How to control white balance with Kelvin

Knowing your white balance will dramatically improve your photos. Most phones and dslr cameras today offer you to adjust your white balance using the Kelvin method. In a few simple words, white balance is needed for accurate colors in your photos. Have you ever noticed how your images are too orange, or too blue? Especially if you are taking photos in the snow. This is easily fixed, if you understand how Kelvin works!

Kelvin is a unit of measurement for temperature. In photography we use it to measure the color temperature of light sources. Stay with me, this is simpler than it sounds.

Kelvin scale normally ranges from 2000K to 10.000K. This might differ with cameras. In editing software’s, the range could go all the way up to 50.000K. Right now, we are going to stick with the normal range and how you can set your camera of choice beforehand, knowing what situation you are in.

How to control white balance with Kelvin

The image above is a rough range of the light you are shooting in. Let me give you a couple of examples of scenarios.

If you are shooting in bright daylight, around noon. You find a shade, but due to the fact it is very bright outside, the shade is very deep. This means the shady spot you picked has very blue light, and you need to set your camera to 9000K to offset the blue. If you live in Colorado, where I am, the sun can get extremely bright and 9000K is not enough. If that is the case, bring your subject closer to the edge of the shadow, and it should fix your problem.

Let’s say you are wanting to do photos inside with fluorescent bulbs, you want to set your camera to 4000K. Sometimes natural light is also coming in so the magic number could be 3500K or even 4500K.

The moral of the story is, use your eyes and vision as well. You can train yourself to visually find correct white balance, using your eyes.

Most professional photographers like to shoot either very early in the morning, or shortly before sun-set. The sun has come down at an angle and gives a nice light that flows down the face. When the sun is high in the sky, your nose, eyes and anything sticking slightly out, will cast a shadow on your face. Your wrinkles, baggy eyes and other things we like to hide, come blaring out. This can be offset with shooting with additional light in full daylight, but right now I want to focus on natural light only.

This photo was taken in the early morning. The sun was at an angle, and the buildings gave a shade as well. So even though we weren’t in the shade, the surrounding area created shadowy circumstances. The correct white balance is in the 7700K range.

How to control white balance with Kelvin

Just to show you the range, here are the two extremes of white balance. On the left you see 2000K and on the right you see 50.000K. Changing the range turns the whole image either blue or orange.

How to control white balance with Kelvin

Auto white balance works well in most camera’s and phones. But they can be off. The light can be tricky and if you want to make sure it is correct, it is best to do it themselves. I have also seen the expo disc at work. I found it way more complicated and time consuming than using Kelvin. As everything else you take on, practice makes perfect. Natural light changes by the minute sometimes, so being able to quickly adjust your white balance will save you a lot of time in post processing. For me, it means, I can get images to my clients faster.

Set your Kelvin to what you believe it should be, take a test shot, then adjust. It’s as simple as that. Trust your instinct, and practice!

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