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  Home | Web Video Tips | An easy way to improve the color and look of your videos

An easy way to improve the color and 'look' of your videos

If you plan to shoot video yourself, you're going to want to familiarize yourself with the term "white balance." Understanding what it is can make the difference between an amateurish video, and one that has a more professional look.

OK, you've got yourself a great DV camcorder. Plenty of good lighting. But something just isn't right with the 'look' of your videos...

Blue skies just don't turn out to be so blue in your video.

Green grass doesn't turn out so green.

And, subjects with fair, healthy looking skin take on an eerie, zombie kind of glow.

So, the question is - how do you set your camcorder so that it shoots those rich Hollywood colors that you see in the movies and on TV. You know, where everyone has a tan, the skies are always a vivid blue, and the grass is always greener?

Here's your answer: You need to 'warm balance' your camcorder before you shoot.

First, a basic of overview of color temperatures

The color temperature of light is simply a way of measuring the quality of a light source. It explains why recorded video sometimes has yellow-orange cast in incandescent lighting, and a bluish cast in fluorescent lighting. Different light sources emit light at different color temperatures, resulting in a color cast.

The table below shows the color temperature of some common light sources:
Color Temperatures of Light in Degrees Kelvin
   Color Temperatures of Light in Degrees Kelvin

White Balancing vs. Warm Balancing

You've heard of 'white balance'. This is where you point your camcorder at something pure white, and press the 'white balance' button on the camcorder.

White balance is based on the ratio of the amount of blue light, and it is measured in degrees Kelvin (K). A light with higher color temperature (e.g, larger Kelvin value) has "more" blue light than a light with lower Kelvin value and color temperature.

White balancing is a way of telling your camera what white should look like. It then uses that as a reference to set all the other colors.

But here's the problem: Using pure white when white balancing won't always give you the best results when shooting video.

The Solution: 'Warm Balance' the camcorder before you shoot

Instead of using pure white, you will often get far better colors in video by using a light color, but something other than white.

For example, if you use a very pale shade of blue when you white balance your camera, you will get much deeper colors from your camcorder. It will actually help give pale skin a healthy, natural glow.

And if you use a 'minus green' to do a white balance, it will help eliminate the ghoulish effects normally seen when shooting under fluorescent office lighting.

The pictures below show a comparison between shots taken with a white balanced camera, and one that was warm balanced.
White Balance vs. Warm Balance
   White Balance vs. Warm Balance

You can see that the warm balanced image on the right has warmer, richer colors.

Creating your own Warm Balance cards

If you don't mind spending a few bucks, you can find many sources of pre-printed warm balance cards online (e.g., WarmCards.com).

But if you have a color inkjet or laser printer, you can save money and print your own.

You'll find the 'warm blue #1' (hex color code: #D1EEF2) on the next page of this article, followed by the 'minus green' (#DDF4E2) on the last page.

Simply print these two pages out on a color ink jet printer, and use them when setting up your next video shoot.

In most cases, you'll want-use the warm blue #1 card to warm balance your camcorder. However, when shooting under harsh fluorescent office lights, you'll want to use the green.

Using Warm Balance cards when shooting video

To use the warm balance cards, do the following (this assumes your camera has a manual white balancing feature):

  1. Set the camera to manual mode.
  2. Set up the video shot as you do normally. Turn on all the lights you plan to use. Set up any reflectors.
  3. Have someone hold the warm balance at face level, and zoom in and focus on the card so it fills the entire viewable area of the camera screen.
  4. While zoomed in on the card, press the 'white balance' button on your camcorder.
  5. Remove the warm card and zoom back out so you can view your talent normally.
  6. Keep the camera in manual mode, focus on the talent, and shoot your video.

Check the effect the warm balance has produced. You should see richer colors, your talent will have a more healthy skin tone, and the overall look should be closer to what you see on TV and in the movies.

If you need to 'undo' the warm balance effect, simply follow the same steps, but use a white sheet of paper instead of the warm card.

You'll find the colors for your warm balance cards on the following two pages:


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