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How to White Balance Friday Night Lights

The Whole Picture

How to White Balance Friday Night Lights

Mark Jenkins

By Ruben Negrete & Mark Jenkins

We pushed the limits of our PROtog Gear last Friday at Newport Harbor's Homecoming football game against neighboring rival Huntington Beach High School.  Mark's kids attend Newport.  His daughter was on the on the sidelines, a member of the cheer team.  Ruben is a Huntington Beach Alumni.  We stood shoulder to shoulder for most of the game, cheering for our respective teams.  It was a game for the history books.  Newport pulled ahead with a score of 52-48 with less than 30 seconds left in the game.  HB drove the ball down field and had their final play, a 13 yard pass into the end zone intercepted by Newport.  This article is about white balance, so if you're interested in the game, you can find out all of the details here: http://www.dailypilot.com/sports/tn-dpt-sp-1011-newport-harbor-football-huntington--20141010,0,2533717,full.story

© Ruben Negrete NIKON D4, 400mm, 1/320th f5.6 ISO 12,800

The first thing we noticed, was the color was all over the place using automatic white balance.  The stadium lighting didn't match any of the pre-sets that Nikon or Canon use.  Our guess is that they must be sodium vapor or mercury vapor lights.  By using one of our favorite tools, the Expodisc (only $5 at PROtog Rentals), we were able to get the perfect color temperature for these lights (which happened to be 4676°K).

© Ruben Negrete NIKON D4, 175mm, 1/320th f5.6 ISO 12,800

We were surprised to see that the color was still shifting, even when we locked down the white balance on the custom setting.  Our next experiment was to shoot in manual exposure, rather than in shutter priority (thinking that the exposure may be causing the color shift).  We got the same results with about half of our shot looking dark and red, while the other half looked perfect. We noticed that in some shots, we would have great white balance on one part of the field, and bad white balance on the other part of the field.  These types of lights flicker 60 times per second.  Too fast for our eyes to see, but the camera can see it when it is set to a shutter speed faster than 1/60th of a second.  The light changes from a bright, white to a dim, red before it flashes off and on again.  The more lights that a field has, the less your camera will be able to see this effect.  After quite a bit of experimenting with different shutter speeds, we found that anything below 1/60th would have perfect white balance every time.  We can't shoot sports at 1/60th of a second.  In a perfect world, I wouldn't shoot below 1/1000th.  So we compromised, shot everything in RAW at 1/400th to 1/800th and did a little work in post using Capture One software.  All of the shots shown on this page were the ones that needed significant white balance fixes in post.

© Ruben Negrete NIKON D4, 400mm, 1/320th f5.6 ISO 12,800

So the answer to the question "How do you white balance for Friday Night Lights?" is: Use an Expodisc to reduce the amount of time you have to spend fixing images using RAW editing software.