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Why I ALWAYS Use Daylight White Balance With Drone Cameras

herein2021

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I see this question come up quite a bit; what white balance should I use with "insert drone model here" so I decided I would continue my food for thought threads and share why I ALWAYS use daylight WB with every drone I have ever flown, along with my single exception to that rule.

DEFINITION

It is important to first understand what White Balance (WB) even is and how cameras use their white balance settings to display the captured image. The way I describe WB is it is the camera's way of adding an opposing color temperature and tint to an image to attempt to counter color cast introduced into an image by non-white light sources. For example, if an incandescent bulb with a color temperature around 2600 were to shine on a white surface the white surface would be very orange vs white which is it's actual color. So in that scenario, the camera if set to Automatic White Balance (AWB) would add a lot of blue to the image until the color temperature of the white surface (white reference point) is closer to 5600K (daylight Kelvin).

There is a second color factor in play as well whenever lighting is involved and that is tint. A light source could give off a tint which would also need to be corrected by the white balance. If the tint is green then magenta needs to be added to counter the green tint and vice versa. Although color temperature can be somewhat corrected by the human eye, tint is nearly impossible to correct manually because the human eye automatically adjusts for it which makes it very difficult to calculate in post.

AUTOMATIC WHITE BALANCE (AWB)

Pretty much every modern camera has an AWB option which will attempt to analyze the image coming from the sensor and adjust the color temperature and tint to make the scene have an accurate white reference point. This actually works surprisingly well in many situations but there are also many situations where it can completely fail; one such situation is when too much of the scene has a strong enough color cast that the camera overcompensates by adding too much of the opposing color or tint to the scene. An example is a drone flying over a green forest, the camera sensor will be saturated with a green cast being reflected from the forest and will probably add too much magenta to the scene.

Where AWB really falls apart and can ruin your footage is when in the previous example you are filming video and go from flying over a green forest to flying over a brown warehouse in the same video clip. In that example, if the camera were set to AWB, it would go from adding a strong magenta tint to removing the tint and possibly changing the color temperature as well since the brown building will reflect the sunlight at a different color temperature from the green forest; this WB shift would be very noticeable in the video and would also be very undesirable.

AWB falls apart even faster and more noticeably under mixed lighting conditions, but for the purposes of this discussion, mixed lighting conditions really won't be an issue since most drones are flown outdoors where the sun is the key, fill, and backlight; in other words there is only one light source.

AWB is not all bad; if you are taking photos with your drone and saving them in a RAW format then you can non-destructively set the WB later when processing the images. With video it is a different story; since most prosumer/consumer/hobbyist drones shoot video in a compressed format (H.264 or H.265) changing the white balance later is a destructive process; meaning it will degrade the video footage to some extent. This is where 10bit footage starts to show it's strength, 10bit footage gives you much more WB latitude vs. 8bit; both fall apart when extreme changes are made but 8bit falls apart much faster than 10bit.

MANUAL WHITE BALANCE

So now that it is obvious that for the best results you should set a manual white balance the big question becomes why don't I just manually set the WB? With regular cameras this is easy, you just use a white card or something like an ExpoDisc (my preferred method) and you will achieve perfect WB every time.

The problem with a drone camera though is how do you do that? Even if you managed to sit a white card in front of a drone camera while it is on the ground, there's no way it will be accurate once it is in the air; not to mention most drone camera apps don't even provide a way to manually white balance using a white card. Sure you could try dialing in a Kelvin and tint values by hand, but that's just as unlikely to succeed as leaving it in AWB.

WHAT DO I DO?

So after a lot of testing and experimenting over the years I decided to always just use Daylight WB (the little sun icon in the WB menu). Remember when I said outdoors during the day the sun is the key, fill, and backlight? So basically, if daylight is all of these light sources why not just set the WB to daylight and forget about it? This method also means it is one less thing you have to fiddle with when shooting in Manual mode (which I always do) especially when you are in the air where every minute counts. Yes, you could technically switch to AWB when shooting images and back to Daylight WB when shooting video, and I used to do that; the problem was a few times I forgot to set the WB back to daylight and the video clips ended up with shifting white balances within the clip. Also, with a RAW image file who cares what WB it was shot at so there's no real reason to bother switching to AWB for photos.

Sticking to Daylight WB for everything is not perfect, below are some of the problems with this method:

  • Cloudy Days - On cloudy days the Daylight WB will not be accurate, Daylight WB is typically 5600K but on a cloudy day you will want a WB closer to 6500K. So why not just use the Cloudy WB preset? I have consistently found that that preset does not look natural in almost every camera (not just drone cameras) that I have tested. In fact, in my testing, the Cloudy WB preset usually looks worse to my eyes than just leaving the preset at Daylight WB. But the problem with Daylight WB on a cloudy day is that it can be inaccurate by up to 1000K.
  • Sunrise / Sunset - Sunrises and Sunsets are typically much "warmer" on the Kelvin scale than midday. During a sunrise or sunset, your keylight (the sun) can be as "warm" as 3000K or as cool as 4500K which means your Daylight WB once again could be off by as much as 2000K.
  • Nighttime - At night there is no sunlight, let alone daylight, so depending on what lighting is present at night, the Daylight WB could once again be off by a few thousand Kelvin.
  • Tint - Daylight WB does not correct any tint or color casts like AWB does, so if there is a strong green or magenta cast, Daylight WB will not fix it.
So despite all of these problems why do I still use only Daylight WB?

  • Simplicity - A key mantra for me is simplicity whenever possible. Leaving the WB permanently on Daylight WB keeps things simple and is one of those things that simply do not matter in the grand scheme of things.
  • Target Audience - I do not shoot Hollywood feature length movies; I know my WB could be off at times by a few 1000K but for the types of projects that I work no one will notice or care. Daylight WB lands me right in the middle of every WB I will encounter outdoors with a drone and thanks to 10bit video I can now get closer than ever before to the proper WB with just a few mouse clicks.
  • Correctable In Post - As I alluded to, Daylight WB is at most only a few thousand Kelvin away from the proper WB when it comes to flying a drone outdoors. Thanks to 10bit video compression options it is possible to correct the WB in post without some of the problems that 8bit footage would encounter.

HOW TO FIX WB IN POST

As you can see by now, it is pretty difficult if not impossible to nail the WB prior to flying with most consumer/prosumer drones. Sure if you are flying for a Hollywood movie you will probably be lifting an Arri or Red into the air and have a whole team to help you with every aspect of the shoot including the proper WB. But for the rest of us the more realistic way of doing it is to simply set the WB to Daylight and fix it in your NLE.

The way I fix the WB in my NLE which is Davinci Resolve, is I simply locate something that is white on the ground and tap the WB sampler eye dropper to set the proper color temperature and tint values. With 10bit footage this works really well. Sometimes I check a few different objects in the video until one looks right to my eyes. When there is nothing on the ground that is white then I either leave it as is or slightly adjust it to enhance the scene. For example, for a sunset scene I know the Daylight WB is too "cold" so I skew it towards the warmer end of the Kelvin scale to bring out the truer colors of the sunset.

USING WB CREATIVELY

One of the best things about photography/videography is that there are no rules, since there are no rules there's also nothing that says the WB even has to be accurate. Many times in the past I have used the WB to match the rest of the footage vs making sure that white was really white. For example if I am shooting a project that is a full day, and it starts getting towards evening time but I want all of the footage to look like it was shot around the same time of day, I will skew the WB towards the cooler side to mute the sunset colors so that it appears more like the footage was shot earlier in the day.

CONCLUSION

Hopefully this post helps someone or some people gain a better understanding of WB and some of the unique considerations of working with it for drone photography/videos. The concept is still the same but it is actually easier than with other types of cameras because mixed lighting isn't the problem it is for other cameras. In mixed lighting the WB is never perfect and you really need to pick your tradeoff. If people are in the scene then of course you want to WB as close to the subject as possible to protect the skin tones.

BONUS

Before I forget, there is one single instance where I do in fact change the White Balance to 3600K and that is when filming fireworks at night. To get the blue, red, and white fireworks to really stand out and look true to their colors at night, 3600K is the better WB setting to use vs. Daylight for both photos and video.

SAMPLE VIDEO

I put together the following sample video showing shooting with the EVO II 6K at night with both a Daylight WB and the WB set to 3600K. The camera settings were the same settings I always use for night video: [email protected], H.265 compression, F2.8, 1/30s shutter, ISO800, LOG color profile, and to show the WB differences I used a WB of 3600K and Daylight WB.

For the daylight WB, during the color grade I adjusted the WB to match the 3600K WB. The main point of the video is that it is quite easy to adjust the WB in post to match whatever look you are going for as long as you shoot with a LOG profile and use one of the 10bit camera options which means shooting in 4K vs 6K and 30FPS vs 60FPS.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Why I Never Shoot Video At 24FPS

Why I Never Use ND Filters With Drone Cameras

Why I Never Use CPL Filters With Drone Cameras

Autel EVO II Pro - User Experience from a DJI User

EXPLORE YOUR WORLD: An Autel EVO II Pro 6K Cinematic Story
 
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GeoDrone SRL

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Shooting all time in Daylight is not so desired...
And I will simply explain to you WHY:
You know as well as me as image is composed in RGB.
White balance practically interfere with each signal R-G-B and boost or lower each channel in order to have that "balanced pure white".
You can always try to open a RGB histogram and just mess up the K temp, you will see each channel of Red, Green and Blue how it goes up-down...also you will see that at one point, one channel will be boosted up and kill it's highlights, and another is boosted down and kill it's shadows.

This is why you need to start your BASIC footage with a correct color TEMP, according to weather and time of day/night...because if is wrong, you have the risk to record in your basic footage a channel or two with dead highlights and dead shadows.
In post you can correct the WB, but that information is not there, so you will get strange tint in very high and very low areas.
If is important for a beginner to start learning the proper way, not the "lazy" way, even if does not make Hollywood movies, the basic knowledge need to be accurate and explained.

Now your method can be applied on sunny or part-dull day, but a video at night with daylight K will not be so easy to salvage and correct in post.

Just my 2cents.
 

herein2021

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Shooting all time in Daylight is not so desired...
And I will simply explain to you WHY:
You know as well as me as image is composed in RGB.
White balance practically interfere with each signal R-G-B and boost or lower each channel in order to have that "balanced pure white".
You can always try to open a RGB histogram and just mess up the K temp, you will see each channel of Red, Green and Blue how it goes up-down...also you will see that at one point, one channel will be boosted up and kill it's highlights, and another is boosted down and kill it's shadows.

This is why you need to start your BASIC footage with a correct color TEMP, according to weather and time of day/night...because if is wrong, you have the risk to record in your basic footage a channel or two with dead highlights and dead shadows.
In post you can correct the WB, but that information is not there, so you will get strange tint in very high and very low areas.
If is important for a beginner to start learning the proper way, not the "lazy" way, even if does not make Hollywood movies, the basic knowledge need to be accurate and explained.

Now your method can be applied on sunny or part-dull day, but a video at night with daylight K will not be so easy to salvage and correct in post.

Just my 2cents.

Have you actually tried just shooting with Daylight WB then looking at the histogram? If you had then if you had looked at the RGB histogram you would see the same thing I just said...the WB even on cloudy days is not far enough off from the actual WB to clip any of the channels when shooting 10bit footage. You also do not explain how you start with that correct color temp when using drone cameras.

Also, have you tried shooting at night with a Daylight WB? There is no white reference point so once again.....what do you consider the "correct" color WB? It is pretty common knowledge that at night you should set your WB to either Daylight or 3600K or anything in between...basically whatever looks good to your eyes based on the city lights and night sky. I have done a lot of testing with both and typically Daylight WB looks better to me and sometimes 3600K looks better depending on if the city lights use LEDs or Incandescent bulbs and if there is moonlight to contend with. From one of those two starting points I then adjust cooler or warmer to match the rest of the footage when editing in post.

Here is one such article also saying the same thing I said for night video, and here is another, night video WB settings are pretty common knowledge and it is pretty well known that you just set it to whatever mood you are trying to invoke in the user.
 

GeoDrone SRL

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Yes, I have tried it, when I write something, I usually experiment it first. :)

There is an easy tool for phones, called Light Meter...You can get a grey card with you and just measure it. Fast, simple, free.

But a good videographer "sees" the K from outside, as it is already experienced and is like driving a car, you know it by instinct from a point.
Between 5600K and 3600K you will have your independent RGB channels moved a lot...Now, the fact that some people prefere artistic approach and leave WB to 5600K at night, all looking a lot "red-ish", is another talk. But for a proper balance and WHITE = WHITE without having issues in extremity of histogram, in night you can vary from 2800-3600K if you need a scene-like-real video, without "personal approaches"...At least commercial videos cannot be made at 5600K in night, will not reflect the reality and you can have issues with customers (depending on each one).
For videos that are made for events, personal, where you can put all imagination at work, yes, this Daylight can be a good choice, for a "personal touch".
That is what i say.
 

herein2021

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Yes, I have tried it, when I write something, I usually experiment it first. :)

There is an easy tool for phones, called Light Meter...You can get a grey card with you and just measure it. Fast, simple, free.

The phone app approach is still not going to be accurate. You are measuring the WB of the card held in your hand from the ground, that is not the same WB that the drone will encounter in the air when tint and cast are accounted for from things like trees or the sun goes behind a cloud....that is no more accurate than just aiming the drone at a white card while on the ground.

BTW, grey cards are used to set exposure, white cards are used to set WB. This is a common misconception on the use of grey vs white cards. You should always use a white card to set WB and a grey card if you are setting exposure.


But a good videographer "sees" the K from outside, as it is already experienced and is like driving a car, you know it by instinct from a point.
Between 5600K and 3600K you will have your independent RGB channels moved a lot...Now, the fact that some people prefere artistic approach and leave WB to 5600K at night, all looking a lot "red-ish", is another talk. But for a proper balance and WHITE = WHITE without having issues in extremity of histogram, in night you can vary from 2800-3600K if you need a scene-like-real video, without "personal approaches"...At least commercial videos cannot be made at 5600K in night, will not reflect the reality and you can have issues with customers (depending on each one).
For videos that are made for events, personal, where you can put all imagination at work, yes, this Daylight can be a good choice, for a "personal touch".
That is what i say.

We will have to agree to disagree, I have made many commercial videos in both daylight and at night with both 5600K and 3600K and never had a client complaint; my definition of a commercial shoot is anything that produces a product that a client is willing to pay for.


But a good videographer "sees" the K from outside, as it is already experienced and is like driving a car, you know it by instinct from a point.

I disagree with this statement as well, "seeing" kelvin temp is very subjective and nothing like driving a car. A car always has the same motions and is very straightforward. Eyesight on the other hand is very subjective and every person could see color slightly differently, even your age can impact your sensitivity to color and your perception of color not to mention it is nearly impossible for a videographer to also "see" color cast/tint on set; that's why there are so many tools and aids in NLEs to help you take the subjectivity out of it and use clearly defined standards to set the proper WB.


Now, the fact that some people prefere artistic approach and leave WB to 5600K at night, all looking a lot "red-ish", is another talk. But for a proper balance and WHITE = WHITE without having issues in extremity of histogram, in night you can vary from 2800-3600K if you need a scene-like-real video, without "personal approaches"

The part you are skipping is that I never said to leave the WB there in post; instead I stated that with 10bit footage you will have enough longitude to adjust it to match the footage from other sources; so I go back to my original statement which is that either of those two WBs will get you close enough when shooting in 10bit to finish the look in post. Yes 3600K is more likely to be the better starting point at night, but it really depends on the color temp of the light sources in the city scape you are shooting and it even depends on if there is moonlight. In my area night is usually pretty hazy with little moonlight so there is no reddish tint when shooting at night and since most of the city lights are warmer LEDs the combination works.

In other areas where there is plenty of moonlight which is typically around 4000K then either 3600K or 5600K are still close enough to moonlight's color temp to fix in post. And yes, I have tested pretty extensively specifically with the EVO II and when shooting in LOG and 10bit mode I have never had RGB clipping problems when shooting daylight WB during the day or night.

If you really wanted to get more technical then sure, you could shoot at 4000K when the moon is fully out, 3000K when there is no moonlight but there are a lot of cooler LEDs in the scene, and 5000K when the city scape is lit by mostly warm incandescents, but to me doing all of that doesn't make sense when all of those ranges are fixable in post with 10bit footage.

The key here is that this is where 10bit really shines. 8bit footage was a different story and everything had to be much more precise; with 10bit and LOG profiles real editing latittude is possible.
 

herein2021

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Also, I always like to show examples vs just post my opinion, so here is a good example of a typical night scene for me. I picked a clip that has plenty of mixed lighting and of course this was shot with a WB of Daylight. IMO the combination of 10bit footage and Autel's perfect LOG curve is nearly as good as RAW footage but without the size headaches. Changing the WB in post is pretty trivial.

This is straight out of camera, F2.8, ISO800, Daylight WB, 1/30s shutter, LOG color profile:

Night_SOOC.jpg


This is after grading in DR with the WB adjusted:


Night_Graded.jpg
 

GeoDrone SRL

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Also, I always like to show examples vs just post my opinion, so here is a good example of a typical night scene for me. I picked a clip that has plenty of mixed lighting and of course this was shot with a WB of Daylight. IMO the combination of 10bit footage and Autel's perfect LOG curve is nearly as good as RAW footage but without the size headaches. Changing the WB in post is pretty trivial.

This is straight out of camera, F2.8, ISO800, Daylight WB, 1/30s shutter, LOG color profile:

View attachment 13748


This is after grading in DR with the WB adjusted:


View attachment 13749
Also, I always like to show examples vs just post my opinion, so here is a good example of a typical night scene for me. I picked a clip that has plenty of mixed lighting and of course this was shot with a WB of Daylight. IMO the combination of 10bit footage and Autel's perfect LOG curve is nearly as good as RAW footage but without the size headaches. Changing the WB in post is pretty trivial.

This is straight out of camera, F2.8, ISO800, Daylight WB, 1/30s shutter, LOG color profile:

View attachment 13748


This is after grading in DR with the WB adjusted:


View attachment 13749

My friend, I don't criticize, I just say what I have seen in post.
Nice footage.
I will make a video with the difference in highlights in RGB at top when will get time, is about Standard mode, not LOG, where some details in the top of highlights will be burned by the R band, as it is pushed up by K settings and you do not have the same DNR as in LOG.
A lot of folks here does not use LOG as implies additional work...In LOG (or HDR+LOG as I use it), the sensor is going to a very high dynamic range (I think is the biggest DNR I have ever seen in a drone camera up to now) and you can deal with post edit.
But in usual recording 8 bit, that R channel will have burned info in top of highlights that will not be salvaged. Not to say about JPEG (for any who use only jPEG and not RAW) that will be a true bust, will be ruined.
That was my point... :)
PS. White cards have a good chance to be clipping in light, this is why we use GREY cards. As long as we do not talk about EXPOSURE here, Grey card is better than White card as is not clipping (after all, 255.255.255 is 127.127.127 on lower exposure).
Cheers.
 
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herein2021

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My friend, I don't criticize, I just say what I have seen in post.
Nice footage.
I will make a video with the difference in highlights in RGB at top when will get time, is about Standard mode, not LOG, where some details in the top of highlights will be burned by the R band, as it is pushed up by K settings and you do not have the same DNR as in LOG.
A lot of folks here does not use LOG as implies additional work...In LOG (or HDR+LOG as I use it), the sensor is going to a very high dynamic range (I think is the biggest DNR I have ever seen in a drone camera up to now) and you can deal with post edit.
But in usual recording 8 bit, that R channel will have burned info in top of highlights that will not be salvaged. Not to say about JPEG (for any who use only jPEG and not RAW) that will be a true bust, will be ruined.
That was my point... :)
PS. White cards have a good chance to be clipping in light, this is why we use GREY cards. As long as we do not talk about EXPOSURE here, Grey card is better than White card as is not clipping (after all, 255.255.255 is 127.127.127 on lower exposure).
Cheers.

Ahh, yes I 100% agree, if you do not shoot in LOG you can definitely clip one of the channels since you are more likely to clip the highlights which will in turn clip one of the channels if the WB is too far off. 8-bit will definitely fall apart as well, the clipped channels start turning strange colors when you try to recover in post. The key is definitely 10bit and LOG.

I did notice something interesting which is that the EVO II 6K seems to set the "Daylight" WB to 5150K and a tint value of +48 which seems like a very conservative temperature if you ask me. All of my other cameras are around 5500K or 5600K for daylight so that may also be why Daylight WB with the EVO II specifically is not as reddish as most cameras when shooting at night.

Also, not sure if you noticed but I also added a WB test video to my original post. I do think after this testing that 3600K is a better starting point for night footage. Daylight WB is fixable, but 3600K gets you closer to where you want to be at night. In the past I only used 3600K for fireworks because those will clip even in LOG due to how bright they are at night.



PS. White cards have a good chance to be clipping in light, this is why we use GREY cards. As long as we do not talk about EXPOSURE here, Grey card is better than White card as is not clipping (after all, 255.255.255 is 127.127.127 on lower exposure).
Cheers.

The key to using a white card is you have to properly expose it first, if you properly expose a white card it will be more accurate than a grey card IMO because they reflect tint values more accurately. I still remember watching this video 10yrs ago:

 
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GeoDrone SRL

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Agree.
Still, exposure is relative, some scenes needs overexposure or underexposure for that "hero shoot".
But I agree with you/
 

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