February 10, 2016 at 1:40PM


Why white balance and how?

Hey filmmakers
I'm new to here. I got confused by the concept of white balance. please help me understand the concept of white balance and how to do it. Why we need the light to look white? If I shoot out doors bright sunny day, I need to set the white balance to 5600k or something to make the actual white look white then I can change the overall look in post to make it look cooler or warmer (or I can change the k a little bit in camera to have the look), did I understand the right for out doors? The I move to day in door, in the room there is a big window corved by a diffusion type curtain. The day light shine through the window. Beside the window there is a dark corner, a guy sitting in the corner , he is light by a tungsten table lamp beside him. To my eye, the lamp looks yellow and the window looks white. So for the camera, is that mean I need to set the white balance to 5600k to make the daylight to look white and the lamp to look yellow? Or what else should I do. Then night indoor shoot, all light by tungsten light. So I need to the white balance to tungsten ? To make the tungsten light look white? But why, the light looks yellow in real life right? And the white stuff also not look white in really life for example the white door or wall. Why we need to make it look more neutral ? Is that for post grading? Sorry for the confused writing because I'm really confused.
Thanks in advance


Every light source has a different color balance. So direct sunlight at mid-day might be 5600 degrees Kelvin, but sunlight in the late afternoon might be 5000 degrees Kelvin, and shade lit only by blue-sky might be 10,000 degrees Kelvin, while indoor incandescent lights might be 3000 degrees Kelvin, and crappy warm-white fluorescent lights might be 4100 degrees Kelvin.

The main reason you need to set the color balance is that lower cost cameras will "bake-in" the color when you shoot, so that you may not be able to correct the color balance when you are editing in post.

Cameras that shoot in RAW format have no set color-balance, so with RAW camera footage you can set any proper white balance when you are editing, but these cameras are expensive and the footage takes a LOT more space to store in RAW format.

Properly set-up, you can also use a good camera monitor to determine the proper white color balance of your shots as you are shooting them, but this takes practice to set-up your monitor correctly and knowing how to interpret the results. For quick and dirty shooting you can use simple color guides that state "when shooting with XXX type of lighting set your color balance to X,XXX degrees Kelvin", and with practice you can get pretty close to the correct setting.

Also watch out for "green" color casts when shooting under cheap fluorescent lights, which you can fix with some magenta filtration on your lens, or possibly in post when you are editing.

February 10, 2016 at 2:53PM

Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer

Thanks so much for the reply

Zhenhua zhang

February 11, 2016 at 12:19AM

The underlying reason to white balance is that cameras don't know what 'white' is.
Every light, every time of the day has a different kind of hue.
For the human eye the (little) shifts in hue (cause by difference in the spectrum of the light source) are no real problem. But cameras just don't know what 'white' is.
So when you 'tell' the camera which signal on the sensor is 'white', the produced colors in the recording (or in the edit if you shoot RAW) will look natural: red will be red instead of orange (too yellow) or purple (too blue).

There are a few exceptions where white balancing doesn't give real natural colors. That has always to do with light sources that don't contain the full spectrum of colors (like a rainbow contains all colors: that is white light split by waterdrop prisms). Obviously colored light (like on a stage) usually has one very dominant color, while the rest of the spectrum is either wear or missing. Some redish streetlights only submit a small part of the spectrum.
Trying the white balance in such situation often fails.

Guy mentioned the practical things :-)

February 13, 2016 at 3:43AM

Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer

You wrote: "So I need to the white balance to tungsten ? To make the tungsten light look white? But why, the light looks yellow in real life right? "

True, but we "trick" ourselves by seeing it more white than it really is, so we want to do the same in camera by shifting the white balance.

Using the proper white balance is not always appropriate. When you record a beautiful sunset you actually want those colors instead of neutralizing them. Also sometimes people record a bit warmer or colder to get the right look.

April 12, 2016 at 8:55AM

Cary Knoop

Please do check out our short movie as well. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2P8NsDx_BO8

April 16, 2016 at 2:59AM

nandhu manoj

With the exception to shooting raw you can capture few color with dslr and cameras, very small part of color of picture.
That mean you need to balance white to capture right color in this small range.

May 1, 2016 at 12:00PM

Carlo Macchiavello
Director (with strong tech knowledge)

Your Comment