Videography 101 – White Balance

Hi again everyone and welcome. As I had mentioned in my previous post, I am going to go over some of the buttons/features that you may find on your camcorders.

Here is a brief list of the features that we will be covering:

-          White Balance
-          Iris Setting (aperture)
-          Shutter Speed/Angle
-          Backlight
-          Focus (manual vs. auto)
-          Zoom
-          Frame Rate (fps)

The above items or settings are commonly found on most consumer camcorders as well as professional Cameras. In principal, they all work the same; the key is in understanding what they do and how one may affect the other.

Today I will provide a brief explanation of White Balance then in subsequent posts I will go into more detail about the others individually.

WHITE BALANCE

White balance can also be thought of as color balance. Its function is to give the camera a reference to “true white” — since white light is the sum of all other colors, this function tells the video camera what the color white looks like so the camera will then record all colors correctly.

Incorrect white balance shows up as video recorded with orange or blue tints, as demonstrated by the following examples:

                                                                       

 

Most camcorders have an “auto-white balance” feature, which is activated when the camera operates in “full auto mode”. When on automatic, the camera performs its own white balance without any input from the operator. Unfortunately, the auto-white balance function is not particularly reliable and it is usually preferable to perform this function manually in order to obtain the best results.

White balancing can make the difference between a video that looks natural and one that looks a little off, giving the audience reason to feel as though something isn’t right.It is important to note that even the slightest shift in color can spark a subconscious uneasiness in the mind of the viewer. We know when something isn’t right, especially when looking at skin tones  and even clouds in the sky. Things may look a bit too blue (cool) or yellow (warm) as in the examples above.

This problem is caused by a difference between how cameras see things and how our eyes perceive the world. Different types of light sources “splash” surfaces with a slightly different color. This is what is called color temperature and what the cameras adjust for.

Color Temperature in video and digital photography is measured in kelvins (K). Different light sources give off a different temperature making the reflected color from objects slightly different. It is for this purpose that most manufacturers include several “presets “ on video cameras that allow for a quick color balance setting.

This table may be found in some manuals that illustrates the most comon settings found. Note that these settings are also commonly found on most point and shoot digital photography cameras.

Video White Balance

The custom setting is the most useful when shooting in environments where there are several types of light present and where the color temperature is abnormal. It will also deliver the most accurate color tones.

So where are these settings found?

The WB settings may be found either on a dial or button located on the camera body but most commonly on a “soft setting” within a menu. Some cameras may not have these settings but have an option for “full automatic” & “Manual”. Take some time to find these settings as well the location of your WB button before continuing, and yes, you may have to locate your manual!

Setting a White Balance

This procedure should be performed at the beginning of every shoot and every time the lighting condition changes. It is especially important to re-white balance when moving between indoors and outdoors and sometimes even between rooms that are lit by different kinds of lights such as incandescent and fluorescent or daylight from windows.

It also important to custom white balance frequently during early morning and late evening since the daylight color changes quickly and significantly as the sun rises or sets. When in manual mode, perform regular white balances at intervals during these periods.

How to perform a manual white balance.

  1. Point your camera to a pure white subject, so that most of what you’re seeing in the viewfinder is white.  You can have someone hold up a white sheet of paper or you can look for a white surface that is well lit. Ensure that the surface be fairly matte (non-reflective). For best results ensure to fill your viewfinder with the white surface by either zooming in or physically coming in closer with the camera. If it is not possible to fill your viewfinder, ensure to at least fill about 50-80% of the frame.
  2. For now, set your exposure and focus to automatic.
  3. Activate the white balance by pressing the WB button or throwing the switch. The camera may take a few seconds to complete the operation, after which you should get a message (or icon) in the viewfinder.
    Hopefully this will be telling you that the white balance has succeeded – in this case, the camera will retain its current color balance until another white balance is performed.
    If the viewfinder message is that the white balance has failed, then you need to find out why.  The most common reason is too little light which can be easily corrected by increasing your exposure.

Experiment

Now that we have some basic understanding of what white balance is and how to set it manually or by using a preset, I encourage you to go out and experiment with your equipment and see what different results you can achieve by altering these settings.

I recommend that you find a room with one type of light (incandescent, fluorescent or daylight)  then shoot the same scene over again each time with a different WB preset (if available). After shooting using the presets attempt a custom WB and compare the results.

If your equipment does not have presets, you can still perform a good experiment. Find two adjacent rooms that have different types of light (one lit with incandescent bulbs and the other with fluorescent).  Perform a custom WB in one room then while recording footage, walk into the other. You will notice a dramatic change in terms of how the scene looks when you enter the other room.

You might want to repeat this exercise using the camera in Auto-WB mode and observe how the camera will slowly adjust to the new WB setting as you enter the new room.  You may notice that the color in your view finder will change slowly and will adjust to this new environment.

I mentioned before that the automatic setting, although useful, may also be very unreliable under certain situations where more than one type of light source is present thus throwing off the true value.  You may find this situation especially in rooms or areas that are lit with fluorescent or incandescent bulbs that also have large windows that spill daylight into the room.

Your camera does not know what your subject is or where you intend to primarily shoot. In a professional and controlled environment, the daylight would be suppressed by either overpowering it using very powerful lights or by using “scrims” (pantyhose type material that reduces the intensity of light) outside of the windows. This technique “balances” the light and eliminates undesired changes in WB and more importantly balances exposure levels. In the world of amateur video this is rarely a possibility so choices and sacrifices must be made in order to obtain the best results.

First you must determine where “the action” will be taking place: is it primarily in the “daylight zone” or “bulb zone”?  The answer to this question will help determine the best WB setting to use. If you leave your camera in the auto-WB mode, chances are that you will get unwanted color shifts throughout your video.

Again the best way to understand this is to practice and experiment with your equipment. The best part is that when you understand the nuts and bolts you will know how to make the most of any situation.

I will leave you with this thought from Greg Kinnear:

“Part of filmmaking is always a guessing game, and part of it is always a game of trust.”

Next up: Aperture Settings (Iris).

Videography 101 – part 1

Hi everyone and welcome to my Video Production Tips & Tricks for Beginners Blog.

We live in an era of exciting and new technology in which consumer grade photographic and video equipment are capable of producing high quality images and video at an affordable price. That’s the sales pitch that you get at major electronics retail stores: “great affordable equipment”. However, great equipment doesn’t even win half of the battle if you don’t understand how it works or how to use it.

It is a common and misguided notion that photography and video are “easy”. Many assume that the ability to aim a camera at something or someone, frame the subject then get it into focus and press a shutter/record button makes them a Photographer or Videographer.

Sure it looks easy and like loads of fun, but becoming professionals in our fields takes many years of education, learning and understanding of the technical and creative side of our respective crafts. This is very often taken for granted by the general public.

Having said that, a person not looking to make a living at photography & video is not likely to invest in years of education and training in the field. This however does not mean that they are sentenced to produce lousy home films. A little knowledge can make a night and day difference in the most amateur home films and render some very satisfying results that friends and family will enjoy and praise!

As a videographer and editor with over 10 years of experience in film and video, I’ve seen my share of horrible shots. Fortunately, that has not been the norm in the professional world but I cannot say the same for home movies. So then the question arises: What makes one shot good and another bad? It’s not always as obvious as some might think and we will analyze that.

So, I have to ask: how well can you use your video camera?

Video cameras are all the same in terms of how they work. They do vary in quality and all the “bells and whistles”.  There are cameras that have specific uses such as for TV, security, endoscopes, etc. and then there is the “Camcorder”: a flexible video camera that has many uses yet is compact enough to allow one to do some pretty cool things. Things that we can’t do with a broadcast camera.

Next there is technique, the do’s and don’ts of shooting film. Yes, there are rules and they are there to be broken, but not without understanding WHY. This is very important.

I am going to take you through a journey through two landscapes of film-making: The Technical and The Creative. Although they are very different in nature and some may argue that each occupies an opposite hemisphere of the brain, one cannot work successfully without the other.

It is my hope that these posts help the novice home film-maker to better understand their equipment and learn a little bit of technique that is not only useful, but fun!

For my next post, I will visit the camera and some of those mysterious buttons and what they do,  then I will touch a little on technique.

I will leave you with a quote from Mr. Robert Altman: “Filmmaking is a chance to live many lifetimes”…