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White Balancing Your Camcorder

Different light sources have different “color temperatures”, and any object lit with these sources will take on the cast of that source. The human vision system compensates for different light sources, so white always looks white, but camcorders sometimes need our help in determining the best white balance setting for a given situation. In other words, we have to tell the camera what white looks like, and it can then use that as a point of reference to accurately reproduce any color in the scene.

All camcorders will have “auto white balance”, or AWB, which often works just fine, but in many cases you’ll want to manually white balance to get the truest color reproduction in your recordings. Most cameras will offer WB presets such as sunlight, indoors (tungsten), fluorescent, and cloudy. Using these presets can work well in many common situations, such as “sunny outdoors”.

Some lighting situations can be difficult due to mixed lighting, such as indoor lighting mixed with sunlight coming in the windows, typical for church weddings. The color LCD or viewfinder on your camera may show the bride’s dress as having a blue or orange tint for instance. While one of the presets may improve the image, manual white balance will usually provide optimum results to ensure you record the best colors in your video.

Consult your camcorder manual for the exact steps to manually white balance your camera, as controls vary between models. Note that cameras usually have to be paused to manually set white balance – you can’t set it while actually recording (though you can switch between the various settings while recording).

After switching to manual WB mode, point the camera at something white in the scene, such as a wedding dress, table cloth, aisle runner, white shirt, etc., making sure the white object fills the entire screen (or as much of it as possible). You can use a sheet of paper if you need to, as anything white will work. Push the appropriate camera button to set the WB and then verify that the colors look good to your eye. White objects should look white without colored casts to them.

Some higher-end cameras will offer “A-B” settings which allow you to save two custom white balance settings at once. This is helpful when running back and forth between the church sanctuary and bride’s dressing room before a marriage service so you don’t have to keep re-balancing. You will also be able to switch between AWB, WB presets, and your manual WB setting as needed. If you run outside, you can just switch to the sunlight setting most likely, but don’t forget to change it when you go back indoors!

For those who like to give certain “looks” to their footage, special “white balance cards” can be purchased. These cards will offer various shades of “off-white”, and white balancing the camera off one of these cards this will throw the cast off a bit to create warmer or cooler images according to the videographer’s desires and creative vision.

White balance is critical to shooting good video, and should always be checked when changing shooting locations, even when moving from one room to another. While you can always “fix it in post”, there is no substitute for good shooting habits. The color corrector in your edit software can certainly improve a video with badly shot color, but it may not ever look as good as if you’d have used the proper white balance to start with.

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White Balancing Your Camcorder