White Balance / Color Temperature

Q: What is color temperature and why do I care?

A: Color temperature is what burns your eyes when you look at the sun too long.  Well, not exactly but it is related to the sun and light. When it comes to cameras and video, it’s very important.

Color temperature is a fancy way of saying “hey, what’s white?” Huh? Yep! Our eyes can adjust to vastly changing light, like when we go outside into the sunlight and come back inside, but our cameras need help. So, we have to tell the camera what quality of light we are seeing and what is “white”. So we have to balance the camera’s electronics to interpret white light correctly by telling it the quality of light it’s looking at.

What is quality of light?  Light quality is defined as how the light appears from warm to cool – warm being more reddish/orange and cool being more bluish.  The sunlight is cool (believe it or not! – it’s only warm when it’s going down, think of orange sunsets, the golden hour, etc.).  Indoors the color temperature usually is warmer.

William Lord Kelvin

And we have to measure that in some way –  enter, the “Kelvin Scale.” (It’s only a letter off from the “Kevin Scale,” which if I had a say – that would be some device used to measure the density of pizza places in any given city.)

SO, the Kelvin scale.  William Lord Kelvin was a famous scientist; he did science things and probably owned a crap load of beakers.


Kelvin Temperature Chart

3200 K is typically an indoor color temperature for a tungsten light, or a heated light source (ie not fluorescent or gas filled lights).  5600 K is typically an outdoor color temperature, which can be the sun during the day or specially created light bulbs that match that temperature.  Fluorescent lights are typically in the 5000 K range.

The idea is to match or balance your camera’s electronics with the color temperature of white light you are shooting, often called “white balance”.  That way, white will look white in your recordings, and the rest of the color spectrum will be accurate.  If not, you will see a color tint to everything.   You will notice white things looking a bit warmer, or orange-ish, or cooler, a bit bluish, if your color temperature settings don’t match correctly with the quality of light you are shooting.