A Guide To Color Temperature

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If you have ever edited your images with a warm or cool filter, you are familiar with the concept of color temperature.

Often marked as a yellow to blue color scale, color temperature specifically pertains to how colors are measured and how this effects their tonal ranges.

To help you have a better understanding of this principle and showcase examples of its application when editing your images, let’s take an in-depth look at color temperature.

What is Color Temperature?

In simple terms, color temperature is the color of light. According to a more technical definition from the world of physics, color temperature is the temperature at which a black body would emit radiation of the same color as a given object.

The values of color temperature are measured in Kelvin (K). As the value of the temperature increases, the color of the light becomes colder and as the value of the temperature decreases, the color of the light becomes warmer.

Color Temperature Scale 

The scale of color temperature ranges from red to yellow to yellow white to blue and to white. The color changes as the values increase or decrease. A lower number will be closer to red, while a higher number will be closer to white.

For a more understandable application, let’s give the example of two objects and their specific color temperatures. For example, candles have a temperature of 1850K, these objects consist of fire and are hot – therefore their color is within the red/orange range. Now, take a blue sky. The color temperature of this is going to be higher, around 10,000K which results in the light giving off a blue tone.

A good example of how objects place on the color temperature scale from warmest to coolest include:

Candlelight > Tungsten Light > Early Sunrise > Household Light Bulbs > Electronic Flash > Noon Daylight Direct Sun > Overcast Daylight > Blue Sky

The Relationship Between Color Temperature and White Balance

White balance, gray balance or neutral balance are all the process of making global adjustments to the intensities of colors during your image processing. This process is done to bring back the most natural, real to life colors to your photos. To do this, we must remove unrealistic color casts.

White balance refers to color temperature in the way that we must adjust our colors for specific scenarios in order to bring back what objects are white in our photographs.

For example, in artificial lighting conditions, our images may appear too yellow or blue due to the color temperature of the lighting source. In order to bring back the natural coloring to our image, we must adjust our white balance in post processing.

How To Adjust Color Temperature With Editing Tools

Using color temperature in editing software can be used to correct unrealistic tonal ranges or even add a unique, creative flair to your images.

As we mentioned, the color temperature scale ranges from yellow to blue. If you want to make your image warmer, you would move your slider toward yellow. If you want to make your image cooler, you would move your slider toward blue.

If we relate this to the psychology of colors, warmer images with a yellow, orange or red tone will be associated with objects such as sunlight or fire. While cooler images with blue or white tones will remind us of water and ice.

It is important to choose a color temperature for your images that will express the stylistic elements you hope to convey. While you should first use color temperature to give your image the most realistic appearance, you can add your own level of color temperature to create a personalized editing touch.

In addition to using the color temperature tool, you can also use the tint function to add the colors green and magenta to your image. When used together, these tools can often effectively adjust the white balance of the picture.

In Lightroom, you can adjust the color temperature in the basic adjustments panel.

In Photoshop, you can alter color temperature in the color balance panel where you can make adjustments to the highlights, mid tones and shadows.

Examples of Color Temperature

To show the difference between warmer and cooler tones in your images, here are a few side by side examples of varying degrees of color temperature.

Using Color Temperature in Your Images

As you can see, understanding and using color temperature can be a powerful tool to change the appearance of your images. Before editing, you should always ensure that your white balance is adjusted to showcase the most natural selection of tones for your images.

Whether you choose to create photographs with warmer or cooler tones, employing the use of color temperature to your images can be an effective way to develop a creative and unique editing style.