The evolution of photography over the past 20 years has actually been amazing. When we used regular 35mm film, our cameras did not have auto white balance like the cameras of today. We relied on color correction filters to help us out with our photos, to get them looking right. We did not have Photoshop either. When you took a photo inside under artificial lighting, or incandescent light, you got a very warm orange cast to the photo. And in order to correct that color to look more natural, you put a blue filter on the front of your lens. Blue would take out the orange cast to the photos. They called that an 85a filter. They also made an 85b filter that wasn’t quite so blue, depending on how strong the incandescent light was. It was often a real guessing game.
I put this photo of this light bulb so you can see that the light that radiates from this light bulb is a warm yellow color. Film cameras could not automatically color correct for the warm light without the use of a filter.
Fluorescent light bulbs, as you can see in the photo above, has a bluish cast to the light. A Pink filter was used to eliminate the bluish cast out of the photo.
And then there is the street lights. Street lights, in order to save money, and put out a very strong light without using much power is called a Metal hydride gas, or a high pressure sodium gas light. Those colors are just weird. The photo used at the top of this blog is an interesting photo, because it was taken shooting in to street lights, and they look perfectly white, which they are not, but, it shows how well the auto white balance works in your cameras and cell phones of today. (That photo was taken with the Samsung Note20 Ultra 5G, and is currently ranked #1 for taking the best photos at night.)
So, today, I am not going to talk much about filters to use on your digital cameras, because that is part of taking pictures today with cameras that have auto white balance in them. And almost all digital cameras have a built-in white balance control that is automatic. And it works very well. I have had a couple of times where the color correction in my camera was not able to correct it all the way I would want it. But good dslr cameras have a way of overriding the auto white balance in your camera, so any photo you take will make it look like you used the sun for your lighting.
In order to understand all the different types of light there are, let’s look first at what we call: Kelvin Rating Temperatures.
First let’s look at an official color temperature chart:
First of all, so this comes in context, be aware that the sun is rated at 5500Kelvin. And that is the calibration of light on your camera. The perfect white color that is done so nicely on your auto white balance on your camera is 5500Kelvin, or the color of the sun. Let’s look at one more chart:
Now we can put names to these colors. Ok, daylight is at 5500K, and that is the calibration of your camera’s auto white balance setting.
A standard incandescent light bulb is rated roughly around 3200K. And a standard fluorescent lamp is rated roughly around 4500K. Notice the rating of a candle: the warmest light there is.
Now, look at the top picture again, and notice that the street light actually looks perfectly white, and it is, because of the “auto white balance” in my cell phone camera. And chances are your camera can do the same color correction.
So, here is an interesting part of lighting: When I buy light bulbs for my house, I now have a choice to buy warm light bulbs or daylight color bulbs. They say that the warm light bulbs are easier on the eyes, but, everything in your house now has a warm cast of lighting on it. I am a photographer, and I really appreciate it when everything in my house looks like it should… like it is a perfect white light with no alterations to the colors in my house. So, I prefer to have daylight light bulbs. Watch for that next time you buy light bulbs.
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Not all photographers know all the Light ratings and what happens to that light. So, if you read all this carefully, you can now be a professional “Kelvin Professional Source”.