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Setting White Balance for Underwater Video


Light is reflected off the surface of the water so as you go deeper there will be less light penetration and since water is about 800 times denser than air it affects light differently than air does.  Water absorbs the colours of the spectrum one by one: red is lost within the first 15 feet of depth or so, followed by orange, yellow, green and blue as you descend deeper.  This “colour shift” happens because water is a natural filter altering the wavelengths of light as it passes through the water column.  The deeper the water, the greater the colour shift.  For this reason it is necessary to replace some of the colour by utilizing a red coloured filter in front of the camera lens.  To determine which filter you require for your specific application visit  www.urprofilters.com.


Theoretically, by using the colour white to calibrate the colour spectrum that is reflected through the lens of your camera to the CCD or CMOS sensors all of the other colours will be calibrated as well.  Keep in mind that as you descend the white balance will have to be calibrated for each new depth.  Similarly, if your position to the sun or sunlight penetration is altered you will need to white balance again.  Most non-linear editing applications will allow you to colour balance a video sequence in order to correct video footage that was shot with an incorrect white balance but it is best to ensure the white balance preset on your camcorder is correctly set or that you manually perform a white balance calibration for the current lighting conditions before you record your video footage.  I adopted the habit of manually white balancing the camera before just about every shot using the Amphibico Colour and White Balance Chart:    http://www.amphibico.com/store/carry-cases-and-accessories/colour-and-white-balance-charts.html


Alternatively the full colour spectrum can be restored by using lights to illuminate the subject but their effective range is limited to just a few feet.    Whether you shoot your video primarily using natural light (sunlight), video lights, or a combination of both types of light sources, you'll need to know how to set your camera's white balance so that your underwater video images appear correct.


The Outdoor white balance setting, indicated by the sun icon in the viewfinder, calibrates the camcorder's white balance for a 5500 °K light source and is also useful when you're shooting in shallow water (less than 20 ft) without a color correction filter.  This preset can also be used when you are shooting with HID video lights as these lights have a colour temperature very close to that of sunlight at midday. To some extent the Outdoor white balance setting in the above scenario will be properly white balanced for the primary light source (HID lights), as well as the secondary background light source (sunlight).

The Indoor white balance setting calibrates the camcorder's white balance for an incandescent/tungsten light source in the 3400 °K color temperature range. This white balance preset is indicated in the viewfinder by a small light bulb icon. Use this setting if you are shooting with quartz halogen video lights since their light source is in the warmer range of the colour temperature spectrum.  However, shooting with halogen video lights as your primary light source with sunlight as your secondary light source using the Indoor white balance setting will cause the background areas not lit by the halogen lights to appear bluer in colour. 



Katyk Briceño
"Amazing!!! Beautiful!!" 
Daniel LaFrance  
"Beautiful, akin to an underwater spiritual experience of sorts."
Walter Marshall   
"Whenever I watch your videos I am just taken away." 
Shaun Diaz   
"Well done, very well done. Mysterious, gorgeous and deeply inspiring... The best part is I am not naming any of it. It is nature in its most perfect and beautiful form." 
Christie Lopez  
"David...the video is beautiful and so is the music!! I love the music!!!!" 
Brian Dodd
"I just wanted to thank you for the moments of peace and beauty these clips brought to my hectic life."