blog by

rob kircher

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Shooting in the Theater... White Balance and Color Correction

(Technical assistance provided by Amanda Kircher)

Finally a new post. This time we’ll go back to the theater and examine color and white balance.

I know I said my next theater entry was going to be about working with directors and managers but this subject came up again on DPR so I thought I’d review my feelings about it now.

First let’s get the technical side of this conversation out of the way. Standard stage lighting runs around 3200K for pure, uncolored light. With this knowledge you could just set you camera’s white balance manually to 3200K and shoot away. Another option is to use a grey card and take a few sample shots of the card under the differing lighting conditions. Then use the gray card images to set the WB in camera or as a reference during post processing. Yet another option is to simply use Auto White Balance (AWB) and let the camera work it out. I can hear from the peanut gallery it now … AWB? Aaackkkk. Yes, yes, I know but shooting raw makes correcting AWB, when needed, a snap. In addition, if you shoot a few frames of a gray card you can use those images as a reference during you post processing. For my last show, I shot the first night in AWB then noted the correct WB setting during post. With that information I set that WB value, 3300K, into the camera for subsequent nights of shooting. It worked like a charm.

Regardless of the method you choose the most important thing to remember is to represent what the lighting director intended which often is not what, to the eye, looks perfectly balanced. You must remember that the color and intensity of the lighting have a direct impact on the appearance of costumes, sets and actors. Lighting designers develop and design a lighting concept that is central to the entire project… For example, an LD may choose a series of gels that will help accentuate the Yellow in Belle’s dress or in combination with the set designer help present certain color illusions that under normal “balanced” light would look strange or out of place. If an actress is washed in heavy amber light her skin tones are going to lean heavily towards orange. Usually the tone of the actor’s skin is very much a part of the concept and holds some type of significance. Knowing this, it is not our place as photographers to make “corrections” just because we have a need to have our whites balanced. Within reason, it’s our job to capture exactly look of a show and not what we think it should have looked like.

The art is to balance what is "right" and what the LD wanted to achieve and when in doubt ALWAYS lean towards the lighting director. I usually tend towards warm side when processing my theater work because more often than not the general wash is a warm tone of light. I can assure you, having a budding LD in my family; she would kill me if I misrepresented her designs by over correcting the color temps.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Rob - Great to hear you are thinking about the lighting design, as well as the colour temp.

    Video camera chaps seem intent on making everything on camera look "normal" even when the colour is quite obvious to the audience.

    For my part, I always try to help the snappers out.

    There are a couple of colour temperature related articles at On Stage Lighting - Colour Temperature and Colour Correction Gels. Take a look.

    Best Wishes