School is back in session for many kids, and for most others it will be this week, which means temperatures will soon be cooling off as summer gives way to fall. Did you know temperature is involved in photography as well? Not in degrees of Fahrenheit or Celsius mind you, but in “Kelvin.”
British Physicist William Thomas (Lord Kelvin) played a large part in the development of the Kelvin temperature scale. During his research, he heated a block of carbon, which produced a dim red light at a low temperature that increased to a brighter yellow as the temperature rose and ultimately a bright white and then blue glow at the highest temperatures. Based on these findings the following scale could be made:
Temperature in photography is what people refer to as the “white balance” of a photo. Most people keep their cameras set to auto white balance which works well in many situations.
However, when it comes something special, like sunset portraits, it’s important to not let your camera auto adjust those warm, golden tones right out of your image. The best way to do this is to manually adjust your white balance to the cloudy or shady setting. For more precise control, I manually increase the white balance temperature on my camera to around the 6000°K mark. It may be different for your camera. It’s best to experiement to find out.
I kind of liken this to how one might parent a child. If we want those golden behaviors to continue then we have to be continually “warm” (and loving) with our own.
This is my husband and daughter. This photo warms my heart to about 10,000°K!
White balance is a bit confusing until you get the hang of it. At first glance, you might think that increasing the temperature would add more blue tones to your image. But, what it does is lie to your camera, telling it that there are more blue tones in the environment. As a result, your camera tries to compensate by adding those warm, golden tones back into your images.
So, the next time you go out and shoot at sunset (or sunrise), increase your white balance temperature setting. You’ll be glad you did!