Colour & Light /01

Let’s talk a bit about colour and light today. I want to give you an overview of what colour is, so you can understand more about white balance (WB), and different tones of light.

You might have heard of white balance before, but maybe you wonder what it’s all about. Or maybe you don’t even bother because it just seems too complicated. So I’ll keep it as simple and practical as possible.

Daylight consists of 3 primary colours: red, green and blue - probably something you would have come across before if you’re working with editing software: RGB colours. (Please note that these colours are based on light, I'm not talking about colours like you would get them from paint).

In between each of these colours you can find another colour, called ‘complementary colours’:
Magenta, cyan, and yellow (magenta is the opposite of green, cyan the opposite of red, yellow the opposite of blue).

White balance is based on red, green, and blue. If you combine them with the same amount of each colour in their full intensity you get white (basically light streams of each colour coming together).
Adjusting white balance is simply done because we want to get the colours in a photo as accurate as possible. You probably would have noticed that some images turn out with a yellowish, blueish, greenish etc look to them. This is called colour cast.
Colour cast simply means a shift of the amount of the 3 main colours, e.g. more blue in your photo than green and red.
While your eyes adjust automatically to different light situations your camera doesn’t, meaning it captures cold (blueish) and warm (yellowish) ‘temperatures’, and this will show in the images.

You don't really need to worry about adjusting your camera settings to avoid a colour cast. I often find that it is too much of a hassle to set your white balance settings all the time, depending on different light situations. I prefer using Photoshop once it comes to editing to get rid of the colour cast - it's not a big deal, and it's really easy to do. Less effort than doing it right in camera, if you ask me.
If you prefer getting the colours right straight away though, you can of course adjust the white balance setting on your camera. There should be a WB-button (or the WB setting will be somewhere in the menu), where you can choose what situation you're in and under what light circumstances you're photographing. Simply select whatever one is appropriate (e.g. daylight, shade, tungsten light, etc).

When you edit your photos in Photoshop (or another editing software), you can select the ‘curves’ adjustment property. You will see that you can’t just adjust the RGB settings, but you can go into each colour separately. If you pull the curve up and down for each colour you will see the different colour casts you get.
So for example if your photo has a red colour cast that you want to get rid of, you simply pull the curve down a bit, in order to increase the amount of cyan. This way you'll get the right balance of colours again, and the colour cast will be gone.

Here's the original image by the way (as shot):

// For the photo above (first image of this post) I simply added a bit of contrast, by using the curves adjustment property and adjusting all three primary colours. //

Ok, I think that’s enough for today - I hope you got a better understanding/overview of what colour means in photography and also feel like you know a bit more about white balance. More colour & light posts to come soon.

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  1. I really wish I had you 5 years ago when I started photography, this was more helpful any other thing I've read. Thanks so much.

    1. Oh, thank you so much! Really appreciate it - and I'm glad it was helpful! :)