White Balance 101

Fact-checked by David Mercado
Updated on: May 19, 2023

Do you want to know how to get complete control over your videos? One of the basic aspects you must control is White Balance 101. You have probably seen videos in which white predominates over the other colors; it looks washed out. If you want quality shots, set the white balance in your favor.

What is white balance? 

Well, first things first, it is a camera control that adjusts the camera's color sensitivity to match the dominant color of the light you're shooting in. You can regulate the white balance according to three types of light:   

  • Outdoor light (cooler)
  • Indoor light (warmer)
  • Fluorescent light (greener)

You can set the white balance automatically or manually. With professional cameras, you can even set it to match the exact light source you're shooting with.

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Auto white balance:

It allows you to match the exact lighting you're using and is super easy to do. But, be aware, it can sometimes make your footage look wonky, especially under mixed light sources.

How does it work?

You can access the white balance setting from your camera's menu or via a " WB " button on the camera body. Press and hold it to scroll through the various icons representing lighting situations.

The better your exposure on the camera, the better the AWB auto white balance will work. If your image is underexposed, it will be blue; if it is overexposed, it will be washed out. So, when using AWB, perfect exposure is important.

Amateur cameramen think that by turning on the white balance, the camera makes the color decisions for them. Although auto white balance is convenient, it is also prone to color shifts, especially under mixed light sources. Therefore, always set a manual white balance whenever lighting conditions change for the best results.

Manual white balance: 

It is a setting that allows you to adapt the camera to the exact lighting used. It gives a professional touch to your shots and is very easy to achieve. All professional cameras allow you to set a white balance manually.

How does it work?

Choose your reference object to use as a reference for setting your white balance. It could be a sheet of white paper, a white wall, or any other object neutral in color. Place it in front of the camera and press a white balance (WB) button that adjusts your CCD sensor's red, green, and blue signals. How do you know it's working? The white card should appear "white" and does not show color casts. 

It is crucial to set the white balance each time you move indoors to outside and between rooms illuminated by different types of light. On the other hand, early in the day and at dusk, the intensity and temperature of daylight change very quickly. Although your eyes may not always notice it, your camera does.

What is the color temperature? 

Every type of light has a numerical temperature. The numerical temperature of light falling on an object also affects the color of your footage. Let's break it down:

  • Shade temperature: 6500K
  • Sunlight temperature: 6000K
  • Fluorescent light temperature: 5500K to 4000K
  • Twilight temperature: 4000K
  • Incandescent (tungsten) light temperature: 3500K to 3000K

Our eyes and brain can automatically compensate for the color temperature of light falling on an object. Unfortunately, even the most expensive video cameras can't do the same, so we must show them what we want them to read as "white" in any scene. Remember that it's crucial to white balance manually for the best results.

Importance of white balance

When photographing a sequence of shots or a scene in a particular location, it is necessary to maintain visual consistency in white balance. Knowing how often to white balance is a skill you will acquire over time. 

On the other hand, if your camera had perfect white balance, the color balance of your scenes would be monotone. Remember, white balance can make your footage look like the local news. 

These days, high-end productions, documentaries, and even magazines demand a warmer look. A slightly warmer tone can improve the aesthetics of your video, especially in interview formats. For example, a warmer white balance makes subjects' skin look healthier. It will also be more friendly to consumers' eyes. 

Introducing WarmCards

To get a warmer look, you must perform white balance on a different color surface, such as WarmCards. They are the quickest way to achieve warmer and more pleasing skin tones that customers and the public prefer. You don't need to use gels, filters, or special lighting with these cards. WarnCards will also save you color correction time in post-production.

How to use WarmCards?

Color balancing with WarmCards is simple. Place one of the cards in front of the lens and press the white balance switch. You can turn ordinary photos into extraordinary ones once you recognize different color temperatures and override a normal white balance.

Doing the normal white balance and then using the WarmCards to compare is recommended. You'll notice that people generally look sick when shot under a standard white balance.

How to balance whites?

  1. Check the camera's filter wheel to ensure you use the best filter for the current lighting conditions. Also, the camera must be correctly aligned with the card.
  2. Fill the entire screen with the white reference or card. Any space left behind can result in an improper white balance. Then, set the iris to auto, and expose the card so it registers near the peak.
  3. Carry a clean, rigid, unbroken white card or a WarmCard. In addition, you should use the same reference target throughout the recording.
  4. Be careful when placing the card. Make sure it’s firm. Also, the primary source of light that you want to balance should be the only lighting that falls on the card.
  5. Sometimes you have to zoom in on the card. This is to make sure that your main light source ('white' light) is the only one that falls on your white card. Also, ensure the card stays steady and angled to avoid reflections.
  6. No one should move the card while the camera is white balancing. If the card is accidentally moved, it may catch unwanted light reflections, and the white balance values may be off by several hundred degrees.
  7. Activate the white balance by pressing the button. It may take a few seconds for the camera to complete the operation. Then you will see a message in the viewfinder indicating that the white balance was done correctly.
  8. Sometimes the message indicates that the white balance has failed. A good camera will give you a hint like "temperature too high," so you have to change the filters. Another option is to check the iris and focus; try opening or closing the iris a bit.

Note: The camera will retain the set balance until you perform a new white balance. 


Don't be lazy when doing white balance. Commonly, inexperienced videographers point the camera at a piece of paper, snow, white clothing, a painted wall, or other supposedly "white" object. This is just wrong and lazy.

Why? Unless you white balance consistently shot by shot, your footage will certainly look bad, especially on skin tones! People are usually the protagonists of audiovisual content. For example, they appear more than 90% of the time on television. If people don't look good, nothing will look good.

Note: White t-shirts are not white; they are light gray and faded, even if they are new and clean. Avoid using someone's shirt to white-balance your video. Also, consider that white skin is more sensitive to variations in color temperature. Therefore, you should avoid green or blue undertones on fair skin tones.

Remember, you must adjust the white balance whenever you change locations to obtain professional results and when there are changes in the lighting plane, including variations in daylight.

Layla Saman is an accomplished educational content creator with over 6 years of experience developing digital products and programs. She has created thousands of articles, videos, and webinars in partnership with companies like Meta, Johnson & Johnson, and Cisco. Layla is driven by a passion for education as a tool to empower underserved communities. Her writing makes crucial digital skills accessible to diverse learners.
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