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Consistent White Balance for Live Events

When videotaping live events such as wedding ceremonies, school plays, concerts or dance recitals, the videographer typically has no control whatsoever over the lighting. To make matters worse, the lighting may be constantly changing during the event.

A church may have stained glass windows, meaning any entering sunlight may be tinted by the color of the glass. In this case, manually white-balancing the camera may produce good colors, but what happens when the outside light coming in alternates between sunny and cloudy? It can have adverse effects on the white balance. Also, cameras set up at different angles in the church may produce inconsistent colors due to the mixing of electric lighting and window lighting, resulting is mismatched clips when mixing footage from two or more cameras.

Stage plays and dance recitals will usually have mood lighting applied, with different scenes having unique lighting treatments to set certain moods. There is no simple way to compensate for all the different setups. Most camcorders allow one custom WB preset, and some now offer two manual presets (A and B), but even two presets will likely not cover the range of lighting you will encounter. You also may not even have an opportunity to test the lighting to set your white balance prior to the event.

Many videographers will forego manual white balance and simply set all cameras to the same preset, such as incandescent. While the colors in the recorded video may be off, the idea is that all the cameras will have a matching image and the colors can be corrected in the nonlinear editing suite. Once an appropriate color fix is created in the software, it can be applied to video from all cameras for matching results.

I recently did a two-camera shoot of a school play. Some scenes were well-lit, while others were very dark to simulate evening scenes, and many scenes made heavy use of pink gels, giving the scenes an overly pink tint. I simply set both cameras to the “incandescent” WB factory preset, and only changed the exposure during the shoot, leaving the WB constant.

In post, using Adobe Premiere Pro CS3 with the Matrox RT.X2 hardware, I was able to quickly color correct each scene from the close-up camera. I then used “Copy” and “Paste Attributes” to apply the identical effects to the wide camera clips, creating a perfect match when cutting between cameras. There is no possible way I could have attempted changing white balance between scenes during the live shoot.

There are certainly many situations where a custom white-balance setting may give the best results if you know the lighting will remain constant for the duration of the shoot. For ever-changing situations as described in this article, your best bet may be to choose a common preset for all cameras and color correct in post. Each situation is unique, and as a video professional you will need to make the call on each shoot yourself.

For the play I’m editing, I’m very happy with the speed and ease with which I’ve reached good, matched colors throughout the production. Leaving the white balance alone during the shoot allowed me to focus on composition and exposure, which was enough work running two cameras by myself! The end results speak for themselves.

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Consistent White Balance for Live Events