Different lighting conditions

The human brain can effortlessly and automatically adjust to various lighting conditions. In a candlelit room, under the night sky, or during sunset, we automatically adjust to color temperatures and perceive white objects as white. This is not necessarily true for cameras.

It’s very important for every photographer to know about the color differences of various lighting conditions. These differences are what the white balance function corrects, in order to achieve a natural look.

Digital cameras compensate for color temperatures imitating the same process that our brain is doing.

What is color temperature?

Color temperature is a physical property of light, concerned with the spectrum of the light rays which are reflected off surfaces, and is measured in Kelvins.

Direct sunlight at noon is perceived as the “normal” color temperature, measuring between 5200-6000K. All other light is compared to this standard. This is also the range of most external flash units, as they’re trying to imitate sunlight.

Candlelight (1000-2000K) is more orange, or warmer. A moderately overcast sky provides a blueish light, colder than the standard, around 6500-8000K.

What is white balance?

White balance is the process of compensating these color temperatures by adding more blue or orange light until the scene appears neutral. In a correctly balanced image things that appear white for the human eye should render white.

Digital cameras come with white balance settings. Auto white balance (AWB) is a safe starting point for any case, but mixed light or ambient light often confuses the sensor. Most cameras have a range of settings for you to choose from, typically including “cloudy”, “tungsten”, “fluorescent” or “sun”. Most cameras also have the option to manually adjust the white balance to specific values of Kelvins.

Adjusting the color with the in-camera white balance is easy, and worth experimenting with under different lighting conditions.

When shooting in RAW file, color temperature can be adjusted in post-processing software. In JPG this might damage the image quality.

Summary

In order to take great natural looking images – or know when to use light that isn’t balanced - you have to understand different light temperatures.

Finding the right white balance setting might be a lot of trial and error under challenging conditions, but it’s worth it if it means getting the perfect image just right. Master white balance with Nikon’s tips and tricks on setting the white balance.