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What is white balance, how do I use the white balance control on my camcorder and and what is it for?
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White Balance

White Balance is the control that adjusts the camcorder's color sensitivity to match the prevailing color of white outdoor light, yellower indoor light, or (sometimes) greenish fluorescent light. On most camcorders, white balance may be set either automatically or manually. On some cameras, you can set white balance to closely match the exact light in which you're shooting. White balance may be set "incorrectly" on purpose to achieve special effects. Shooting outdoors with the indoor setting produces bluish "moonlight" results. Shooting indoors with the outdoor setting can achieve a romantic, "candle light" orange cast.

Indoor (incandescent) white balance

Indoor (incandescent) white balance is the camcorder's color sensitivity setting that matches the warmer cast of Tungsten-halogen lights (so-called "Quartz" movie lights, work lights, and low-voltage track lights). Household light bulbs use the same setting, though they are slightly warmer.

Outdoor (natural) white balance

Outdoor (natural) white balance is the camcorder's color sensitivity setting that matches the whiter ("cooler") cast of natural daylight. This is an average outdoor setting, because natural light can range from warm direct sunshine to cooler open shade to very cool high overcast.

Fluorescent white balance

Fluorescent white balance is the camcorder's color sensitivity setting that approximates the slightly greenish cast of cool fluorescent light. If your camcorder lacks this setting (not all models include it) set white balance for outdoors when shooting in fluorescent light. Even with a fluorescent light setting, results may be less than perfect because, unlike sunlight and incandescent light, fluorescent light does not contain all the colors of the visible spectrum.

Auto white balance

Auto white balance is a white balance setting that instructs the camcorder to analyze the color cast of the incoming light and set itself for the most pleasing results. Auto white balance may work in two ways. On less expensive units, it chooses between preset outdoor and indoor settings. On more elaborate camcorders, auto white balance fine-tunes itself continuously to adjust to changing light color.

Manual white balance

Manual white balance is a white balance setting that lets you select the overall color you prefer. It is useful in three situations: when shooting in cool fluorescent light, manually set white balance to outdoors, because the auto white balance control will sometimes produce unpleasant results. When shooting outdoors, you can achieve a bluish moonlit night look by setting the manual white balance to indoors and underexposing just slightly. When shooting indoors, you can produce a warm candle light or fire light effect by setting the manual white balance to outdoors.

Using your white balance

There are times when your light sources will have different color temperatures. The most common situation is when you shoot a subject indoors lit by an incandescent light bulb with sunlight filtering in from an outside window. The reflected light from the bulb is reddish while the sunlight is bluish. The mix of color temperatures can give an interesting look to a shot if that is what you want.

If you don't want that mix, you can adjust the color temperatures by making the incandescent light bluer or the outdoor light redder. Professional moviemakers do this by using colored gels. Gels are colored or frosted sheets of plastic that withstand heat generated by high-wattage studio lights. If they want an incandescent light to match daylight, they place a light blue gel over it.

If you don't want to deal with gels, you can use white balance. Your camcorder will most likely deal with the mix by adjusting the balance somewhere in the middle. Daylight will look a bit bluish and indoor light a bit reddish. By changing the white balance, you can make indoor light look white and daylight look very blue, or you can go the other way and make daylight look white and indoor light very red. Let's assume you want to try the first option:

1.  Find a location indoors that has a mix of daylight and incandescent light and turn on your camcorder.
2. Turn on manual white balance.
3. Your camcorder may give you three choices: daylight, indoor light, or manual setting. If the camcorder does not allow you to set it yourself, switch to indoor light and the camcorder is set. Keep in mind that this setting is based on what the manufacturer of your camcorder considers the proper incandescent color temperature. Your light actually might be redder or bluer. If you can set white balance yourself, you can get a more accurate balance.
4. With the manual setting mode selected, place a piece of white paper or cardboard so that most of the light hitting it is from the incandescent source.  

5. Point the camcorder so that the white paper fills the frame. Focus doesn't matter.
6. Press the button that sets the white balance. The white paper that had appeared slightly reddish now becomes white. When you zoom out you see that indoor light is now white and daylight is blue. 

You can also use white balance to create interesting and even unreal color balances. For example, suppose you want the light on a very blue overcast day to appear warm and sunny. You can set the white balance outdoors using a slightly bluish piece of paper or cardboard. Or you can set white balance by shooting two pieces of paper at the same time: one white and one blue. The camcorder makes the blue paper its white reference point and the scene appears reddish. You can also try experimenting with setting white balance on red or green paper for an extreme effect.


Last update: 02:14 PM Thursday, May 4, 2006


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