Tip Four – The Colors of Light
Did you know that all light has a color? Our human eye corrects for it, but when light is captured digitally or with film to make a photograph one quickly sees that different light sources have different temperatures, or colors. To become a certified photo geek you will need to know these basic colors, or light temperatures, and a bit about color theory.
The human eye can distinguish about 10 million colors. Not even the folks at Crayola have come up with names for all of those colors! As children we simply learn the colors of the rainbow as seen above. They are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Remember Roy G. Biv?
Color temperatures are measured in degrees Kelvin (K) that indicate the hue of a specific type of light source. See the chart below for some examples. A low Kelvin number is very warm, or orange, like a sunset. A high color temperature is very blue, like an overcast day.
2000K Very early sunrise or late sunrise
2500K Household light bulbs
3000K Studio lights, photo floods
4000K Clear flashbulbs
5000K Typical daylight, electronic flash
5500K The sun at noon
6000K Bright sunshine with clear sky
7000K Slightly overcast day
8000K Hazy Sky
9000K Open shade on a clear day
10,000K Heavily overcast sky
In order to correct for a color, you add the opposite color on the photo wheel. For instance tungsten light is yellow, so correct it by adding blue. Fluorescent light is green, so correct with magenta. If you find yourself in the shade or photographing on an overcast day you can warm up the blue color temperature with orange. You can make these color corrections in Photoshop or other photo editing software. Or, you can set the light balance in your camera. My Canon has settings for tungsten, overcast, fluorescent and many others.
At sunset the color temperature is about 2000K, which is very reddish/ orange. It is beautiful to look at, as seen above. But it makes your subject’s skin turn a crazy shade of red. On the left below I photographed my nieces at sunset. The sunset reflecting on them was very strong. To take away the red I added the opposite color in the color wheel, blue. But it still didn’t look right. The better way to do it would be shown in the example below on the right. Anne Lacy Gialanella and Matt Gialanella were taking a stroll at sunset on their wedding day. To get a great portrait of them I actually had them turn away from that beautiful light and used my flash to illuminate their faces. Some really strong light is too hard to fight and this way we get to admire the gorgeous sunset along with the happy couple.
But simple color corrections, like adding blue to correct for indoor tungsten light, are easy to do. You can either correct as you shoot or later on your computer.
If you missed the third part of this series read it HERE.
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Thanks for reading!