White Balance Tips

November 24, 2003 tips & tricks

From: Eric J. Smith, Director/Director of Photography, Puritan Films

I rarely use anything but my “Preset” white balance. Preset defaults your white balance to 3200 Kelvin degrees (except on some newer cameras where there is an ENG menu setting to switch between 3200 and 5600 Kelvin degrees). It is as if you were shooting color film, where you don’t have a white balance button, and must use filters. This usually takes some practice to train your eyes what different color temperatures your light sources are (unless you want to buy a $1,500 color temperature meter).

What is happening when you white balance is the camera’s circuits are electronically reading the voltages from the red, green, and blue circuits, and balancing them out to produce a “white” signal. If you’re in a bar with blue neon signs blaring, the blue circuit will have a higher voltage, and when you white balance, it desaturates the amount of blue in the picture. Thus you lose much of the rich blue ambient light.

I try to stay in Preset as often as I can, and make my key light source a 3200 Kelvin degree or slightly warmer source. Be careful of other light sources infringing on your key light though. I like the look of various color temperature sources though.

There are other ways to make your colors richer that are much easier and a little safer. Here’s a few:

1. Slightly decrease your exposure. This will knock down the luminance value, and increase the saturation. Auto Iris is usually the biggest culprit of desaturated images.

2. Flag off any stray light into your lens. Look at your lens and pass your hand in front of it. If a shadow passes over the glass, then your lens is being “flared”. This decreases color contrast.

3. When shooting outside in daylight, use a Polarizer. A Polarizer cuts down ambient stray light from the sky that decreases color saturation.

4. Stay away from Fluorescent and Mercury Vapor lights. These lights do not put out a full spectrum light. They predominately produce a spiked green and red light, respectively. Without getting technical, a camera that is white balanced to these lights will either have desaturated colors or will have noisy (grainy) signals.

10/3/02 from: Bob Mark:

There have been a lot of suggestions about white balancing to achieve a warmer look. An easy way to do this is to use a color gel sample book. My favorite is the “Jungle Book”. You can use color correction blue (CTB) in 1/8, 1/4 or 1/2. Just place it over your lens and white balance on a regular flat white card.

If you are under the influence of florescent lights try combining a 1/4 blue with a 1/8 green gel at the same time and then white balance. Florescent light may have a green spike and by adding the green gel you can adjust for that.

Experiment with various gels strengths and combos to get the most pleasing color. Most of all, be sure your monitor is set up correctly before white balancing! Remember, too much color shift and your subjects will look like naval oranges!

from Douglas Weathers:
When shooting surises or sunsets you really can’t make a bad shot. But to make it look even better white balance on blue and it will give it more of an “orange-yellow” look to it.

On certain cameras when you white balance it gives you the Color Temperature reading. If you have A and B sets so you can save them, try saving it at 9000K or higher and then shooting the sunrise or sunset with it.

From: Jamie, NBC-41, Kansas City
Question: I’ve heard or read somewhere that “not” white balancing in some settings will give you much richer color. Recently I started “experimenting” with this…and it’s particularly true in bar settings or concerts where colored gels might already be in place. BUT, when does this work well and when will I get burned by it?

Replying to Jamie at NBC-41, Kansas City (set it and forget it?)

Jamie, I’ve found that you’ve always got to white balance. What you want to remember when shooting under gelled lights is that the gels were placed there to achieve a look. If you white balance under an amber gel, for instance, you’ll be color shifting your video away from what the lighting director had planned. The best way I’ve found is to white balance on something under a white halogen or tungsten light-a sheet of music, or even a shirt, provided it looks white to your eye. That way, the gelled lights will appear as designed.

BTW, when I work an accident scene at night, I always stop down and white balance on a steady burning (not flashing) headlight on a fire truck or police car. That way I know the red and blue lights of the emergency vehicles will appear as they should.

Jim Dean, Adelphia News 4, Forsyth County, GA

From: Jina Burn
Want your shots taken in shadow to be warmer and have no 812 or light? White balance through 1/8th blue or 1/4 blue in your Cinegel swatchbook. Learned this from an old dog from Virginia many years ago…btw: the swatch book will also help you out when shooting under the hideous brown sodium(?) lights so popular in many heavy duty repair shops.


  1. […] sure to read through our White Balancing tips for ideas on getting your camera ready for beautiful […]

  2. Trevor Brine CBC Edmonton Canada says:

    White balancing I find is an art. The angle, placment, and position is crucial. I will almost never go with the white balance I get. The reason is, when you get a white balance it is making the white card “white” under the current lighting conditions. The image will not look the same as if you were looking at it with your own eye. Example: Sun going down you bring out you white card, just by looking at the card you can see it has an orange look to it. If you were to white balance it would make it white. Probably a low clour temperature. Not what it is supposed to look like. The footage will turn out blue. Now to quickly warm up the shot, look up. Take a white balance in the horizon. A liitle blue and a little white from the clouds will bring up your colour temperature. It works better if your iris is at a lower F. stop that way you can get it out of focus. Simply keep tilting up until you get the clour temperature you desire. If the horizon is too blue. Find a cloud – zoom in on the edge and blur it out of focus and keep white balancing till you get what you want.

    Trevor Brine, CBC Edmonton Canada

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