Color temperature is a crucial component of any scene in a video because it not only serves as a distinct tone of the shot but also invokes a certain type of feeling or mood among audiences. It is important to note that changes in color temperature seen by the human eye are not necessarily seen the same way through a camera. When shooting outdoors in bright sunlight, you need to adjust the color temperature to represent the colors you see accurately on tape. Then when you move indoors, you will need to readjust the color temperature again to match what you see this time accurately on tape. This process of adjustment is called white balancing.
Understanding Color Temperature
Color temperature is usually measured in degrees Kelvin (K). Most often, you will be using either one of these two light sources – daylight (5600K) when shooting outside and tungsten (3200K) when shooting inside. A light source with a higher color temperature has more blue light than a light source with a lower color temperature. This means that higher color temperatures (over 5000K) are considered “cool”, while lower color temperatures (under 5000K) are considered “warm”.
Confused? Well, just check out the chart above. In the chart, you will see that the lower the Kelvin value, the more orange the color of the light will be. Conversely, the higher the Kelvin value, the more blue the color of the light will be. In simple terms, according to what your camera sees, daylight shines blue. So, setting the color temperature to 5600K lets your camera know to add orange to the scene to make the color “neutral” or white. At the opposite end, when shooting indoors, your camera needs to know to add blue to the scene to make it “neutral”, which is when you will set the color temperature to 3200K.
Manual White Balance
Setting your camera’s white balance manually is usually your best shot at getting the most accurate color reproduction of what you see on location on camera. Simply set your camera to the manual white balance mode and place a white sheet of paper, card or fabric in front of the camera. Then, zoom in until you fill your viewfinder with the white object and activate the white balance button, which zeroes the value so that the white object is deemed as “neutral”. By doing this, the camera will then adjust and balance the ratios of the other colors in the shot, using the white object as a reference, so that the shot appears “neutral”.
Preset White Balance
Besides being able to set a manual white balance, every camera will also offer a number of different color temperature presets. Each preset has a stored color temperature in its memory or an internal filter that is activated when selected. These make it very easy to change the look of the video without having to adjust advanced color temperatures. While not as accurate as changing the white balance manually, presets are nice for saving time if you’re moving in and out of different light sources and locations.
Types of Preset White Balance Settings
AUTO – In this setting, the camera sensors makes the best guess as to what the white balance is and picks what it determines to be the best setting. Auto is very useful when moving around interiors and exteriors that have changing light sources and variable available light, or when time makes it impractical to manually white balance the camera.
INCANDESCENT – Represented by an icon of a regular household light bulb. Under normal circumstances, incandescent lighting has a lot of red and yellow in it, producing a “warm” look. And sometimes, too much of this red can be overwhelming. So, this setting is used to normalize the red out and create a more natural look. Mainly used indoors with normal lighting.
FLUORESCENT – Represented by an icon of a fluorescent tube. Under normal circumstances, fluorescent lighting creates an overwhelmingly green cast, which on people, creates something that does not look normal or healthy. So, this setting is used to filter the green and add some warmth to the image.
DAYLIGHT – Represented by an icon of a shining sun. Very useful for instances with bright sunlight, this setting filters out some of the bluish cast that the sun can add.
FLASH – Represented by an icon of a lightning flash. This setting is best used when shooting indoors and the on-camera flash is the dominant light source.
CLOUDY – Represented by an icon of a cloud. Clouded sunlight adds a blue cast to the scene, so this setting is used to filter out some of the blue. Best used on an overcast day when direct sunlight is rarely seen.
SHADE – Represented by an icon of a house with shade cast to the side. Shaded sunlight can add a blue cast to the scene, so this setting filters the blue and adds a little warmth to the shot.
K – Arguably the most important white balance setting, the “K” setting encompasses a range from 2500K to 10000K and allows you to check your images and adjust accordingly, instead of settling for a preset. In simplest terms, the higher the “K” value, the more orange the image becomes; and the lower the “K” value, the more blue the image becomes.
Using Color Correction Gels
Besides the on-camera white balance settings, you can also make use of color correction gels to correct color temperature. This is especially useful when you have conflicting light sources in the same shot. Say for example you’re filming indoors under tungsten lighting but you have daylight coming through the window, you will come to realise that there is no perfect white balance setting you can use to make your video look “neutral”. If you set your white balance to 3200K, the daylight colors will appear blue, and if you set your white balance to 5600K, the tungsten colors will appear orange. This is where the color correction gels come in. You can either place a color correction blue gel over the tungsten lighting to make it look like daylight and set your white balance to 5600K; or place a color correction orange gel over the window and set your white balance to 3200K.
As with every function and setting on your camera, it requires some experimentation and practise to get right. Now, there’s no need to adhere rigidly to any of the numbers given here for your color temperature settings. Always remember that videography is a way for creative expression. So take your camera off auto and have fun experimenting with different white balance settings at locations with different light sources. With a greater understanding of these settings, you will gain more creative control and will be able to create accurately represented and professional looking videos very easily.