Your Photographs and Color Temperature June 30 2008, 0 Comments

Color Temperature is used to describe the color of visible light. This scale which describes visible light, known as the Kelvin Scale, was named after William Kelvin, a British physicist. Every photograph that we take has a specific color temperature assigned to it by the way we set up our digital cameras. Back in the days of color film, we chose a film for day light or night time (100 ISO, 400 ISO). As we progressed in film technology, we had more choices, (25 ISO, 50 ISO, 800 ISO), which allowed us to shoot in various lighting situations. Again, each of these films had a color temperature assigned to it. But with digital photography, we now need to choose our own color temperature, whether we choose by an icon located on our camera or by actually choosing a number on the Kelvin Scale.

Canon digital cameras are equipped with several icons that allow you to choose a color temperature based on the environment you are in when you want to take a photograph. For example, if you are in the day light, you can choose the “sun” icon. This will set your camera to a color temperature of about 5200K. Know that this temperature setting is for about 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM during the summer when day time is the longest.

If you are indoors, and have a lamp turned on, you can choose the “light bulb” icon and your color temperature will be about 3200K. Choosing the “cloud” icon on a cloudy day will set the color temperature at about 6000K. Choosing a color temperature gives your photograph an overall color tone. Lower numbers on the scale tend to be cooler or bluish in tone while higher numbers tend to be warmer and show more yellow light.

Keep in mind that our ability to see light is limited. Therefore, a certain color tone may be present in your photograph, even though you don’t remember “seeing” the image with that particular tone. That is when color correction becomes necessary. A good example of this is when photographing a person outdoors. It is often the case, unless the light is perfectly even, that the skin tone needs adjusting before printing. Skin tone varies widely and no color temperature is going to match every person’s skin perfectly.

Finally, most 35mm cameras will have the icon, “K”. This icon will allow you to choose your own color temperature. Depending on the time of day, I like to work in color range of 4900-5300K. It is a good idea to set your camera on various icons or numbered settings so that you can see the difference in the tones of your photographs. If you have ever gotten photos back from the lab, digital or film, and wondered why they looked so blue or green or yellow, now you know: your photograph was taken at a particular color temperature.

Don’t be afraid to experiment. Choose a landscape for example, and shoot it several times, using each icon on your camera. This will help you to see the color temperatures as your camera sees them. Then you can decide what color temperature(s) you prefer for your photographs.