Photography Basics : Color Temperature Chart

Color Temperature Chart

Color Temperature Chart

Color Temperature Chart Explanation

One of the most common ways to exactly measure Color temperature in photography is using a temperature scale measured in degrees Kelvin. Photography lighting can vary in ‘color temperature’ between 2000 degrees Kelvin (warm) and 9500 degrees Kelvin (cold). This color scale is based on the fact that heated objects, like electric stove elements, produce a specific color spectrum of light which is directly related to their temperature.

Unfortunately, this bit of photography basics can be a bit backwards and confusing to beginners. Low- temperature lighting, the reds and yellows at the bottom of the spectrum, create a warmer feeling. While high-temperature lighting, greens and blues at the top of the spectrum, produce a colder effect.

Digital Camera White Balance

This is what the white balance control on a digital camera is designed to compensate for. You can either leave it set to ‘automatic’ and keep your fingers crossed, or pick a manual setting preset matching the conditions. Some of the better digital cameras measure exact white balance values in degrees Kelvin, but most use named presets corresponding to specific conditions, like Daylight, Tungsten or Shade.

To measure an exact color temperature reading for photography lighting purposes, a good color temperature meter is the best way to go. But as a quick introduction to photography basics, here is a quick color temperature chart to illustrate the variations in color temperature you might encounter with a wide variety of locations and lighting situations.

Color Temperature Chart

Sunrise/sunset 2400k
The lighting outdoors changes rapidly during sunset and dawn. When the sun is directly on the horizon, the color temperature could be as low as 2400K. This drastic lighting gives a sunset its characteristic yellow, orange, and red hues.

Domestic tungsten 3200k
Tungsten lighting commonly used indoors has a strong yellow or orange tint. Your color temperature meter will show the spectrum stronger in the longer, red, wavelengths. It can be even lower than 3200K. The exact value will depend on the variety of light bulb.

Photo tungsten 3400k
Tungsten lights that are designed for use in photography are cooler and more neutral than ordinary tungsten lighting, but still noticeably warmer than outdoor daylight. Tungsten lighting produces an unpleasant yellow effect if you do not adjust your white balance.

Early morning/evening sun 4000k
The temperature of lighting conditions outside rises gradually during the morning and falls in the afternoon. Even after the sun has climbed well above the horizon, your color temperature chart will show can a lower then average temperature. This gives a very pleasant warm glow that is perfect for landscape photographers.

Noon sun/flash 5500k
Noon sunlight produces neutral colors, and has the same color temperature as some flash systems. Neutral light in this range is not always best for landscapes.

Cloudy/overcast 6000k
The diffuse light under an overcast sky is slightly ‘cooler’ and bluer than you would find in direct sunlight. A good lesson in photography basics is to to use a warming filter in these lighting conditions, or at least adjust the white balance on your digital camera.

Shade in daylight 6500k
The color temperature in deep shade will be quite cold. The basic auto white balance on most digital cameras will usually begin to fail at this point and give you excessively cold-looking images.

Early morning/evening sun 7500k
This is the end of the color temperature chart. Open shade on a sunny day will give a drastic cold look. This is because the only lighting in the shade is the blue sky. This effect can be used to create some stunning effects, but you will usually want to use your color temperature meter and compensate by adjusting your camera’s white balance.

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