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photographic colour temperature (white balance)

NB. this is different to colour calibration.

Digital colour temperature adjustment

  • see also:
  • there are many methods to get accurate colour temperature in digital photographs or images:
    • use the camera color temperature “white balance”:
      • can just set it to auto white balance and hope it is accurate
        • BUT many situations can trick the camera
        • A camera set to Auto-WB is always making changes. It's always adjusting the color as the framing changes, as the focus changes, and as the exposure changes. There's no consistency between photos, and there's no control over the quality of your images.
      • set it to a set colour temperature (eg. daylight or flash) and hope this is accurate
        • BUT colour temperature of daylight changes with time of day
        • AND even when using the apparently constant temperature of flash, the final temperature is determined by reflected flash light from surrounding materials such as painted walls
      • do a custom white balance by placing a grey or white card in front of the camera lens with it lit by the same light that will light your subject and follow the camera instructions to set the white balance.
        • a manual WB helps with accurate colors AND consistency between shots.
        • this is especially important if you are colour blind and thus have difficulty making adjustments later.
      • alternatively, to assist in colour temperature and exposure determinations before you take the photo, you may wish to consider purchasing either:
        • an 18% neutral gray card which can also be used for setting exposures.
        • expodisc but requires you to face the camera at the light source with it on, can also be used for checking the calibration of your camera's light meter
        • WarmCards system for $US45 to allow you to customise the effect you want, such as a warmer more pleasing image.
        • see also:
    • use RAW development software assuming you have shot in RAW file mode:
      • preferably need an image with a grey card in it so that the grey card area can be used to set the white balance as per the software's instructions, then this setting can be used for other images taken in the same lighting.
    • use Photoshop's levels setting:
      • ideally the colout remperature should be fixed before you get it into Photoshop, otherwise you should preferably have one image with a gray card in it which has been lit by the same lighting.
      • open the Image-Adjustment-Levels dialog box and select the middle eye dropper (“set gray point”) and click on the gray card in the image. This will automatically adjust the image to remove any colour casts. Without doing any other adjustments, click save and then this adjustment can be used for any other image taken under the same lighting.
      • alternatively you can use the left eye dropper to select the darkest region, or the right eye dropper to select the whitest region that is not burnt out.
    • use Photoshop's curves setting:
      • this is a bit more difficult, so won't go into details here. 
      • one way is to know what some common colors should be then correct the image to achieve it, thus when working in CYMK mode:
        • magenta in sky blue should be half that of the cyan
        • skin tones in a Caucasian person should consist of roughly equal parts of magenta and yellow, and a dash of cyan (equal to 15-25% the value of the magenta and yellow). Darker skinned people will have more cyan, and lighter skinned people will have less. Oriental people will have little cyan, and a smidgen more yellow than magenta.
        • neutral gray colors should have equal amounts of yellow and magenta, with 10-20% more cyan. (In theory, there should be equal amounts of each color, but cyan is a weak ink, and needs some help.)

Analog colour temperature conversion in detail:

  • one way to work out which filter to use is to work out the mired difference between the film colour temperature and the lighting colour temperature via the table below
    • ie. daylight film 5500K = 182 mired, and thus when using tungsten light source at 3200K = 312 mired, this equates to a difference of 130 mired and the closest filter to this is the 80A filter which gives a mired shift of minus 131 mired
  • if you have plenty of money, then you can purchase a colour temperature meter which will assist you in working out which filter to use by giving you a reading of the ambient colour temperature.

Colour temperature of light sources:

  • candle flame 1500°K
  • sunrise 2000°K
  • 40W tungsten 2760°K
  • 60W tungsten 2790°K
  • 100W tungsten 2860°K
  • 500W tungsten 2950°K
  • 1000W tungsten 3000°K
  • studio lamps 3200°K
  • photofloods 3400°K
  • “warm white” flourescent 3500°K
  • clear flash lamp / sunlight early morning 4200°K
  • “cool white” flourescent 4500°K
  • blue photoflood 4800°K
  • noon daylight, electronic flash 5500°K
  • direct sunlight 10am-3pm avg. 5500-6000°K
  • “daylight” flourescent; heavy overcast  6500°K
  • light overcast sky 6800-7500°K 
  • hazy blue sky 7500-8400°K
  • clear blue sky 10000-27000°K

Colour temperature to mired value table:

°K 0 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 900
2000 500 476 455 435 417 400 385 370 357 345
3000 333 323 312 303 294 286 278 270 263 256
4000 250 244 238 233 227 222 217 213 208 204
5000 200 196 192 189 185 182 179 175 172 169
6000 167 164 161 159 156 154 152 149 147 145

Mired shift values of common colour conversion filters:

  • values are approximate & for critical work should be checked by practical test, especially if combinations are used.
FilterExposure increaseMired shiftFilterExposure increaseMired shift
80A (bluish)2 1/3rd stops-131 (3200 to 5500)81 (yellowish)1/39
80B2-112 (3400 to 5500)81A1/318
80C1-81 (3800 to 5500)81B1/327
80D1-56 (4200 to 5500)81C1/335
82C2/3rds stop-4581D2/342
82A1/3-2185C1/381 (5500 to 3800)
821/3-10852/3112 (5500 to 3400)
   85B2/3131 (5500 to 3200)
photo/colour_temp.txt · Last modified: 2011/09/26 13:16 by gary