Concert Photography White Balance

Concert Photography White Balance

In this blog post we´re going to talk about white balance in concert photography and discuss the best settings for indoor and outdoor concerts.

What is white balance?

  • A camera setting that determines color temperature of the photos taken. Automatic White Balance attempts to make the white areas in a photo show up as truly white, not tinted blue or yellow. Setting White Balance manually is possible, if you know the type of lighting that will be used in the concert (tungsten for continuous lighting, and daylight for strobes) but this mixed lighting can change quickly.
  • If a white object in the photo is not as white as it should be, then the white balance will need to be adjusted in post-processing. This is easy to do if you are shooting in RAW but not as easy or even impossible if you only have JPEG’s. If the concert lighting made everything in a photo take on blue, green, or red tones, then it may be a good choice to convert those shots into Black & White.


Why would we set our cameras to Automatic White Balance at a concert?

  • To reduce the choices we need to make “in the moment” when we set up our next shot
  • To speed up shooting, since there is little time to accurately determine white balance when the lighting is changing rapidly


Why would we choose to set Manual White Balance?

  • To improve image quality, if you are able to determine the correct White Balance setting based on color temperature for the venue lighting
  • To deal with lighting that uses a mix of types and shifts quickly, which can overwhelm Automatic White Balance settings on some cameras


How do we set white balance?

  • In your camera menus or dials, look for the symbol AWB or White Balance settings. Choose Automatic if you plan to allow the camera to make the appropriate choices for color temperature for each shot.
  • If you choose to set White Balance manually, look for a symbol that appears to be a lightbulb with rays coming out of it, which is best for tungsten lighting. Take some test shots in the concert lighting and evaluate the whiteness of any white objects that appear in your test shots, and check for appropriate skin tones. Incorrect white balance makes skin colors look odd and will adversely affect the quality of your shots.
  • To allow unlimited ability in post processing to adjust the color balance, use RAW if your camera and post-processing software allow for RAW



White Balance for indoor concerts

Inside most concert venues, White Balance is going to be dramatically affected by stage lighting. Rarely will musicians be showcased in plain white lighting, and the color temperature of white lighting will most likely be warm yellow tungsten (3000 K to 3200 K) or white strobes (7000 K to 8000 K). This is a wide range and unless you choose Automatic, you will have to adjust WB on the fly for each type of lighting used. Colored gels are placed over continuous lights or either type, which vary the stage lighting from red, blue, green based on a pattern that you may be able to predict. Try to shoot a burst during the time that the stage is lit in a color that does not overwhelm the appearance of the musicians. Get started on how to shoot your first concert here.

White Balance for outdoor festival photography

Festival concerts outside are affected by sunlight and time of day or evening. Here White Balance is going to change based on the timeline of the festival and should be set on Automatic or you need to remember to adjust White Balance manually as daylight changes into evening. Color temperature in bright daylight (5500 K) varies in twilight to evening light (4000 K), so look for WB symbols for daylight (sun) or evening (clouds) if you choose to use manual settings for your White Balance. As night falls, outdoor concerts will bring up tungsten or LED strobe stage lighting so you will switch over to the Tungsten setting for manual WB if the stage lighting is warmer, or use Daylight setting when the stage lighting is bright white.

White Balance for posed musician portraits

Posed portraits are done with cooperation of the musician(s) and may allow for a bit more prep time in setup. Given ideal conditions, it would be best to bring along a gray card and take a shot which includes that gray card in order to set the white balance for the sequence of all the shots that take place in similar lighting conditions. In post-processing, you will load into your software all the photos that use the same lighting as the shot taken with the gray card, and then in the White Balance section, click with the selection tool on the gray card, and the software will correct the color temperature (WB) of that photo. Then you can sync this setting with all the photos in the set, and all the photos will be color corrected at once. This will result in the highest image quality for posed portraits.

Going Automatic on White Balance is a good choice!

Of all the settings that affect the outcome of music photography, where we may switch from automatic settings into manual settings as our skills improve, using Automatic White Balance is often the best choice. It is one less parameter to think about when setting up shots, when we need to make many decisions quickly. White Balance is easy to reset in post-processing without a huge negative impact on image quality, if you are shooting in RAW and if you use Lightroom or Photoshop.

Let me know which White Balance settings you use and why in the comments below.

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  • Sophie

    I’ve always been told that auto white balance is never a good idea, and so it may be because it is fact or because I’ve come to believe what I’ve been told, but I’ve never had great photos with auto white balance.

    • Intersting Sophie. I always use auto White Balance and it works great. I have heard that manual White Balance do make sense when dealing with red light.

  • Chris Patmore

    Manual makes the most sense when shooting RAW. Given the nature of the lighting, it is going to change and be of mixed sources (LED and tungsten) and colours. As such it will always need some post processing, and a fixed manual setting gives you a consistent point to make adjustments from.

    • Thanks Chris. Do you have suggestions what manual White Balance works best for indoor concert? Are you using specific Kelvin values?

      • Chris Patmore

        I set it to 5000 K (not all DSLRs let you set the WB in Kelvins). The best LEDs are set to 5500 K (for white), but can range from 3200 – 7000 K. The spots/projectors used in most venues and clubs are a mix of RGB and are mixed to create different colours during a show (if you’re lucky). Because they are RGB they can play havoc with sensors rendering. Whether you use auto or manual WB, you are going to have to make adjustments for skin tone when processing the RAW files. I’ve noticed that ‘black’ skin fares better than ‘white’ skin under LED and strong coloured lights, because it absorbs the light rather than reflects it, which also makes it harder to get a proper exposure, especially when white clothes are involved.

  • rejectrepublicanlies

    With all the other factors one has to consider when photographing a concert, i.e. ISO, shutter speed and aperture, etc. white balance is just best left on Auto. Besides, most concerts feature very dynamic lighting that changes every second. The one exception is if the band is consistently lit with red, blue or white lights.

  • rejectrepublicanlies

    I have used manual white balance on a couple of shows that featured extremely bright red and white lights, but more often than not, I remain in auto.

  • I normally use Auto White Balance for all concerts. The only time I set the white balance manually is when I shoot at a show that has fixed lighting that doesn’t change, for example acoustic shows. I set the white balance and it applies during the entire show.

    • Thanks for your comment Cesar! How do you set your WB manually then? Are you changing the Kelvins or are you using another WB predefined program?

      • When I shoot a show where the lighting is fixed and doesn’t change, I set the white balance manually by modifying the Kelvins to either make it colder or warmer depending. When the lighting isn’t fixed, and it changes.. I use auto white balance and I modify in post-prod.

  • Björn Engelke

    I always use auto WB. In case of too much red I customzie the auto WB more in blue direction. But as I always shoot RAW the afterwards postprocessing of the pictures is easier.