Understanding White Balance and Color Temperature in Photography
White Balance is the primary engine for color management. Have you ever seen a picture that appears to be too red or too blue? That’s an example of an improperly calibrated white balance.
When a daylight WB setting is used, deep shade, dawn, and twilight all look very blue. Just after the sun rose behind the arch, the color instantly warmed up and the image was imbued with the beautiful golden tones associated with sunrise and sunset. Again, only a daylight WB produces this kind of yellowish coloration. If you use auto white balance, these tones will be absent and the picture won’t have the visual and emotional impact.
The Kelvin (K) White Balance setting is one many photographers hesitate to use, but can be a great option to be familiar with. By dialing in a Kelvin temperature, you assign a look to the overall color, based on the lighting in the scene. Kelvin White Balance offers fine control of the overall warmth or coolness of color, since the settings are set in very small 100°K increments on EOS cameras. In daylight, setting a higher Kelvin value, such as 5,500°K or 7,500°K, introduces a deliberate amber tone to the image that can mimic the look of late-afternoon sunlight. And a lower Kelvin value, such as 3,500°K or even 2,500°K, progressively adds a cool blue hue to the overall scene.
Matching the Kelvin setting to the type of daylight or tungsten-type artificial light in a scene to get white balance as close to perfect as possible is one way to use the Kelvin White Balance option. Another is to vary the K-value to make subtle or major changes, such as the intentional warming of daylight just mentioned. With RAW images, it's always possible to experiment and fine-tune the Kelvin value at the computer until you get just what you're looking for or get acquainted with the possibilities of Kelvin White Balance. And when recording video or shooting JPEG original images with EOS Digital SLRs, the Kelvin White Balance setting becomes a great way to nail down a particular color or "look" in any daylight-type lighting condition or under tungsten artificial lighting. Of course, with video or JPEG imagery, white balance can't simply be reset later on in the computer -- one reason that the fine control of the Kelvin White Balance setting can sometimes be such an important asset.
If the Auto White Balance or Daylight White Balance isn't quite giving you the look you want, Kelvin White Balance becomes an option worth pursuing.
To get initially acquainted with the Kelvin White Balance setting, you might want to take three images (JPEGs or even short video clips will be fine for this purpose) in a specific lighting condition -- such as sunlight or an overcast sky. Set the Kelvin White Balance option and on your camera's Shooting Menu, dial-in a standard daylight Kelvin value like 5,500°K. Be sure to lock it in by pressing the "SET" button on the back of the camera.
Then, repeat, with the K-value set at its highest setting (10,000°K). You'll see how much more amber is introduced into the white balance. After that, reset the Kelvin value to its lowest setting (2,500°K) and observe the difference. Often, you'll be making adjustments in far smaller increments for subtle changes. But this is an easy way to see how Kelvin White Balance can warm up or cool down the lighting in a scene.
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