correct.

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There are the big four that most people talk about, Frame Rate, Shutter Speed, ISO and Aperture. And while these are incredibly important, your white balance setting is equally significant. Even if you get the “big four” correct, an incorrect white balance setting will ruin your results. There are things you can do to help yourself out in post (editing process) but there’s only so much you can do. And it’s always best to get your footage as close to the end product as possible. 

So what is white balance exactly?

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What is White Balance?

In a nutshell, white balance is a setting that helps you achieve natural looking colors within your image. It tells your camera how to interpret the color of incoming light. Unlike our eyes (and brain) your camera needs to be told what it is looking at. The setting tells your camera what “white” is within your chosen frame and then it adjusts the rest of the colors accordingly, which is why we call it “white balance”.

There are quite a few ways to white balance correctly. I’ll talk about that below!

How Do You Measure White Balance?

White balance is measured in Kelvin degrees. Most DSLR, mirrorless, and video cameras have a function to dial it in based on the kelvin measurement. Once you get to that setting, you’ll see K and then a number right after it like K3200.

How Do You Apply It?

An easy way to begin understanding how to set your white balance is to see how light is interpreted in kelvin in a chart:  

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So here you see that the lower the number, the light will appear more warm/orange. The higher the number, the light will appear more cool/blue. If you are in a situation where you can not control the light, you’ll want to understand how the light in your space will be interpreted, and this graph is a good thing to keep in mind. 

If you have continuous lights, then you’ll want to know what type of light you have. Some video lights are tungsten based (3200 kelvin, which is more warm/orange), some are daylight based (5600 which is more cool/blue) and some are bicolor where you can dial in the exact kelvin you want.

The idea here is that you want to think about where you are filming, what type of light will be present and how that will affect your white balance setting choice. The rule of thumb is to set it to the main source of light (key light), or the light that is most present in the space.

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How Do You White Balance?

There are a variety of ways to white balance. One of the simplest, is to use the presets already available in your camera. Almost all video cameras have white balance presets available. You’ll likely see a few choices, Auto, tungsten, fluorescent, Daylight, cloudy, flash, shade, kelvin and custom. These presets automatically balance based on commonly known lighting situations. Alot of indoor locations use tungsten or fluorescent lights which is why those presets are a good choice. If you’re using natural light, then daylight, cloudy, or shade may work out for you. Auto is a good choice for “run and gun” filming where you need move quickly from one location to another.

However, these presets are not perfect and you may find that your footage is still not properly white balanced when you use these settings.

Another option is to manually adjust your white balance settings using the kelvin measurement. This is a little more advanced but it does produce better results once you get used to it.

Another option is to custom white balance, which is the most advanced technique. In order to custom white balance, you’ll need to bring a white balance or a grey card. You will hold the card in your frame but this is the most accurate way. 

I can say that in most cases you can probably get away with the autowhite balance settings or use the manual Kelvin. I personally like to manually adjust via the kelvin setting.

Get your settings right!

I hope this post helps you as you aim to make the best video content possible! 

Olivia J

Olivia J is a video producer, writer, and director specializing in corporate video, events, documentaries and film. To see some of her work visit oliviaj.me