Color
Temperature:
A
Crash
Course


Ryan
Patrick
O’Hara
2009



Color Temperature: A Crash Course
written by Ryan Patrick O'Hara

Color temperature is a quality of visible light, which varies depending on the source. In film/video applications it is important to know the basics of color temperature so you may be able to reproduce colors naturally. Once you understand how to control color temperature, then you may make the creative choice to break the rules and purposefully manipulate the use of color temperature to achieve a desired effect on the picture. So before you start mixing color temperatures and throwing gels around like you are the next Christopher Doyle or Vittorio Storaro, you must learn what color temperature is, how to read color temperature, and match your recording medium with lighting sources.

Seeing Color Temperature
The human eye can easily detect large discrepancies between conflicting color temperatures, but we consistently and subconsciously compensate for many of the subtle differences. For example, the light bulbs within your home (at the time of this writing*) are most likely an orange/white incandescent bulb while the ambient daylight from outdoors is a cool blue/white color. The human eye can see a difference, but unlike a camera sensor or film emulsion, the human eye adjusts to accept the different color temperatures at once. Motion picture film emulsions and digital camera sensors are not as forgiving as our eyes. All recording mediums can be correctly set to see only one color temperature at any given time. Film is available in two color-balanced flavors, while video can be balanced to match almost any flavor of light, but only one at a time.
*Light bulb standards will be increased by the government, making most kinds of incandescent and tungsten lights illegal, due to their heat/light energy inefficiency.

Color
Temperature:
A
Crash
Course


Ryan
Patrick
O’Hara
2009



Measure and Quantify Color Temperature:
Color temperature is measured in increment units referred to as degrees Kelvin. Kelvin is the scale of which a black body source is heated. From the moment it begins to heat, the black body will produce light radiation starting with infrared. Somewhere around 1500k the radiation enters the human eye's visual spectrum. As the black body continues rise in temperature, the color of emitting light radiation increases. Because the color of light is dependent on the temperature of the black body, this scale can be used to make references to a lights exact color; it's color temperature. Eventually, the radiation will surpass the human eye's visual spectrum and will enter the realm of ultra violet radiation. By referring to a light’s color temperature in a specific number of degrees Kelvin, we have a system to which we can always reference the exact same color. Take a tungsten globe for example. The light is comprised of a metal filament, which is heated via electricity inside a vacuum. Once the filament reaches a certain temperature, it will begin to emit light, hence beginning at the bottom of the Kelvin scale. The filament will continue to heat up until it reaches it's maximum temperature... in turn reaching it's maximum color temperature. In this case, around 3200 degrees Kelvin. Of course, this entire process happens within the fraction of a second after the flip of the on switch.

Correlated Color Temperature:
Some light sources we use in the motion picture industry are not derived from a black body like source. HMI, Carbon Arc, Fluorescent, and Xenon are prime examples of these light types. These lights do not work in the same way a black body emits light. Therefore, they have to be rated with a Correlated Color Temperature. This is simply an equivalent color value to be placed comparably on the Kelvin scale.

Green & Magenta
Red/Orange and Blue are not the only color temperatures a ‘white’ light can appear. Incandescent lighting, using a black body like system of producing light aligns on the Kelvin scale, but lights which do not produce light in the same way, such as fluorescent and HMIs, cannot have true

Correlated Color Temperature Values in Degrees Kelvin: The following are various light source approximations across a Correlated Color Temperature chart: Please note: The background of this chart is a visual representation of the kelvin scale. Referring to green and magenta hues as color temperature is incorrect. commonly green or magenta. one must use color compensation filtration. These non-radiating systems of illumination may contain spikes of slight hues. (k= degrees kelvin) . They are not part of the color temperature scale or formulas. and will be covered later in the article. These filters and gels come in different strengths. In order to correct for a non-color temperature spike in color hue. just as CT Orange and CT Blue. Kelvin temperature approximations are not properly placed across the spectrum.Color
Temperature:
A
Crash
Course
 
 Ryan
Patrick
O’Hara
2009

 color temperatures and must be technically referred to by correlated color temperature ratings. These color imbalances may also be corrected using color compensation lens filtration or lighting gels.

Color
Temperature:
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Crash
Course
 
 Ryan
Patrick
O’Hara
2009

 I would like to take the opportunity to post the correlated color temperature values which the American Cinematographer Manual (9th Edition) lists as it's approximations for light sources:

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Please refer to the 9th edition. if you are in need of additional information. .Color
Temperature:
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Patrick
O’Hara
2009

 Please Note: The American Cinematographer Manual has additional values for additional types of lights omitted from the above list.

I will discuss how motion picture lights can stray from their rated color temperature later in the article. Of course. it would appear almost pure white. The Exception There is however. . The same applies for man made lighting. If one were to look at the sun in space. and the location's geography. some wavelengths of light (waves of electromagnetic energy) pass straight through with little disruption while other wavelengths are absorbed and scattered by the particles within the atmosphere.Color
Temperature:
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Patrick
O’Hara
2009

 These values are approximations as all light sources may vary. Although motion picture lamps are designed to operate at a set color temperature. they too possess many variables. the atmosphere is filled with many different particles. creating the atmosphere to appear blue. no matter the weather conditions or time of day. sunlight in outer space! If ever shooting outside Earth's atmosphere. There is time. which become absorbed and scattered. this will change in due time. as this will not be for millions or even billions of years from now. as there is no atmosphere to absorb or alter the wavelengths. During a sunset or sunrise. which is always a constant color temperature. the sunlight must pass through a greater amount of atmosphere and hence more of the wavelengths of blue and violet are absorbed or scattered creating very red-orange hues to admire. one natural light source. which can alter color temperature. To state the process simply. it's due to the same reason why a sunset/sunrise is red-orange and why the sky is blue: the atmosphere. All of these factors will influence the color temperature of the natural surroundings. The absence of the blue wavelength within the sunlight creates the illusion of a yellow like sun. which relate to natural outdoor conditions. It is the shorter wavelengths of light (violet and blue). the time of year. When the sunlight passes through the atmosphere. but do not rush for a space shuttle ticket and color meter just yet. If wondering why sunlight in space is around 6500k while sunlight on Earth varies around 5600k. are filled with subjective and objective variables such as what a 'partly cloudy sky' consists of. Values. one should know that our solar system's star (the sun) produces a constant light source of closely rated 6500k.

Color correction lens filtration and lighting gels will be covered later in the article. If shooting under conditions that are not either 5600k or 3200k environments. (Presuming all light sources are of the same ‘off’ color temperature. and the ability to adjust lighting color temperature is not a possibility. the camera has a third function. Using lights that match the color temperature of your emulsion results with a realistic color representation in the picture.Color
Temperature:
A
Crash
Course
 
 Ryan
Patrick
O’Hara
2009

 Color Temperature of Light and the Recording Medium The key to attaining a color accurate picture is to have both the recording medium and the lighting sources working with the same color temperature. Purposefully using lights. Film Cameras Motion picture film emulsions are available in two color temperature 'flavors': Daylight or Tungsten. If lighting color temperature does not fall upon those two temperatures. the video camera can toggle between preset 3200k and 5600k. Lens filtration can be achieved either in front of the lens with glass filters or special gelatin filters placed behind the lens. the use of color correction lens filtration may be used. . then he may begin painting with light. which differ in color temperature versus the recording medium. which is the custom white balance. Daylight emulsions are 5500-5600k balanced film stocks while Tungsten emulsions are balanced at 3200k. Mixed color temperature light sources cannot be fixed with lens filtration). Digital Video Cameras Digital video cameras have a slight advantage over film cameras. is a common and effective way to attain certain looks and mood. Although digital camera sensors will be manufactured with a native bias for one color temperature just like film emulsion. So long as the Director of Photography understands the color temperature of which the camera is capturing and the color temperatures of which the lighting instruments provide. Knowledge and understanding of color temperature is the key.

Thankfully man made bulbs and especially motion picture industry globes. geology. Non-radiating units behave differently. The camera will then adjust all color values to align with what is white. In fact by using warm cards. which are not radiating (black body like) sources. there are many ways for a bulb to stray from it's rated color temperature. some HMI ballasts feature a built in dimmer. the camera is being told what is white.Color
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Patrick
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2009

 Custom white balance allows the camera the ability to recalibrate and correctly reproduce an image under most off color temperature conditions. when a dimmer reduces a HMI’s electrical current. Do not try to intercept a nonincandescent unit with a hand or external dimmer. For instance. which can be used to change the light's intensity. . for stylized appeal. By using a white card (under the lighting conditions desired). despite these efforts. or lightly tinted color gels. Unlike incandescent lighting. are designed and manufactured to operate at a constant and reliable color temperature… but. adding an expressive color hue into the image. The ability to white balance negates most reasons to use color correction lens filtration. the experienced cinematographer may use the white balance function to 'trick' the camera into overcompensating the white balance. including green and magenta hues. This does not apply to lighting instruments. In incandescent/tungsten lighting. and weather conditions. dimming is simply restraining the amount of electricity from the light emitting process. A cinematographer must check his globes and be aware of these factors. Never Trust a Light The color temperature outdoors can vary due to differences in time of day. * Dimmers: Unlike the other methods of reducing lamp intensity. geography. cool cards. reducing the electric current from the normal recommended amount will reduce the light's color temperature. the color temperature will rise! Most non-incandescent lighting (including HMI and fluorescent) cannot have their intensity reduced by way of altering the electrical current unless the ballast is manufactured with a built in dimmer. time of year.

Usually. * Manufacturing: As with any product. Many professionals keep track of bulb use/age with written logs. and applied gels can affect not only the intensity the color temperature as well. the lights lens. Although the bulb makers always strive for 5500- . The filament may burn to hot or to cold. the glass envelope in which the filament or arc occupies may darken.Color
Temperature:
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Patrick
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2009

 * Voltage: As the Kelvin scale describes and as dimmers just demonstrated. large amounts of dust upon an old Fresnel lens or gel will account for color temperature shifts. this is a 120volt system with the occasional big boy on 240volts. Experienced gaffers and electricians may purposefully force a little more power through lights in order to raise the color temperature to desired needs. is a good idea. This also only applies to radiating light sources such as incandescent instruments. A globe’s wattage and color temperature value are rated for use with proper power. This will vary with the type of light and bulb. If the light does not receive the proper amount of voltage. it will dim and lower on the Kelvin scale. * Bulb life: Brand new bulbs and very old bulbs may be off of their rated color temperature. or likewise suspicious circumstances. changing the color temperature. It is important to check the condition and age of your bulbs. It may effect how your lights burn and in turn your intensity and color temperature. This is done sparingly because it will shorten the life of the globe and has certain safety implications. as the previous section well illustrates. If the light receives too much voltage. and etc… possibly changing color temperature. It is not well known that HMI bulbs are made by hand. If working on a location with old wiring. perhaps checking the outlet voltage on location scout. In addition. More relevant are HMI bulbs. the color temperature of an incandescent light is related to its temperature. * Cleanliness: The cleanliness of a bulbs glass envelope. The temperature is related to how much power is flowing into the globe. When a bulb's life is getting near the end. exists a small chance of manufacturing error. HMI globes are very notorious for changing temperature over their lifetime. These examples will surely change the lights output intensity and could change color temperature depending on how severe. it will burn brighter and the color temperature will rise toward the blue end of the spectrum. film up. burn. It is possible that a power source could mistakenly or purposefully sending less or more volts through the pipeline.

it is a wise idea to have a member of the crew check the color temperature of the globes during the lighting units test. * Bounce source: When bouncing a light off of a source. which may correct other color imbalances. A second number value will display next to the Color Compensation (CC) icon. Bounce card can have warm and cool tones. Some industry folk recommend not using an HMI bulb when it passes half or two thirds of its life expectancy. In order to take a color temperature measurement. but instead of output intensity. one must always examine how 'white' the object of which provides the bounce is.) The display can either read in degrees Kelvin or the mired value next to the Light Balance (LB) icon. a color meter is necessary. it measures the color temperature of any given light source. This value will have a letter next to it such as a 'G' (green) or 'M' (magenta). . 
 This Minolta color meter can be balanced for daylight (5500k) or tungsten (3200k or 3400k. When picking equipment up from the lighting rental house. no matter the unit being measured. A color meter is similar to a light meter. This should be stressed when using HMIs as they widely vary in color temperature. The degrees Kelvin value given by the color meter is a correlated color temperature value. Many walls inside locations appear white at a glance or under dim light. These are suggestions of color compensation filters.Color
Temperature:
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Patrick
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2009

 5600k. but in fact can be a cream color. A very useful tool when working with non-radiating type sources such as HMIs or fluorescent units. HMI bulbs are notorious for shooting way off their color temperature rating when nearing the end of their usable life span. The Color Meter It should be clear that a cinematographer must not rely solely on the manufacturer's color temperature ratings. there is a much greater chance that HMI bulbs will be off of their 5500k rating.

Mired values are actually direct reciprocals of a corresponding degrees Kelvin color temperature value. one can tell how much correction gel is necessary to 'shift' a light source from its color temperature. Mired values allow a cinematographer an easy system in which to determine the strength of correction filter or gel. and be additive. is a way to work with simpler numbers independent of the color temperature scale.Color
Temperature:
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 Ryan
Patrick
O’Hara
2009

 Micro Reciprocal Degree (Mired) & Mired shifts A mired is a unit of measurement used to convey a specific color temperature. What this means to the cinematographer. Two mired values are needed to perform the calculation: The first mired value is the desired color temperature. . Simply subtract the second value from the first value. to a new one of choice. Mired Shift Using mired values. The second is the value of the light you are going to change with correction gel. The remaining value is the mired difference.

If you do not have a gel that matches the mired value you need to make the correction. To get the light's color temperature where you want. I will discuss this briefly under the filters and gels section of the article. It is a common mistake filmmakers make when they double up CT Blue or CT Orange. The following are demonstrative examples of the mired shift calculation process. simply choose the gel which matches the formula’s end mired value.Color
Temperature:
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Patrick
O’Hara
2009

 All correction gels in the motion picture industry have manufacturer given mired ratings. the mired values are additive! Simply combine two gels and add their mired values together. It is much more simple then it sounds: . A mired value with a negative integer increases color temperature towards the blue spectrum. while a mired value with a positive integer decreases the color temperature towards the orangered part of the spectrum. Two quarter blue (CTB) gels do not make one half CTB gel.

Color
Temperature:
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Crash
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 Ryan
Patrick
O’Hara
2009

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Color
Temperature:
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Patrick
O’Hara
2009

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(344. he/she would use an 80a filter in front of the lens. The proper camera conversion filter would have been a Tiffen Decamired R3 filter which is rated at +30 mired shift and a 1/2 stop of light loss. Camera Filtration: As previously discussed. the most common of camera filtration: Color Film Conversion Filters 85 and 80a. The key light and camera emulsion would have remained the same in mired values. film emulsions have only two 'flavors'.5= +32.2) the resulting mired shift will be the same number. For this section (camera filtration) we will assume he/she will filter the camera to match the lighting. the lights to match the camera sensor's color temperature. This is an 'orange' filter which corrects the imbalance. but has daylight film stock in the camera (5500k).Color
Temperature:
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Patrick
O’Hara
2009

 The first example could have used lens filtration to match the camera to the lights. 85: If the cinematographer is shooting outdoors (@ 5500k) but has tungsten film stock (3200k) inside the camera he will want to use an 85 filter. 80a: If the cinematographer is shooting indoors with tungsten instruments (@ 3200k). he must take measures to balance the camera to the lighting.8-312. or be used to deliberately alter the camera or lighting color balance away from proper rendition for creative look. If the cinematographer wishes to shoot in an environment with off balanced lighting or has only the 'other flavor' of film emulsion but desires proper color rendition. style. Since the tungsten film stock will see the daylight as an unnatural blue. First. This would convert the very orange looking scene to daylight (5500k) on the Kelvin spectrum. (32) but this time a positive integer. Color Correction Filtration and Gels Color correction filtration and gels may be used to get either the camera sensor to match the lighting color temperature. an 85 filter will adjust the color temperature down to tungsten (3200k) on the Kelvin scale. and mood. or balance the lighting to the camera. . but would be switched around in the mired shift formula.

the chart below introduces some additional flavors in color film conversion filters: There are many additional color-compensating filters. . which are specially designed to adjust the color temperature of the recording medium.Color
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Patrick
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2009

 Since lighting situations may often be slightly different from 3200k or 5500k.

Remember. Light Balancing. or cyan. (9th Edition).Color
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2009

 The following charts are lens filtration tables from the American Cinematographers Manual. Included are Color Conversion. which balance out color imbalances such as spikes of green. magenta. colorcompensating filters absorb the opposite of what they are.
 
 . and Color Compensating Filters.

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They may use different naming systems. . but the filters will be very similar.Color
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 There are other companies who make conversion and/or color compensating filters.

there are lighting color temperature gels manufactured to shift the color temperature of lights. CTO and CTB come in full. Note: never add gels by their CT fraction. underwater color temperature conditions will differ due to weather. Lighting units under water are not a commonplace. and are not typically used to balance a light.Color
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 Underwater Photography: Underwater photography is a rare and specialized field. When shooting underwater. 'Party' gels. Just like camera filtration. therefore. thus the subject will be only lightly touched upon. which are available in all colors. Discuss and research with experienced underwater photographers before shooting takes place. always by mireds. Consult the American Cinematographers Manual for their Underwater Photography Color Filter Selection Chart. and etc. it is possible for a . CTB is manufactured to turn tungsten colored lamps into daylight colored lamps. location. as always. it is always best to have color temperature lens filtration. water body type. Lighting Filtration Gels: Like lens filtration. CTB: Color Temperature Blue. CT (color temperature) and CC (color compensating) gels are specifically made to change a light's color qualities to match the recording medium. may be added together. depth. color temperature will be drastically different. Like daylight. as the light intensity is only cut by 2/3rds a stop. there are various strengths of CTO and CTB to make fine adjustments. CTO will make daylight lamps (5500k) tungsten balanced (3200k). and eighth increments. the better chance of choosing the right lens filtration. tend to have a greater effect on a lights color output. The most common are CTB and CTO. but to color it. This can be more tolerable. The more information a cameraman can gather about the specific water and weather conditions. CTO: Color Temperature Orange. The following charts list common Color Temperature and Color Compensation lighting filtration gels. CTB will knock off almost 2 stops of light. Each strength will have an assigned mired value and. half. quarter. The down side is that CTB is very costly in stoppage. However.

CT and CC gels are as follows: . Please request a gel swatch from any lighting gel manufacturers. or a light party gel to balance it.Color
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 cinematographer to use CT or CC gels to color a scene. Since ‘party’ gels are almost limitless in quantity. they have been omitted from the following lists.

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Color
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no matter how you shift the color around. which result in endless possibilities. .Color
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 Many other types of gels exist. A color meter can always tell you the whereabouts of your lighting instruments.

your lighting of the what you I hope you have enjoyed this article. as well as how to measure. Best.com . One should know the difference between color temperature and color compensation. Once a solid grasp of color temperature takes hold. the basics of color temperature and color compensation should have been addressed. should you have any questions or comments regarding this article. the possibilities open up. Remember to check the color temperature of lights. breaking the rules and taking advantage of this system will allow huge creative freedom and ability to express visually. quantify and control lighting sources. Once you know are dealing with. -Ryan Director of Photography Ryan@RyanPatrickOHara. Feel free to send an email. Knowing the color temperatures units at hand is half the battle. (specially HMI globes) before leaving a rental facility.Color
Temperature:
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 Conclusion By now.