Colour Temperature

Remember when we had to use filter for every scene in videography? Remember when we had to do it for film stock? Well I never used film stock except for still photography since leaving film school, all video camera since then. But do you really believe any one can be a good artist or photographer without understanding colour temperature?

If you heat a metal it will glow red, then orange, then yellow, then green, then blue, then violet; yea baby, right through the spectrum. And that’s what colour temperature is all about. The human eye will tell you it is white but for film or video camera you have to change filter setting for different light source because of the change in colour temperature. The morning sunrise will glow orange so white will show orange early in the morning. Midday 5600K colour temperature will have a blue haze, and a photographic setup for the morning will look blue at midday.

I have had the challenge of shooting a television commercial project with a news cameraman who was never trained in colour temperature. I was going to mix artificial light and sunlight so I took my blue gels along and begged him to use them on the portable lights which were balanced for studio. It was a pain. But that's what you get for not training your people. Using blue gels on the portable lights will balance them to match the sunlight streaming through the window. Every first year film student knows this of course. But tell that to a talented but untrained news cameraman.


Photo by Glendon Caballero
Photo by Glendon Caballero

For the professional artist who may not even be exposed to the concept of colour temperature from the technical side, colour temperature is another name for the colour of the light source and probably the dominant colour of the composition, at least the highlights. The dominant colour of the atmosphere and sky of a landscape is a hint as to the colour temperature. Clue: the golden red sunset is an easy giveaway.

Art has its own convention which will affect how colour temperature is depicted in a painting. For example, shadows are usually blue or violet. How you show atmospheric perspective depends a lot on the time of day and its colour temperature.

The latest generations of digital cameras come with point and shoot capabilities, and the users can get along quite well without understanding how to manipulate colour temperature to create moods or advance the plot.

Have we lost some of the art in the desire to be user-friendly?


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