Art of Photography

Rob Townsend

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Exercise – Judging colour temperature


Part 1: take three photographs, one in full sunlight during the middle of the day, one in shade during the middle of the day, and one in sunlight when the sun is close to the horizon. Make sure that the camera’s White Balance is set to ‘daylight’. Note the differences you can see in the resultant pictures.

Part 2: repeat part 1, but for each situation change the white balance from Auto to ‘Sunny’ and ‘Shady’. Note which image you prefer in each set.


Part 1:

L-R: Sun / Shade / Low Sun

The full sun image is an accurate representation of how I saw the scene with my own eyes at the time, with the skin tones looking natural. The shade image is significantly colder-looking and more blue-tinged than I expected. The effect of the blue sky on the shaded image is marked in photographic depiction, although my eyes must have adjusted as this is not how I saw the colours of the face at the time. The low sun image is more natural looking than the shade image, although a slight orange tinge is visible and this makes the image appear warmer in tone.

Part 2:

Top, L-R: Sun @ Auto WB / Sun @ Sunny WB / Sun @ Shady WB

Middle, L-R: Shade @ Auto WB / Shade @ Sunny WB / Shade @ Shady WB

Bottom, L-R: Low Sun @ Auto WB / Low Sun @ Sunny WB / Low Sun @ Shady WB

In this enhanced version of the part 1 exercise, it’s clearer what difference it can make using the camera’s suggested (auto) setting versus deliberately correcting by manually selecting the white balance.

In the full sun shots the Auto and Sunny WB shots are similar whilst the ‘correction’ of deliberately pushing the WB to Shady mode makes the scene too orange.

In the shade shots, all three (but particularly the Auto and Sunny WB versions) make the statue looks noticably more blue-tinged than the sun shots, as expected. The ‘correction’ of the Shady WB looks most natural in this set of three.

The low sun shots all look quite similar to my eyes; all three render the statue more creamy than grey (the influence of the more orange light) and merging in colour-wise with the stone wall behind, although in reality they are quite different in colour.

Of all nine shots, the one that I believe most correctly renders the scene as my eyes saw it (or at least as I remember seeing it) is in fact the ‘Shade @ Shady WB’ version (middle row, on the right). In this one the statue is correctly looking grey – not too blue (like the other two shade ones), too white (full sun) or too cream (low sun).

What I’ve learned:

I was already aware of the effects of colour temperature as I’ve been through a similar exercise previously, and as I shoot predominantly in RAW I know that I can adjust the white balance after the shot to achieve the effect I desire – whether this effect is to render the scene as close to real life as possible, or to deliberately alter or exaggerate the colour temperature. This exercise served as a good practical reminder of how differently the camera sensor can interpret the colour of light, and how much the human eye naturally adjusts to the point that the colour of light isn’t noticeable. Interesting.