What is color temperature?

Taking a little breather from various types of color charts and theories; do you ever wonder why whilst you are watching your Game of Thrones marathon, why is the screen so blue? or when you are watching a movie like Baywatch or Step Up why the screen is so orange?

The answer is temperature. Not the heat of the screen, the color temperature. Contrary to cultural associations attributed to colors, in which "red" is "hot", and "blue" is "cold".  Blue occurs at higher temperatures, whereas red occurs at lower temperatures.  Think of the flame in which glass is moulded at, its almost so bright and white it blinds you right?

Color temperature, to easily phrase it, is similar to a hue/shade that is put onto the image that is being shown. There are however, many applications to it, but we'll start with the most popular application shall we?

  1. Digital photography
    Like mentioned before, whilst you are watching movies or scrolling on instagram, often specific shades are applied to the image to give an idea of what the actual temperature is like, that is the oppsite of color temperature. You may often see specific ambient values (e.g., sunny, cloudy, tungsten, etc.) on your camera and that is basically setting a color temperature filter onto the image you are taking. However, this can be done before the image is taken or applied after.
  2. Photographic emulsion film
    Original, authentic, old style photography, sometimes appears to exaggerate the color of the light, as it does not respond to lighting color in the way human visual perception does. Photographic film is made for specific light sources (most commonly daylight film, high oranges and tungsten film, high blues), and, used properly, will create a neutral color print.  How photographers will balance color with film photographer is through the use of filters on camera lens or color gels over the light source.
  3. For lighting building interiors, it is often important to take into account the color temperature of illumination. A warmer (i.e., a lower color temperature) light is often used in public areas to promote relaxation, while a cooler (higher color temperature) light is used to enhance concentration, for example in schools and offices. Just something to keep in mind next time you are buying light bulb replacements.

 Other uses of color temperature control are; aquaculture, desktop publishing, TV, video, and digital still cameras. 

How does it differ from a color chart though? or more specifically a color wheel. Both display color don't they? Yes and no.

A color wheel is the organization of color hues around a circle, which shows the relationships between primary colors, secondary colors, tertiary colors etc. As an illustrative model, artists typically use red, yellow, and blue primaries (RYB color model) arranged at three equally spaced points around their color wheel. Like color mixing as a child, but in the grownup world


So color temperature and a color wheel may seem the same at first but actually they are two complete different things.

Till next time!