Fireworks White Balance
Testing the best settings for fireworks video.
In this article I’m going to test eight different coloured fireworks using eight different white balance settings for each. This will give 64 results across the whole white balance range from 2500K up to 9500K. We can then use these results to pick the best manual white balance setting to use when filming firework displays.
Watch the video
To see the results of this test in a video format along with my conclusions, you can watch the video below. If you find it useful please remember to like and subscribe – your support is appreciated. You can also scroll down for more background information about white balance.
Results summary and reference chart
In the video above I mention that all of the results have been summarised into a handy chart which you can use to help with your own filming. Here it is:
My previous go-to white balance setting of 5500K (or “daylight sunny”) does a good job with all the colours except blues and purples. To bring out the blues nicely you need to drop right down to 2500K. However, the green is a little faded at that low setting.
3500K would seem to give a good showing of all the colours including blue, though it is starting to fade a little. As I conclude in my video above, 3000K might be a good compromise between the two.
However these tests clearly show that 5500K/daylight is not the best setting to use for fireworks. It’s worth mentioning too that results will be dependent on the quality of your camera gear and the sensor; as you move towards professional gear colours render much nicer across various settings.
If you are filming fireworks individually and you know they are a specific colour, you should pick a different setting that brings that colour out nicely. Use the chart above as a reference guide.
New: Some 3000K test footage
Since publishing this article there has been some white balance discussion and one of my advertisers, The Fireworks Shop in Preston, has filmed a display at 3000K to see what it came out like.
What’s interesting is the screen grab below which they’ve kindly let me add to this article. As you can see, at 3000K the results are broadly as predicted by my chart above. The blues and purples look great and the other colours still look fine too. As expected, the footage is “cooler” in the sense that golds are mostly represented as silver. You may or may not like that look compared to “warmer” footage with golds preserved but the blues lost. As I have said before, much of this is quite subjective. I like this crisper, colder tone, but you may not.
The camera is a Sony A7 III. Note: I can’t link to this video sadly as Vimeo requires registration to view it (due to it not yet being “rated” as suitable for any audience).
More about these tests
This filming was done using a type of firework called a coloured flare as this produces a flame long enough to film at various white balance settings. I picked 2500K as the starting point and then 1000K increments giving eight settings in total, per flare. This also ensured one of the readings was near to daylight white balance (5500K).
The camera used was a Nikon APS-C format camera, a Z50. I used the standard picture profile and filmed in 4K at 25p. There is no colour correction or any editing of the resulting footage. Whilst other camera brands have slightly different colour science, the results should give a general idea of how each colour comes out at different white balance settings.
The other video settings were simply determined by the firework itself to ensure it was reasonably bright but not over exposed. I ended up at 1/50th shutter, F4.5 and ISO 160. That ISO is actually quite low for fireworks and for general display shooting you should expect to use a higher value. In this case as the flare was so close it didn’t need a higher ISO.
For beginners: White balance basics
During normal everyday filming, the main light source in your video will vary significantly in colour. For example, the sun is a completely different colour to indoor light bulbs.
Our brains do a great job of adjusting for this so that objects that should appear white – like a sheet of paper – remain white under most lighting conditions. White balance is how a camera makes similar adjustments to ensure that white objects appear white in the final video. Think of it as a continual adjustment of the colour to compensate for different lighting.
Most of the time, cameras and phones do a good enough job when set to auto white balance which is the default setting on most cameras. In fact most people when taking photos and video don’t even realise there is a manual setting! But it doesn’t always get it right; you can see this when filming in mixed lighting conditions where white objects can change tone slightly, from cool (blue tint) to warm (yellow tint).
Auto white balance is a continual process and can be distracting under the same light source if your camera suddenly decides to change the colour tone. This is why most professionals will always “lock” white balance to a specific setting. White balance is set differently on various cameras, most require you to take a photo or video of a grey or white object (typically a white balance card) and the camera picks a value which ensures the card is white or grey without any colour tints.
As an example when I film indoors under studio lighting I use a white balance card to set my camera. I also hold up a white balance card so that, afterwards, I can tweak the colour balance in my video editor to ensure the card is white. Then I know all my colours will be reasonably accurate:
Fireworks present cameras with several problems when set to auto white balance.
Firstly most firework displays consist of quite a lot of dark, empty sky at times. There is nothing here for the camera to measure and set the white balance to. Second, we actually want fireworks to come out on video in their true colours, but the camera doesn’t always know that a firework should be that shade of red or blue. Lastly, cameras are easily swayed by other lighting sources in your frame. For example, if you are at a firework event and there’s a crowd lit up by floodlights, the camera will look at the colour of these and try and compensate for it, affecting your firework colours too.
Generally then the results can be unpredictable. You’ll find when using auto white balance that some footage will look great, other footage won’t. You’ll find sequences of gold can be coloured silver (the camera is seeing the warm gold and thinking it needs to cool the colour) and some colours like blue may not come out at all.
This is why manually setting white balance can significantly improve your footage (along with using a tripod for stability and locking your focus).
How to set your white balance
Every system is different so at the risk of stating the obvious, referring to your manual is a good place to start. But in general:
Mobile phones which can produce fantastic results may need a third party app to manually control their settings. On my iPhone I use an app called FilmicPro. It’s not free but offers full manual control over white balance, focus and exposure. Or you can just set specific settings and leave the others in auto.
GoPro cameras require you to edit the video settings. Look under “Protune” and tap on “White Balance”. You can set it between 2300K to 6500K though only in set increments. The closest settings with my GoPro 9 are 2800K and 3200K.
DLSRs and mirrorless cameras usually offer full fine tuning of white balance to any value in K. Look under your white balance menu. If you do not have a K setting and only have fixed presets such as cloudy, sunny, fluorescent and so on, check your manual for the one closest to the K setting you want off my chart above.
More advanced videographers will also have access to post-filming tools in their video editor. Whilst in theory it’s possible to do anything with colours after filming, getting the right balance to start with can save you a lot of time later. Also you cannot easily add colour that has been lost in the original film. I am thinking here of blue fireworks if your white balance was set too high and you have lost that colour completely.
What about photos?
In general the same results will apply to photos. If you are shooting in JPEG mode it is handy then to set the correct white balance to reduce the amount of editing you will have to do later on.
More advanced photographers will usually shoot in RAW mode and apply a white balance setting afterwards on their computer. I will explore all this – including whether the in-camera white balance setting is redundant when shooting RAW in a future article.