Pages Navigation Menu

Digital Photography Tips, Tutorials, Community

Looking for a professional critique of your photos or a portfolio review? Click here and get yours!



Trick Your Digital Camera to Emulate Film

The Color of Light

White balance is a subjective decision, and I would suggest not letting the camera make that decision for you—thus, it’s best to avoid AWB, or the automatic white balance setting on your camera. In AWB, the scene is analyzed during the exposure and calculations are made by the camera’s software, usually in less than a fraction of a second.  As a result, you could literally place your camera on a tripod, set it to high motor-drive mode, and squeeze off a dozen frames—only to find that the frames are not identically white balanced.  This happens because the end result is based on camera manufacturer proprietary software. This software interprets, or interpolates the light captured as it sees it in that split-second.  While this interpolation is usually very good, one problem is that the auto setting can actually neutralize color casts that you want in your photos, such as the sweet, warm qualities of the Golden Hour light.

Playboy Playmate Holley Dorrough Photograph

Playboy Playmate Holley Dorrough was photographed in the Moab with digital camera white balance settings at 6000 Kelvin.

This is why I normally shoot all my photographs, except maybe the kid’s birthday party photos, in manual white balance mode.  I like to tell the camera the number of the color temperature, not let the camera tell me what it thinks is best.  A camera is made to capture what I create, not to create and capture what it thinks logically is best.

Kelvin Variances
Kelvin temperature of light will fluctuate based on many conditions. Some conditions include the actual location of the shoot in longitude and latitude, pollution, atmospheric conditions, time of day, time of year (angle of light), etc., when it comes to natural light. In the case of artificial light, age of a bulb, voltage drops, and various brands of lamps alone will cause the color temperature output to vary.
On a normal basis, my camera white balance is set manually at 6000K, or 6000 Kelvin. Kelvin is how we measure color temperature of light, and for most photographers, the only real Kelvin numbers we need to remember are 3200K for tungsten or incandescent light sources; 5000K to 6000K which represents most daylight situations during the middle of the day, and 5400K which is the temperature most top of the line studio flash units produce.

When I use the 6000K setting on my digital camera with daylight or studio flash conditions, I’m basically tricking my camera into believing the light is slightly cool, similar to light on a cloudy day or light under shade. This forces the camera just a tad bit more of yellows and reds, or warmth, to compensate for this coolness.  All the camera knows is that it must ensure a given standard white, 100 IRE, is reproduced as that given white under any lighting conditions. That’s all the camera is doing, making sure white stays white.

Brittany photo from digital camera with white balance at 6000 Kelvin

I captured this image of Brittney using the daylight reflected off the white wall and my digital camera white balance was set at 6000 Kelvin.

By ensuring that my digital camera will introduce this extra warmth in my photographs, I’m basically emulating the days I shot saturated-warm slide film for publication—films like the now discontinued Kodak E100SW professional film. Using this manual white balance setting on my digital camera makes my camera think that I’m using a cool-colored light source.  In an attempt to neutralize this, the camera’s white balance software will add the complimentary color (yellow and reds).  Since I’m actually shooting under neutral lighting, this results in a warmer overall photo.  This works great for models or female subjects especially for darker-skinned models and it’s especially effective for fair complexions too.

Let’s imagine, however, that your model’s skin is a bit ruddy.  In that situation you might move your manual white balance camera setting more toward 5500K.  With ruddy skin, you don’t want any more reds, and setting the white balance closer to the more neutral flash or daylight setting will accomplish this (i.e., the camera will not add warmth).  This same principal works when shooting with light sources that are not daylight balanced.  Starting with the actual color temperature of the light you are shooting under, choose a slightly higher color temperature value to warm your subject’s skin tones, or select a slightly lower setting to cool them down a bit.

The scale below provides my personal interpretation of warm to cool, with neutral being normal, noon-to-3 p.m. daylight.  For example, look at “Light Overcast Day” on the chart.  You’ll notice the color temperature is approximately 5800-6000K, or “Cool +1.”  This means that the light is one “unit of color” cooler than neutral (which is clear, colorless, boring light).

Condition Kelvin Temp Warm vs Cool
Sunrise & Sunset 1600K to 4300K Warm +3 to +.5
Average Candlelight 1800K to 1900K Warm +3
Sodium Mercury Vapor Street Lights 2300K Warm +2.5
Average Household Bulb (Incandescent) 2800K to 3200K Warm +2 to +1.5
Professional Tungesten 3200K Warm +1.5
One hour after Sunrise 3500K Warm +1
Mid-Morning Daylight 4300K to 4500K Warm
Daylight at 12 noon 5000K to 6000K, average 5400K Neutral
Pro Print Viewing Lamps 5000K Neutral light standard
Average Electronic Flash 5400K Neutral
Light Overcast Day 5800 to 6000K Cool +1
Heavy Overcast Day 6500K Cool +1.5
Shade 5800 to 10000K, average 8000K Cool +1 to +3, average  +2
Daylight Fluorescent Bulb, Consumer 6500K Cool + 1

*Kelvin Scale notes: The only precise way to measure the actual color temperature of light is with a calibrated color temperature meter.  Because of this, this scale includes approximate values.

Fashion Model Jenni photographed with digital camera, white balance at 6000 Kelvin

I photographed Jenni in the Moab and this image was not captured during the Golden Hour, so for added warmth, I set my digital camera to the manual white balance mode of 6000 Kelvin.

In the days of making color prints in the darkroom, we often referred to color correction of photos in units of color, such as +1, +2 or -1, -2 of cyan, magenta or yellow—or the exact opposites: red, green or blue.  With this in mind, a Light Overcast Day is +1 cool, which is almost like +1 cyan (a blue-green color).  When I set my camera at 6000K white balance, as I often do, it’s the same as telling my camera the light is +1 cyan, so the camera adds the opposite.  Again, the camera thinks it’s doing what it’s programmed to do, bring a known white, back to that standard white, but in reality, it’s tricked into warming the entire image.

Want to experience the greatest travel adventure? We've got your Travel Photography Adventures, just click here!



3 Comments

  1. Hi
    Can anyone tell me please why digital cameras give Kelvin temperatures which are the OPPOSITE of actual Kelvin values?

    For example, whereas low Kelvin values are in reality warm, all digital cameras and software which allow such adjustments will render images cooler if you set a low value and warmer if you set a high Kelvin value. This is the opposite of true temperatures!

    Why this is the case I have no idea and no-one has ever been able to give me an answer either…needless to say, I have noticed this with every camera I have owned and ..yep, I’m confirming it again, right now, as I view an image shot under tungsten in an editor – I turn the slider up to 14000K and the image is rendered very warm – it should be very cool..14000K is very cool NOT very warm!!

    So weird!

    • The idea on cameras is to add the exact opposite of the white-balance (Kelvin) number you dial in. As explained in the article, if I set the white-balance to 6000K, which is a cooler light, the camera adds the automatic difference to make 100 IRE white, white. If my light source is 5400K, my camera set at 6000K, my camera adds the warmth (the opposite Kelvin) to cancel out the difference (600K of warmth). This is why I call it “tricking” the camera. The camera only knows, in manual white-balance mode, what you dial in by the numbers and will add the exact opposite Kelvin to bring a known white, 100 IRE, white. That is what you are seeing and that is what the article is explaining. The cameras are not wrong in manual white-balance when it comes to Kelvin, they are only correcting to bring white to white, by using the exact opposite of the dialed-in Kelvin value.

  2. Howdy! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering which blog platform
    are you using for this website? I’m getting sick and tired of WordPress because I’ve had problems with hackers and I’m looking at options for another platform. I would be awesome if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Tweets that mention Lens Diaries Photography Tips, Photos, Camera Technology, Instruction |Lens Diaries -- Topsy.com - [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Brooke Smith. Brooke Smith said: RT @lensdiaries: RT @lensdiaries Trick Your Camera…
  2. Snapshots in Photoshop, Tutorial | Lens Diaries™ - [...] or selected part of the image. For example, using my white balance techniques, I photograph women with a more…

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 

Welcome to LensDiaries.com (Lens Diaries™), a hybrid photography blog with social flair. The photoblog provides photo tips, photo tutorials and photo diaries by professional photographer, author, writer, speaker and social media consultant, Rolando Gomez.

Lens Diaries™ is open to all levels of photographers, beginners to advanced, including fine art photography, fashion photography, wedding photography, portrait photography, people photography, baby photography, sports photography, nature photography, iphoneography, landscape photography, studio photography, underwater photography, etc.

Our primary photography focus is digital photography and digital cameras. From iPhones to Canon’s and Nikon’s, you can count on us!