Kelvin And Color Temperature

As photographers it’s important to know the color temperature of any given light source in order to get crisp, clear, realistic-looking photographs. There’s nothing worse than wonky color casts to ruin an otherwise great picture. What’s great about Kelvin is you can manually select your color temperature based on your light source. Understanding Kelvin and color temperature is foundational for producing high-quality photographs your clients will love!

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What Is Color Temperature?

Color temperature measures the color of a light source, while also determining the degree of its warmth or coolness it. In everyday life we don’t give color temperature a second thought, but in photography, correct color temperature is essential to capturing accurate, natural, and realistically looking pictures. The human eye is adept at adjusting to various color temperatures, the camera, however, is not. That’s why we need to let the camera know the color temperature of a scene.

What Is Kelvin?

Kelvin is a rating system that is used to measure the color temperature of a specific light source. The higher the lighting is on the Kelvin scale, the whiter the light. To give you an idea of how it works, 5600(K) or Kelvin represents daylight. Temperatures above that number are cooler, while numbers below 5600K are warmer.

For instance, 3200K is the temperature of tungsten lighting, and gives off a yellowish cast. This is great if you what a warm glow. Fluorescent lighting has a temp of 4300K, which is more green. 7000K is in the cooler range, with more blue, as you can see in the chart below. The Kelvin scale includes a wide range from 1000K clear to 15000K, with each unit representing an absolute color temperature.

Kelvin color temperature scale

You can also use Kelvin when purchasing light bulbs for your home. First determine if you want a warm lighting source or a cool one. Temperatures that are lower on the Kelvin scale are warmer, with the higher numbers on the scale, being more cool in nature. The range for indoor lighting is typically on a scale from 2000K-6500K.

If you’re looking for ambient lighting that is quite dim, with more of a candlelight feel, opt for a light source of around 2000K or under, whereas, if you want more of a harsh, bluish light, choose a color temperature of 6500 or higher. Here’s what the Kelvin scale looks like in descending order:

  • 10000-15000K: Clear Blue Sky
  • 6500-8000 K: Cloudy Sky / Shade
  • 6000-7000K: Noon Sunlight
  • 5500-6500K: Average Daylight
  • 5000-5500K: Electronic Flash
  • 4000-5000K: Fluorescent Light
  • 3000-4000K: Early AM/Late PM
  • 2500-3000K: Domestic Lighting
  • 1000-2000K: Candle Flame

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What Is White Balance?

Photographers white balance their cameras in order to reproduce white accurately. The goal is to ensure that the white your eyes see is the same white the camera will see. When you white balance your camera, you’re letting it know what the color temperature is.

To tie color temperature, Kelvin, and white balance together, think of it this way: white balancing your camera before a shoot allows you to ensure the correct color temperature based on the light source you’re using. To fine tune this process even further, you can select a specific color temperature, based on the Kelvin scale within your camera settings.

Here’s a handy little tool that is great for white balancing your camera while you’re learning Kelvin. Once you get a feel for the different color temperatures, you’ll be able to automatically determine what temperature you should be shooting at, and set your Kelvin setting accordingly.

Kelvin Color Temperature Chart

Kelvin color temperature scale

How To Measure Color Temperature

Follow these steps to white balance your camera:

1. Set your camera to “Custom White Balance.”

2. Using a gray card, place it in front of your subject or have the person hold it.

3. Set you lens to manual focus. Now point your camera towards the card, filling the entire frame, and take a photo.

4. Go back to the menu and select “Custom White Balance’ again. Find the picture you just took.

5. Press “Set,” then “OK,” and “Set” again.

6. You can now shoot while keeping your white balance on “Custom.” Don’t forget to put your lens back on auto focus.

7. Repeat this process when your lighting conditions change.

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Setting Color Temperature In Kelvin

1. Go to your camera’s settings and select the white balance option

2. You’ll see a variety of presets like incandescent, fluorescent, direct sunlight, flash, shade and cloudy. You will also see an option for  Kelvin. Select that.

3. Using a color meter, a Kelvin chart, or your own knowledge of color temperature, select the appropriate Kelvin setting corresponding to your lighting. Check out these free Kelvin charts.

4. Remember to adjust your setting when your lighting changes.

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Key Points

Knowing the color temperature of the scene you’re photographing is an essential step in assuring your photographs are natural-looking, and the colors are accurate. You can do this by using the white balance setting in your camera, or take it a step further, by selecting a specific color temperature on the Kelvin scale based on your particular lighting source.

Take your knowledge of color temperature a step further, by using it to choose lighting for your home. Knowing the color temperature of your indoor lighting is a great way to customize the look and feel of each individual room depending on the mood you want to convey. Have fun with Kelvin. It’s an awesome way to become acquainted with color temperature.

Are you new to photography? Do you white balance your camera or use Kelvin? Let me know in the comments:)

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