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Infrared video school, part 2: White balance is (almost) everything

In a previous post, I showed you my gear and setup for filming in IR. This time, I’d like to tell you about the importance of white balance.

In my opinion, setting the correct white balance is really essential. Different IR/color filters block different light waves and hence shift the neutral tones considerably. You have to “balance” them.

You should set the white balance prior to filming and not in post-production. Setting it afterwards on the computer, for example in Adobe Premiere, will not give you good results and additional color corrections will be needed. These are time-consuming and result in huge file sizes. So do it before filming. Believe me.

It’s even more important in filming than in photographing because you can’t take videos in RAW format and then just do the trick easily in Photoshop. Video just doesn’t work like that.

In the case of IR or full-spectrum videography, setting the perfect white balance is a bit complicated, because there’s no “one size fits all” way.

 
white balance

 
white balance

 
Generally, there are 4 options:

1. You can use the presets in your in-camera settings like “sunny”, “cloudy” et cetera. But this will not be exact and won’t work at all with a lot of IR filters.
2. You can do it via “trial and error” method and go through the color temperatures (2500K – 10000K). But this is time-consuming.
3. You can use a picture (with the filter on the lens) of a neutral object (a concrete street and certain unpainted walls for example) or, in the case of strong IR (720nm and more), grass.
4. You can use a grey/white card.

Forget the first option for filming in IR because it’s not exact and won’t give any usable results in a lot of cases. The others do, but it depends on the filter. And it also depends on the camera model.

I can only tell you what works for me.

So here’s a short overview on the filters I commonly use with my Nikon D7100 and their corresponding “best way” to get the right white balance:

1. IR Chrome (red-colored trees): Just choose 10000 Kelvin as color temperature (link).
2. Super blue (yellowish or white trees): Use a grey card for yellowish tones and use a picture of grass for white vegetation.
3. Enhanced/Super color: Use a grey card.
4. 720nm (white trees): Use a grey card or a picture of grass.
5. Monochrome IR: Use a picture of grass.
6. Green filter (magenta-colored trees): Choose around 2560K (link).

You probably have several slots for white balance presets, so you should just capture and save them on one occasion. Get out on a sunny day with all your filters and a grey card and get them into your camera, so you won’t have to worry about them anymore.

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