Color temperature is a confusing term in photography circles. Which is why we’ve put together this article.
Colors are widely used in photography, as a way to compose images or to keep objects contrasting or complimenting the scene.
Here, we are going to learn a little about white balance. Knowing what color temperature is and how to use it will benefit your photography ten-fold.
Let’s get started.
What Is Color Temperature
When we look at the technical side of what color temperature is, we get words like “black-body radiator” and “chromacity space”. These are confusing and not at all necessery for what we need to know.
On a basic level, the color temperature of an image is found by looking at the white areas. If you capture a person wearing a white t-shirt, yet the white seems to be blue, then the color temperature is not correct. We would say it looks a little ‘cold’.
Likewise, if that persons shirt had tones of orange, it would be ‘warm’ and still not correct. You can use color temperature for creative endeavours. When we say correct, we mean the whites don’t look white, or realistic to their real color.
What makes an object warm or cold? Every light source gives off a different color temperature. It could be the sun, indoor lighting, a flash bulb or even reflected light.
They all place a color over your image.
You will notice when you enter different areas that the light gives off a different color. Camera sensors or film are way more susceptible to these colors.
The color temperatures given from the light sources are measured in Kelvin. This is sometimes referred to from its initial ‘K’.
You may have seen this in your photo editing software and wondered what it is.
How Do We Use Color Temperature for Photography
Color temperature in our images is very important. Having the correct settings to counter-balance the light source’s temperature is another step towards gaining professional images.
We use what is called ‘White Balance’ to ensure that our whites are white, and the colors in the image are true.
It stops the light source from creating a colour cast, so it is imperative that we chose the correct setting depending on each given scene.
This white balance is found in your camera. It will give you options such as Daylight, Shade, Tungsten, Flash, etc.
Each setting will place a different Kelvin value over your images, stopping the color cast from entering your photograph.
If for some reason, you didn’t quite get the right white balance setting, you can correct this during post-production. Although, to get the full range of settings, you need to be photographing in Raw.
This is just one reason why we suggest shooting your images using the Raw format.
By using software such as Adobe Lightroom, you are free to change the Temperature and Tint of the image’s color temperature.
Most photographers, especially beginners and hobbyists set their white balance to automatic. This is an easy way to deal with the color temperature issue, but it is by no means the best.
It is always better to find the correct white balance before you start photographing a scene.
This allows you to have the best possible image when you upload them and start post-processing. Remember the saying, GI-GO (Garbage In-Garbage Out)
NB: For film photographers, you can’t change this in-camera, you have to buy specific film.
Kelvin Color Temperature Chart
Below you’ll find our color temperature chart. It shows the range of the hues and strength of all light sources.
You’ll see it ranging between a clear blue sky at a Kelvin temperature of 10,000 K and a naked candle flame at 1,800 K.
You may find it tricky to begin with, but there are no easy fix solutions to gaining the correct color temperature.
Your camera is a pretty good guide for getting close. After that you can use post-processing image software to make those smaller changes.
There are a few apps you can use that will tell you what color temperature the light source is giving you.
At the end of the day, the live view on your camera and previewing images will give a good idea. Practise accessing the scene, and you’ll get it right soon after.