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Color Temperature in Photography

Have you ever wondered why the flash turns your images blue? Or why do your photos get different tints in different kinds of light? This concept is called color temperature in photography. It might be a little intimidating for beginners. But once you learn the basics of photography, it is important to understand the more ‘confusing’ aspects. 

In this article, you will not only understand what is color temperature in photography but also how to correct it using white balance.

What is Color Temperature?

Before moving on to the more technical terms, let us start with some basic understanding of the topic. As the name suggests, Color Temperature has everything to do with the temperature of the color, literally. You can say that it defines the warmth or the coolness of a color. 

In simpler terms, every light source produces a different color of light. For instance, a candle produces a yellowish or reddish light, whereas a flash produces a sharp blue light. When you express these different lights as a number, that number is called the color temperature. It is measured in Kelvin, denoted by K. 

Color Temperature in Photography

Now that you understand what color temperature is, let us see how it affects photography. It is clear by now that different sources produce different colors of light. But the point to understand is that our eyes adapt to this change so well that we are not able to distinguish between the colors. Our eyes will recognize the color of the object rather than the color of the light projecting on it.  

However, digital cameras are not able to adapt. This is why the cameras capture the blue tint of flash and the yellow light of the candle. Fortunately, there is a way to correct this either in the camera or in post-processing.

Ferris wheels - Color Temperature in Photography

Photo edited in Lightroom.

Understanding White Balance

As you might have guessed, color temperature mostly affects the white parts of the image. So, the apparent method to correct it would be shifting the color temperature so that it becomes neutral. This is called White Balance in photography

Using this process, we get rid of the tints so that the image looks more natural. It does this by adding the opposite color to those parts so that the original one gets canceled. As mentioned before, it can be corrected using the in-camera settings or using a photo editor in post-processing.

In-Camera White Balance

The easiest method to correct color temperature in photography is by using the in-camera settings. Most of the camera manufacturers have been so kind to include presets in the camera for adjusting color temperature manually. The presets are in the form of settings that commonly include sun, fluorescent, tungsten, and shade.  

Some cameras go a step further and let you choose a specific Kelvin value to set in the camera. This setting is even more helpful because it gives you total control over the color temperature.  

If you wish to take it easy and not delve into these settings, then there is an alternative way for you as well. Simply, set your camera to AWB which stands for Auto White Balance. It will automatically scan your photo and determine a neutral color. Depending on that color, it will set the color temperature of the image.

Autumn leaves - Color Temperature in Photography

Adjusting White Balance in Post-Processing

If you fully understand color temperature in photography, then the next step is to learn how to correct it using post-processing software. Just make sure that you shoot in RAW so that you get more control over the changes. 

You can basically find the settings as either White Balance or Color Correct. Just like in your camera, you can also use the AWB in post-processing. It functions the same and also is pretty helpful if the lighting is complex. 

However, if you want to set it manually, then here’s how to do it. By default, WB will be to As Shot. Click on it to open the drop-down menu. There you will see several presets for white balance such as daylight, cloudy, shade, tungsten, fluorescent, and also flash. 

Moreover, there are sliders that you can use instead of using the presets. The Temp slider controls the temperature, moving it to the right will make the image warmer and vice versa. The Tint slider will let you control green and magenta tint. 

There’s also an Eyedropper tool. First, select it and then hover over the colors. This way you can find out the neutral color. A color panel will appear which will show the range of colors in the adjacent pixels. You can pick any neutral color in order to set the White Balance.

Conclusion - Color Temperature in Photography

To sum it all up, color temperature in photography is the measure of the warmth or the coolness of the colors in the image. Now the important thing to understand is that it depends on you to choose the right color temperature. You can either go for a natural look or change it to get a more artistic look.  

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