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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