Custom White Balance and Color Matching for Video

Color matching is an important process for filmmakers.

It allows for consistent lighting across scenes (making shots taken at different times look like they were shot at the same time), makes more less or more flattering results on people, and sets the overall tone and mood of an environment. Here are the basics of color temperature and a brief primer on the science of light and color. This information is also helpful for photographers!

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Color temperature is measured in degrees kelvin (K). Often, you will hear that outdoor lighting is measured to be around 5600K and indoor lighting, also known as tungsten, is set to about 3200K. To achieve that high level of cinematic professionalism in your shoots, you want to ensure that you understand the basics of what it takes to match your colors when shooting a project. If you want to match natural daylight from a window to a subject’s face but the whole scene is being shot at 9pm inside a studio, you want to ensure that the light coming through looks like daylight and not a grocery store fluorescent. It helps to know the difference between the degrees kelvin of typical grocery store lighting and natural daylight so that you can replicate what you want on the spot.

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Let’s start off with proper white balance. What is white balance? It is the availability to control and adjust the camera’s color sensitivity to match the prevailing color of the overall look, whether you want it outdoor (cooler), indoor (warmer), or fluorescent (greener). Many DSLR and mirrorless cameras allow for auto or manual white balance. To determine what the correct “white” for your scene is, it’s best that you show your camera “true white” under the light you will be shooting under.

To do this, you can use a professional white card or a heavy-stock piece of white paper. Have your actor hold the white card and fill your frame with the card under the light you’re going to use for your scene. Take a shot and then select “Custom White Balance” wherever it is in your camera’s menu system. The shot you just took with the white card will come up as an option for your camera to take a balance reading off of. Now use that custom reading for the remainder of your shoot and then you’ll know that the results will look consistent!

10 Steps to Setting Custom White Balance on Most DSLRs
1) Set the camera to M mode (you can’t create a custom setting in automatic mode).
2) Set the White Balance setting to Auto (AWB).
3) Set the camera to manual focusing (being in focus doesn’t matter).
4) Frame the shot so that your white card fills the viewfinder.
5) Make sure that your exposure settings and external lighting settings are where you want them to be for your shoot.
6) Take the picture of your reference card.
7) The camera will use this picture to establish your custom White Balance setting, which you’ll reach next.
8) Display Shooting Menu 2 and highlight Custom White Balance (exact menu location may vary).
9) The image you shot should appear in the display with a message that tells you that the camera will only display that image and others that are compatible with the custom white balancing feature. If your picture doesn’t appear, press the right or left cross key to scroll to it.
10) Press Set/OK to select the displayed image as the basis for your new custom white balance reference.

Your White Balance setting is now stored. Your custom White Balance setting remains stored until the next time you take a new reading and work through these steps. The setting should remained stored until you change it – even in video mode!

You must do this white balance process every time your lighting condition changes. It’s especially important to adjust white balance when you go from shooting outdoors to indoors and vice versa. Why do I have to white balance? While technology can write essays for us or, heck, even fold our clothes, cameras need to be told what the human eye can automatically do. The color sensitivity of camera sensors need to have “true white” programmed in for the sensors to under what “white” is supposed to mean under your specific shooting conditions. Manually adjusting white balance is what is recommended for optimum results.


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The breakdown of basic color physics is important to understand. Electromagnetic radiation is a visible light form that determines its color. The frequency of light in the visible color spectrum is between 390 nanometers to 700 nanometers (nanometers= billionths of a meter).

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For example, a red surface will absorb all the wavelengths of light except for the color red, which is reflected and is what is registered by our brains as red. Color is light. The perceived color of light and the nature of the material bouncing off the object are factors of how we see things. In order to manipulate color in filmmaking, you must have a basic understanding of the different components that break down color.

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Hue: wavelength of light on its place along the color spectrum.
Chroma: saturation or strength of color.
Value: lightness or darkness of a color
Temperature: perceived warmth or coolness of a hue.

White light is a mix of colors (wavelengths) of the visible spectrum. This is why white light can be split by a prism into different wavelengths as it contains everything. Every light source we encounter on set does have a color – it emits an uneven mix of wavelengths and the “whites” in our scene are determined by the color of the light illuminating our shots.

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With all this in mind, if you’re filming indoors during the day under tungsten lighting while the outdoor light is coming through a window, you’ll need to make a decision on how you want to match color. If you set your white balance to 3200k, then your daylight will appear more blue. If you set it to 5600k, then your tungsten lighting will appear very orange. You might have to compromise which color you opt for or you can take things into your own hands and cover up the window with duvetyne or black velour and just use your tungsten lighting. You can also use gels to alter your lighting temperatures.

By understanding color temperature, you’ll be able to plan ahead and identify problematic lighting conditions. Being able to correctly set your color temperature in camera is easy but make sure you don’t forget to adjust it every time a light setting is changed so you’re not stuck adjusting temperatures in post production. Now that you know the ins and outs of color matching, you can find more information on how to shoot high quality with our guide on the best DSLR for video.

Below are some great beginner-friendly continuous lighting kits for small-set video projects to help get you started.

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* Color Rendering Index: The ability of a light source to reveal the colors of various objects faithfully. The highest possible value is 100 with most LEDs not surpassing 98.
**As of this writing.