Part 3 Lesson 3: THE COLOUR OF LIGHT

The number 1 problem with most beginner's photographs is that they are not bright enough.

The number 2 problem is that they have a colour cast.

Do you remember way back at the beginning of the course I explained how your brain compensates for the fact that what looks white in a photograph is in fact grey? Well the same thing happens with colour casts.

Your brain will compensate for the fact you've taken a photo indoors and it's got a yellow cast, and will convince you that your image is fine. Or that photo you took in the snow - did you notice all the shadows were blue? Probably not; your brain tells you that they are a neutral tone, because that's what you're expecting to see.

colour of light stairs yellow.jpg

Colour temperature

The image above doesn't look too bad. It's a shot of the staircase in Somerset House in London. But if it had the correct colour temperature, it would look like this:

colour of light stairs blue.jpg

The first image came out yellow because it was shot under indoor tungsten lights which have a warm, yellow colour temperature.

What can you do about it?

Your camera has a white balance control. You can either leave it on auto, or you can dial in whatever white balance is appropriate for your conditions.

If you leave your camera on auto white balance ("AWB"), it will make a good guess at what the correct colour temperature should be. But it will often get it wrong, like in our staircase example. (If needed you can correct colour temperature in editing - Lightroom, Affinity, Polarr and Canva all make it easy.)

It can be much better to get the white balance right at the time you press the shutter. Dig out your manual, and find out how to change your white balance setting. You might have icons with things like the sun, some clouds, and a light bulb. Or you might be able to dial in the actual colour temperature.

Colour temperature is measured in Kelvins. Candlelight is the warmest, at about 1,000K, with a very orange cast. Daylight is in the midrange (around 5,200K), and then you move to the blue end of the scale under bright blue skies (around 8,000K). Generally speaking, you don't want a colour cast on your image. You don't want your indoor shots with a yellow cast, or your outdoor ones with a blue cast. If you dial in the correct colour temperature, your camera will neutralise the strong tones.

Once you know how to change the white balance on your camera, you'll be able to dial in the correct colour temperature whatever the lighting conditions. You will probably be OK to leave it on auto for daylight and bright conditions, but if you ever find yourself under fluorescent lights, in cloudy conditions, on the water or in the hills, or in virtually any indoor, artificially lit places, you might want to consider using the correct colour temperature


It's a very simple project this week: take a photograph of the same thing, white or neutral in tone if possible, using a selection of different colour temperature sources. If you've got Workbook 1, it makes a great subject because of the white cover.

At the very least, use indoor tungsten lights, direct sunlight (if you can manage it), and indirect sunlight (cloudy day, or in the shade). You can also try fluorescent lights, candlelight, and computer monitor light.

Try one set of images on auto white balance. And then try changing the colour temperature setting on your camera manually, to get the white balance right in-camera (don't forget to put it back to auto afterwards if that's your preferred setting).

colour of light anemone blue.jpg
colour of light anemone yellow.jpg
colour of light anemone neutral.jpg

Don't forget to turn your flash off, unless you're deliberately using flash as your light source.

The AYWMC app

Did you know there’s an A Year With My Camera app for Apple and Android?