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White Balancing prefrences of Cinematographers


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#1 cal bickford

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Posted 11 January 2008 - 06:14 AM

I'm an aspiring filmaker trying to learn the craft and I was wondering how often you guys WB for color fidelity vs neutrality. In other words, do you guys always try to "neutralize" the light? - as in correcting to make a white card appear white even though its under an orange lamp. Or is manipulating the white balance of the film/video for color fidelity (white card looks orange like the cast of the light) more common?

For instance, would white balancing to "neutrality" for an interior shot w/ tungsten light be typical practice on a motion picture shoot, or would most directors/cinematographers prefer to capture the natural red cast of the tungsten to mimic interior practicals etc.

I understand completely how the physical process of white balancing works, but from what I read it seems like it is fairly typical practice - I just don't understand (aside from dealing with tricky lights like flourescents, shooting legal depositions, etc) why you would want to "neutralized" the light all the time...

Am I missing something here?
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#2 Chris Keth

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Posted 11 January 2008 - 11:42 AM

Generally for narrative film, you want a white baseline for your lighting. You would white balance to whatever color of light you want to consider white in your scene, even if no white lights will be present in the scene. It is a calibration of your color system.

I prefer to use camera presets rather than white balancing so that you have a solid foundation for color that is exactly the same for all scenes. Corrections can be made from there, either on the lens or on lights but you will always start at the same place. It will make color grading easier and more precise.
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#3 Rory Hanrahan

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Posted 11 January 2008 - 11:42 AM

Generally speaking, I think its rare to simply "take whats been given you" and not manipulate the quality of light in some way, unless of course the DP finds something remarkable about the available light, or what's been established practically by the DP/gaffer.

There is no right way of handling this variable, but I've never worked on an HD or video shoot where white balancing wasn't part of the job -- from test sessions in pre-pro working with the finished sets and lighting units to create a certain look (often with the help of a DIT), to quick fixes on-set, such as re-balancing from a white card, including altering that WB with Gels from a handy jungle book, etc.

The key is to have some idea of what you're going for before you start fiddling around with settings etc. (the old, "close your eyes and imagine what the scene looks like, then recreate it" gag). The question is do YOU want those practicals to go orange flavored? Or those flos to cast a greenish tint? etc? Then find the way to balance the shot/scene to your ideas.

Personally, and I'd like others to chime in on this, I would erase the concept of "neutrality", at least in the anti-septic sense its being used in here, and start thinking of WB the way a painter or other visual artist decides their overall palate. Also, remember that WB is only one step in achieving the look and feel of your work, even only taking in-camera alterations into account. Once you start dealing with saturation, gamma and the 1,001 other variables presented to you, you'll realize "neutrality" is not the goal.

And besides, who wants to be neutral anyway? That's no fun!
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#4 cal bickford

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Posted 11 January 2008 - 11:51 AM

wow, those are exactly the type of answers i was looking for. Thanks for the help!
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 11 January 2008 - 12:17 PM

It just depends on the look you want. How often in real life is the light completely neutral?

In film, I shoot a grey scale under the "white" light for the stock most of the times, so that when I use a gel on a light, the effect is maintained. But sometimes I shoot the grey scale under a light that has been gelled slightly in one direction so that the "corrected" dailies come back shifted the other direction. Of course, these are just dailies -- the negative is still normally balanced in that case.

For video cameras, I am more likely to use the 3200K or daylight preset balance and let the lights have whatever bias they naturally have -- 2800K practical lamps look warm, etc. But if the color bothers me, I might do a manual white-balance instead, like if I'm shooting under heavy shade and I don't want the blue cast.

I once white-balanced off of a pink script page because the dingy fluorescent lighting wasn't greenish enough for me.

Getting everything neutral isn't necessarily the correct approach if the intended look is not neutral. Learning to make the image look the way you want it to is an important lesson.

Just don't go nuts -- I usually take the approach that I will be finishing the effect in post, so I get halfway there or so in-camera but not overdo the color bias. For example, a blue-ish moonlight scene -- you could make it a pale blue with the idea that if you needed it to look bluer, you can increase the effect in post, but you don't want to start with an overly blue image in case you need to go back the other way.
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#6 John Sprung

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Posted 11 January 2008 - 02:19 PM

Just don't go nuts -- I usually take the approach that I will be finishing the effect in post, so I get halfway there or so in-camera but not overdo the color bias.

That's good advice. The other thing you should think about is who will be seeing your dailies. If the list includes studio suits, you don't want to land far outside the envelope of what they're accustomed to seeing on other shows. (When your career is well established, then you can push the envelope a little.)




-- J.S.
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