Get Your Camera Out Of Auto... NOW! Pt. 5: Kelvin Temperature
First allow myself to introduce myself. You have likely seen various pictures of me on the blog, but not heard much else about me. I am Rich, Danielle's husband. About 4 years ago, I started an LED Lighting company with a friend of mine. Since then, our business has been growing in a big way. Along the way, I have learned way more about lighting than the average human being really cares to know. One of the things that I have learned is the Kelvin Temperature scale.
Who was Kelvin you ask? Well... Way back in the mid 1800's Lord Kelvin wrote an essay on thermodynamics. Since this is a photography blog and I know nothing about thermodynamics, I will summarize and say that his theories were adapted over the years and are now used to help us define the different colors of light that we live in every day without thinking much of it.
When thinking of color temperature, you can think of it in the opposite way you would think of a fire. I was always taught that the hotter the fire, the more blue the fire would appear. A yellow, red, orange fire represented a cooler burning fire. The kelvin temperature scale flips this on its head. The cooler the color temperature, the more blue it will appear. The warmer the color temperature, the more red it will appear. The chart on the left provides you a comprehensive reference for color temperature. On the far right, it gives examples of different things that we would commonly come into contact with. Things like candle light at the very bottom as the warmest light we likely experience, and the perfect blue cloudless sky that we often experience here in Florida as the coolest color temperature we experience. If you were to print out the chart and stick it in your camera bag, you could use it as a quick reference. The chart will get you in the ball park, then you can use your discerning eye to dial it in 100k at a time.
Now that you have read a couple of paragraphs that seem overly scientific, you are wondering, "What does this mean for photography?" Well... If you look at your digital camera (point and shoot or DSLR), you more than likely have some form of white balance feature. In most cases, we just leave it in auto or select one of the various presets given to us by the camera company like "Indoor" or "Daylight." In the case of a preset, or an auto feature, the camera and its manufacturer is taking an educated guess as to the color of the light you are going to be shooting in. For instance, an "indoor" setting is likely going to be set around 3000k or "Warm White" because most mass produced indoor incandescent light generally falls into the 2700 - 4000k color temperature range. By assuming that the room you are in contains these kind of lights, your immensely intelligent camera color corrects your photo for you. When working correctly, your whites will look bright white and your blues and reds will look crisp and clear as well. Some examples you ask? Here are a few off the cuff shots I took around the house. These should help you get an idea of how white balance/color correction works. Keep in mind, when your camera is set on a really high color temperature (e.g. 7000k) it is adding yellow and red to the colors of our image in order to offset the amount of blue light in the environment you are shooing in. On the flip side, when you are set at a really low color temperature (e.g. 3000k) your camera is compensating by adding blue. Check out these pictures with the settings below and look closely. Look for the known white colors (e.g. fence, paint on the house), and then look for the other colors in the photo. When they all look the way you think they should, you have hit just the right setting.
So what does this all mean? How does it make me a better photographer. Without being long winded as I tend to be, here are a few ways it can improve your photography.
1) You can artistically color your shots BEFORE you get them into Photoshop saving yourself some time. Some folks like warmer shots. If that's you, then you can take over your camera and shoot in a warm color temperature all the time!
2) You wont be tied to AWB which can sometimes leave your photos looking wonky. This will save you time, especially if you have to take a couple of steps to let your camera determine the appropriate white balance using some form of smart white balance feature.
3) If you are the one providing the lighting, or are in a location that provides a consistent light color (e.g. a studio, indoor event, a particular time of day, etc), you can optimize your camera for that kind of light, saving yourself some time in the editing phase.
I hope you found this blog to be insightful! If you have any questions, feel free to comment on this blog and I will get back to you ASAP.