Camcorder White Balance:
How to Get Your Camcorder to See Color the Way You Do!

Why do you need to set the camcorder white balance?

Well… your eyes adjust automatically to the correct color but sometimes your camcorder… needs just a little bit of help!

Find out why below…!

First. What Is "White" Anyway? Is It a Color or Not?

Well… It's different things to different people. That may sound kind of weird… But it's true!  You'll get a different answer as to what white is if you talk to a scientist and then talk to an artist or photographer.

A scientist... of course... Will tell you "black is not a color but white is  a color".

He or she would tell you that white is a color because if you mix red, green and blue light you get white. Take them all away = black = no color! PhysicsIt's all about light rays!

Okay… !

An artist... on the other hand would say... "Black is a color and white is not ".

He or she would tell you that obviously  if you look at something that is white… there is an absence  of color! You can see  that it's white = no color!… and black of course = a colorJust look at it…!

It's the color black !

Well… Hard argue with that…! So… Okay… 

I'll try to stand aside from the debate between scientists and artists on if white and black are actually  colors.

* Both are right in their own way. It depends on where the color is coming from... Are you mixing light rays or are you mixing (for example) pigment that reflects light rays?

Fortunately for you… no matter where  the colors are coming from … you can correct the color balance in your camcorder to accurately capture the fidelity of the colors in the scene.

All you need to do is make sure the camera's color balance is correct and that is why the camcorder white balance correction is so important!

Adjusting White Balance on a Camcorder or Digital Camera...

White balance is the adjustment on your camcorder that tells the camera what "true white" (the white you  see) looks like.

Since white is the sum of all other colors (the physics definition)... if the camcorder knows  what "true white" looks like it can then balance all the other colors correctly.

Today most camcorders used by consumers have an auto–white balance feature built-in.

The camera automatically adjusts the color balance when you point and shoot. 

This automatic white balance does a pretty good job when the lighting is stable but in more difficult or changing lighting conditions it will leave something to be desired as far as color control. 

Sometimes, even with auto-white balance, the camera does not see  the white in the scene correctly. 

This can create unsightly blue, orange, or even green color casts in your video.

The more expensive professional camcorders will have a manual camcorder white balance feature so that the camcorder can be set up to get an accurate color reproduction no matter what type of light you are shooting in.

To get the very best color control it is always preferable that you have a manual white balance feature on your camcorder.

White Balance

By the way...

The term White Balance comes from the old days... when professional video cameramen would balance their camera circuitry using a waveform monitor (like an oscilloscope).

 They could actually see the video cameras red, green and blue channels displayed on the scope and would balance these signals so that white was neutral. 

Their video camera was then ready for use!

How to Perform a Color Balance Check...

If your camcorder has a manual white balance check then you should perform a check at the beginning of every shoot and also every time the lighting conditions change.

Be especially careful when you're moving between rooms that are lit by different types of lighting (with different color temperatures) ...

Or if you're shooting outdoors and then move indoors to shoot.

Remember… your eyes adjust to whatever kind of light there is and you  see a perfect color balance.

Your camcorder doesn't do this and needs your help to reproduce accurate colors and this can be done easily by using the camcorder white balance feature.

What Are the Basic Steps to Set Your Camcorder White Balance?

Here are some very basic steps when setting your camcorder white balance.

Of course, each camera is slightly different so refer to your instructions for the precise steps on your particular camera to set the camcorder white balance.

So… Here we go with the basic steps…

  • Before you start... Check to see If you have a filter on your camcorder make sure it's correct for the lighting conditions as it will change the color temperature and throw your color balance setting off otherwise.

  • Point your camcorder at a pure white object (a pure white card or something in the scene that is very  white).

  • Make sure that most of what you are seeing in your viewfinder or LCD screen is white. (If about 80% of the frame is filled with white you should be all right).

  • Set your exposure and focus.

  • Activate the camcorder white balance circuit by pressing the button (usually it is abbreviated WB).
  • The camcorder's color balance circuit may take a few seconds to complete the operation, after which you should get a message (sometimes indicated by an icon such as aSun  or a Light Bulb  icon in your viewfinder or LCD screen) showing that the task has been completed.

You're now ready to shoot your scene!

Make sure that if the lighting conditions change that you go back through the camcorder color balance procedure so the color in the video will be rendered correctly.

Need to see  how it's done? Here's a nice video on setting a digital camera white balance manually by Marlene Hielema at ImageMaven... Enjoy...

Want to Get Creative? Changing the Color Cast of Your Video Using the White Balance Adjustment…

You can actually become very creative in changing the color of your images by using the color balance adjustment. Hollywood movie makers have used this for years to create different moods and emotions in their films.

If you're using a manual color balance adjustment you can adjust it for a different light environment than the one you're shooting in and obtain different color values.

For example, if you adjust the color balance for outdoors and shoot inside, your image will take on a blue cast. You can experiment with differing lighting situations and create different moods and atmospheres by changing the color cast of your video.

This can be a lot of fun and... you can let your imagination and creativity run wild!

Just remember the camcorder doesn't always see colors like we do and we have to help it to see them correctly.

If you do your camcorder white balance adjustment correctly and do them every time you change lighting conditions you should always get the colors you want...

And that makes for a great video...!

Have fun...!  Dan (Editor)

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