Get The Balance Right

ACHIEVING THE RIGHT BALANCE

Q I don’t always get the white balance right when I’m shooting. Sometimes when I’m running and gunning, I’m not looking at a good color image on a monitor. It’s not until I’m done that I realize I’ve screwed up. Then I have to hand off my footage and am really embarrassed. I was thinking that I would like to correct my stuff so I don’t look like a complete idiot. I’m not thinking of doing this for everything, just when I screw up.
Name withheld by request

A First, I’d say that unless you’re doing the final edit and color correction, don’t process the footage before you hand it off. I say "process" and not "correct" because I want to emphasize that whatever you might do, you’re changing the footage. And if you’re not careful, you might toss away picture details that the person who’s doing your post might want.

The first method that most people use to address white-balance issues is to use color-correction tools. Many of the editing applications have color correctors that can correct for balance issues. Sometimes, the correction isn’t always what you’re looking for. Also, they require an understanding of both the editing application and the color-correction tool.

What I might suggest in your case is a plug-in that can apply color correction similar to how you deal with color temperature differences when you’re in the field—by using gels. I discovered this plug-in a while ago when I needed to deal with displays on set. In this case, the displays were to be seen on camera, and the footage on the displays had to look accurate. The lighting being used was tungsten (3200K), but the displays were at 5500K. In the past, this meant attaching color-correcting gels to the displays. While this works, it involves a bit of work cutting and taping, and the gels can be evident when the screens are turned off.

It made sense to me that if I could color-correct the footage that ran in the display during the preproduction edit, then I could produce images that looked weird to the eye, but to the cameras (balanced for 3200K), it would look normal. After some tedious testing, I discovered I could get close, but was never confident if I had it right.

If the displays were a light source that was at 5500K, I would know what to do. I would just have to put a ¾ CTO on the light to correct it down to 3200K. If only there was a way to do that to the screen footage.

Then I discovered that Tiffen (www.tiffen.com), the folks that really know filters, had developed a software version of some of their filters. I quickly took a look at the software, dove deep into the filter selection, and there I found a ¾ CTO filter that I could apply to the footage. Problem solved. So this could be an answer to your problem. It doesn’t require you to know color correction, just one of the applications that it works with.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that since I first discovered the Dfx application by Tiffen, it has grown into a pretty powerful application. In fact, I think the use for it that I mention here is like recommending a Porsche to drive to the grocery store. Their version 3, which they were showcasing at this year’s NAB, comprises over 2,000 optical filters and includes over 113 film stock simulations. In addition, it has level controls, color, detail and tone matching, relighting and sophisticated debanding, deblocking and noise-removal tools.