Image Editing

Jul 26, 2021

What Is Color Temperature: Managing the Lighting in Your Images

Looking to add a glowing warmth or a chilled appearance to your images to set the scene? Understanding what color temperature is and how to adjust it, is crucial to the look of your photos. Here is a complete guide to everything you need to know. 

What is color temperature? Light source explained

Color temperature, or light temperature, refers to the light source or light appearance in your photos and what kind of color cast it provides on a cool to warm scale. Temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin, and the higher the Kelvin number, the warmer the light. 

When thinking about what color temperature means, it’s similar to choosing a light bulb – you can opt for neutral, crisp daylight, a brighter, whiter light or a warmer, more orange-tinted glow. This is precisely the kind of light scale you can add, omit or adjust in an image. 

White balance and light color restoration

Lighting is tricky to deal with in photography – the time of the day and where the sun is, if the light is in front or behind the object while shooting, and dealing with multiple artificial light glares if you are inside. These are all things that can make all the difference to the overall look of your photo.  Annoyingly, the light source can appear differently, dulled or even fluorescent, on a captured image than what you saw with the naked eye. 

Each light source is made up of different hues, and we might want to change that. White balance can also add coolness and warmth to your photo and is used for image color correction. White balance restores any inaccurate or unrealistic color temperatures that appear in the image, compared to how they looked naturally.

Why is color temperature in photography important?

Adjusting the color temperature of your photos is essential for restoring the natural light present during the time, space, and climate the photo was taken. But it’s also a tool used for creating a specific color cast to set the scene and alter the picture’s mood. 

Have you ever felt the warm sun on a brown-orange filtered beach image? Or felt the bitter cold on an icy-blue snow filter? Color temperature heightens the senses and is a powerful emotional tool.

You can better understand white balance while taking a photo. The white balance settings (WB) have an auto function and options to choose from sunlight, shade, flashlight and fluorescent light temperatures. 

How color temperature affects the mood of your photo

Using color temperature adjustments allows you to alter the mood of a photo from upbeat and happy to calm and melancholy. Aside from white balance and natural corrections, color temperature can be used for atmospheric effect. A hot and humid day can look more comfortable, or an isolated landscape can look bleak and dramatic. 

Let’s take this same image of a snow scene in Lapland, applying a colder temperature and using warmth – you’ll see the result is two completely different emotional reactions. 

The cooler, blue-toned cast creates a feeling of a harsh, frosty wilderness, whereas the dialling up of warm yellow and orange tones makes the same scene more inviting and peaceful.

light temperature

How to edit color temperature and set the scene

In an image editor, you’ll see the color temperature chart as a form of scale, with blue at one end to adjust your image to cooler temperatures and yellow at the other to add warmth. It’s one of the most straightforward adjustments to make in a photo-editing platform.

Step-by-step guide: Lightroom color temperature adjustment

The perfect pro tool for beginners, the color temperature is easy to find and easy to use, and you can alter the mood of your image in seconds using just one adjustment bar.

1. Open Lightroom > Library > Import your image. Once it appears in your Lightroom  Library, select the image and click > Develop.  You are now ready to adjust the color temperature on your image using the Basic Panel toolbar on the right side.

2. Temperature, listed as ‘Temp’, is the first sliding bar mechanism you will see under the Custom section, set to 0. You can move towards colder and blue tones to -100 and warmer and more yellow tones to +100. 

3. To save your image, select it on the bottom bar, click File > Export > save to your desired settings > Export.

For instant edits and color temperature adjustments, the Auto functions in both Lightroom and Photoshop provide the essential white balance function you need to get an image looking balanced and realistic.

Step-by-step guide: Photoshop color temperature adjustment

Despite being an expert-level tool, Photoshop also has easy adjustment toolbars to help you start your editing journey. Especially handy when you mainly want to edit one aspect of your photo.

1. Open Photoshop > Filter > Camera-Raw Filter and choose your image. 

2. You will find a sliding temperature bar on the toolbar that appears on the right side to alter your image on a scale between cool blues to warm yellows.

3. To save your image within Photoshop to edit again later, click File > Save. To save your image into a file on your device, click File > Export, save as desired file type like a JPEG > Export.

Maybe you are looking to add cinematic and dramatic effect? Color grading photography is perfect for this, and color temperature is one aspect of it. You can use it alongside highlights, shadows and clarity to switch the mood of an image and color enhancing tools like hue, saturation and luminance, which will also shift as you change the light temperature. 

Just getting started with color temperature?

You’ll soon see that color temperature editing is one of the quickest and easiest ways to adapt a photo. Simple changes to the intensity and tonality of the light source can show everything from the weather conditions to the emotions you felt at the scene. And if you want to experiment further with light temperature, try replacing the background with a different location, which we’ve made easy with our Android app.

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