Another Look at temperature- a one stop fix?

April 25, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

Another Look at Temperature

Most experienced photographers understand the basics about light temperature and color based on the Kelvin scale. Without going into a whole bunch of physics here, the scale as it applies to light describes light moving from a warm orangish tone at about 3000 degrees Kelvin to a much more blue tone as it moves toward blue at about 7000 kelvin.

Many studio strobes and speedlights are calibrated to produce light at roughly 5200  Kelvin which produces a very white light. Commercial household lights may be slightly cooler, in the 4,500 up to 5,000 Kelvin range. Candlelight of course is much cooler coming in around the 2,500 to 3,000 Kelvin range.

Understanding this can have a subtle or dramatic effect on your images. This is particularly true as it relates to photographing people. Strangely enough, many studio strobes produce a color temperature similar to the sun at about Noon which is not always pleasing to skin color.


Taking a look at these two images, we can clearly see that the skin tone on the left image is significantly lighter than the skin tone on the right. The image on the left was made with a standard studio strobe and the skin looks a little bleached. Many photographers avoid making images around noon for a number of reasons such exposure and harsh shadows. The image to the right was editing by moving the slider in Lightroom (or photoshop) to a higher temperature, which in this case  from 5,200 to about 6,500  Kelvin which is similar to what one may find in shade. Notice that the skin color appears much more natural. Even the colors in the flowers seem a little more natural. This was the ONLY change that was made to this image. 

Now this seems totally backwards from what it should be! One would normally try to move to a LOWER number on the scale (warming the image) if the Kelvin scale is correct. Well the Kelvin scale is correct, but in most editing programs including photoshop you are actually compensating for an incorrect color balance on your image. So if we consider the image to the right as having too much blue, we are are saying during the during the editing process is to decrease the amount of blue in the image.

This is VERY strange, however it seems like those who designed photo editing programs would be somewhat consistent in the manner in which they designed controls to work.  In any case, when in a portrait shot, think about what we would normally do is try to move a subject out of direct sunlight. In a landscape image, we would probably try to wait a little later in the afternoon so that our colors would be more saturated than they may be at high noon.


Obviously every image is a little different, but give the temperature slider a nudge even if you are working with high end studio strobes and you may be surprised at the results.




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