Shooting in Kelvin

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Alright photogs, photogs-to-be, friends with cameras. Let’s talk about one of THE most important functions in your camera. White balance. Trust me, the wrong settings on your white balance CAN make or break the quality of your photos. How would you like to open Lightroom, or your preferred editing software, and NOT have to spend ages correcting the coloring, resetting, correcting again, and eventually turning most of your images black and white? Trust me, I’ve been there! But there’s something to be done about that, and it all starts in camera!

Have you ever purchased a lightbulb, and on the package it says something like 2,800K? What they are referring to with this number, is how warm or cool the light bulb will appear. This is called Kelvin! The lower the number, the warmer the light. Candlelight, for example, is 1,800K. When you take photos in a warm room, it’s White Balance’s job to neutralize the color. Remember the infamous “Dress” photo? Because of the failed white balance, you or your friends might have seen a white and gold dress, versus the black and blue it was in real life. Your camera will neutralize the warmth or coolness of an image based on what you indicate in your settings, which you can easily do manually! The basic idea behind your Kelvin setting is to get your camera to register and match the color of the light in your photo.

 Photo on the left is at 4,800K; Photo on the right is at 5,400K

Photo on the left is at 4,800K; Photo on the right is at 5,400K

Auto white balance is not always accurate, as it will often overcompensate (like any auto setting). One of the biggest reasons to manually adjust your white balance is because it can have a direct affect on your cameras exposure. Cooler images tend to have darker shadows, versus warmer images. If you shoot in a warm room with an auto setting, your camera might make the room too cold, thus underexposing your image! Because this setting is so easy to adjust, I highly encourage you to get comfortable being able to make these changes on the fly.

Some people will say that if you’re shooting a variety of locations and lights, it’s just easier to shoot auto. That might work for some people, but the risk of over or underexposing, and the extra work you will have to do in post to fix it don’t seem worth it to me. I’d rather spend a few extra seconds keying in my settings, and capturing less images, at a better quality.

 Photo on the left is at 5,200K; Photo on the right is at 3,850

Photo on the left is at 5,200K; Photo on the right is at 3,850

When I started photography, I was often reminded to take it slow. This is hard advice to hear when you’re afraid of looking amateur. But trust me, this can be some of the most valuable advice you receive if you’re pursuing photography! Those few extra seconds you take to make the image better in camera WILL help you tremendously when it comes time to edit. So take it slow, smile, make a few jokes to your clients, and get it right the first time.


Setting White Balance Manually

NOW, let’s get into the “How Tos” of manually adjusting your Kelvin settings. For this reference, I will be talking about the Canon 5D Mark III. Your settings may vary based on your camera, but the idea is still the same.

First, you will need to enable “Live Mode”, in which you will be seeing your image on your screen exactly how the camera will capture it when you take the photo. I recently tested out the Sony A7R III to see how I would like mirrorless, only to discover that Live Mode is one of their best and key features of the camera!

 (Unrelated, but yes I shoot without the eye piece! It’s more comfortable for me)

(Unrelated, but yes I shoot without the eye piece! It’s more comfortable for me)


Next, on the Mark III, click the button on the top of the camera, near the shutter, labeled WB. It will pull up a menu at the top of your screen that shows all of the camera’s auto white balance settings and presets. Using the wheel near your screen, scroll over to the K.

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Using the top horizontal wheel near your shutter, scroll left and right to change your Kelvin white balance. For a warmer room, scroll to the smaller numbers. For a cooler room, scroll to the bigger numbers until it looks accurate to your eye.

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See, easy! My go-to setting for sunny outdoor photography hovers around 5,600, give or take depending on my location and weather circumstances!

Setting Tint Manually

Now that we’ve adjusted the white balance, we can go one step further and adjust the tint! This is a more advanced setting, but again it will help you save time in post! So, let’s go back to live mode. And instead of clicking the WB button, you’re going to click the top button on the left of your screen that looks like a paint brush.

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It will pull up a menu with a few settings. The first setting should be “Picture Style”, select that one or scroll on your wheel until you find it. The icon will appear to be a wheel of small squares.

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Again, it will show you a variety of auto settings. Using the main wheel, no matter what setting you are on, scroll down. This should give you access to edit the box of information below.

You can continue to scroll to adjust every setting. There is Sharpness, Contrast, Saturation, and Color Tone. Adjust each of these settings with the small horizontal wheel close to the shutter

Because you’re here to adjust tint, you might as well take advantage of the access to these settings to adjust as needed. I like to keep my sharpness on the third notch. My Contract toggles between the 0 and -1 notch. My saturation will toggle based on my surroundings. For example, when I am shooting near really bright green grass, I will toggle to the -1 setting to neutralize. Finally, the last option is Color Tone, which is your tint. This will adjust the most! The left side of the bar will tint your images Magenta, and the right side of the bar will tint your images Green.

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If after you’ve adjusted your white balance, the room seems to be a green tint, toggle your Color Tone setting to the left as many notches as needed. This will help you in post processing! We use this setting very often when shooting in bright green grass or in cool-temped rooms.

That’s it! There’s no magic to it. It takes only a few seconds to adjust and makes the WORLD of a difference! I hope this helps your future shoots so you are able to capture cleaner, more professional images!