Understanding White Balance and Colour Temperature

We have all taken photographs where the colours of the scene are totally false. You download it onto the computer and it has a garish colour cast. The reasons behind this will be connected to the white balance function on your digital camera.

All light has a specific colour associated to it, which is measured in degrees Kelvin (K). Take for example sunlight. Throughout the day the colour temperature of sunlight differs because of its position in the sky and the surrounding atmospheric conditions. During early morning and late in the evening the sunlight takes on a warm golden hue. Photographers refer to these times of the day as 'magic hours'.

However, around 12 noon the light is very blue and has a high colour temperature of around 8000°K. Warm colours at sunrise have a low colour temperature of around 1600° to 3200°K.

Whilst our eyes may recognise changes in colour at sunrise and sunset, for most of the day our brain compensates and we fail to notice the colour of light. This is the purpose of White Balance. A digital camera has to take into account the colour temperature of a light source and we must remember that this is both indoors as well as out in the open air.

Not only can we use White Balance to achieve a natural result, we can use also use WB to warm up or cool down an underwater photograph without it looking unnatural.

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