Exercise – Judging colour temperature 1

Having completed the exercises on lighting slightly out of sequence due to the vagaries of the English weather, I’ve already explored the changes in the colour of daylight and the reasons for it in the post Judging Colour Temperature 2, before moving on to similar exercises with artificial light.

Returning to this exercise, I photographed my willing model 3 times:

  • in full sunlight,close to the middle of the day
  • in shade at a similar time, and
  • with the sun close to the horizon.

For each, the camera’s white balance was set to daylight – importantly, not auto. If it were, the camera would ‘correct’ the differences and produce three similar images.

Looking at the results, the sunset picture gives the most extreme result. It was taken moments before the sunset on a glorious July day and the sun was a deep orange as it set. I cheated a little by including a red brick wall behind my subject which add to the overall redness of the picture. This lighting is usually associated with warmth because it occurs on such days and this can be used to our advantage – a portrait with ‘warm’ lighting will be received by the viewer in a different way to one with cool lighting or one shot in black and white.

The picture shot in the shade is lit by the brightness of the sky rather than directly by the sun and so has a cooler, blue tint to it, most visible in the white of the vest. The effect would have been greater had there not been so many clouds in the sky. These act as white diffuse lighting and reduce the area of blue sky.

In sunlight, with the full spectrum of light is hitting the subject, meaning that there is no colour cast and the colours are at their most authentic.

Because the camera was not allowed to correct these differences, they are more extreme than the viewer of the real-life scene would remember. This is because our eyes do a similar thing to the camera’s auto white balance and correct whites in the scene, removing these strong casts.


Hunter, F et al. (2012) Light – Science and magic. An introduction to photographic lighting. Oxford; Elsevier Inc.

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