Create a Custom White Balance for HDSLR Video

How do you capture natural and accurate colors in your HDSLR video footage and keep them consistent when you’re shooting with multiple cameras? Keep a white balance target stashed in your bag, and it will take you just a few minutes to nail the color for your shoot—and save yourself hours of postproduction time later. Special guest Victor Ha explains how in this tip from HDSLR Video Bootcamp for Photographers.

At this point in the evolution of digital photography, setting a custom white balance should be in our blood. In fact, it should be such an ingrained part of our workflows that it should take no more than a few seconds to set. Unfortunately, as cameras become more automated and their manufacturers tout their "automatic" features, we are fooled into thinking that setting custom white balances in our cameras is no longer needed.

While using automatic white balance can produce some marginal results in a photographic workflow, relying on it when creating video with an HDSLR can add hours to a project or, even worse, destroy footage you have taken the time to record. This is why it’s more important than ever to set custom white balances when capturing footage on your HDSLR.

Setting a custom white balance is easy to do and will save you hours of work in post production. Just follow these simple steps or watch the video below:

  • Place the white balance target of an X-Rite ColorChecker Passport or ColorChecker White Balance in the scene you are filming. Make sure the light falling on the target is even; pay special attention to make sure no shadows are cast on the target.
  • Use a light meter, like a Sekonic L478-D, to determine the proper exposure of the scene.
  • Set the exposure on your camera to the metered value and switch your lens to manual focus.
  • Capture a still photograph of the white balance target, making sure that it is captured as close to the size of the frame as possible. The target does not need to be in focus. It’s more important to have it as large as possible in the frame.
  • Access your camera’s menus and set its custom white balance to reference the image you just captured.
  • Change the white balance setting on your camera to the custom setting.
  • Capture your footage.
  • Repeat steps 1-6 any time the lighting changes.

In lieu of setting a custom white balance, some HDSLR video shooters prefer to capture footage using a particular Kelvin temperature. I lean away from this technique because every camera records color differently, and it’s virtually impossible for two cameras set to 5600K to capture color that looks the same. This is a huge problem on multi-camera shoots and can be a massive time-sink in post, so I simply avoid all of the heartaches by setting a custom white balance on all the cameras in my shoot. It literally takes seconds to do and makes a world of difference!

Want to learn more? Sign up for Victor Ha's HDSLR Video Bootcamp for Photographers!

Color Tip is a monthly column in the X-Rite Photo Newsletter. Be sure your copy is delivered to your email box each month. Sign up today on by filling out the form on the x-rite photo blog!

Also, be sure to check out Victor Ha's blog, HDSLR Video Shooter!

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August 2013