The Colour Temperature Scam

The Colour Temperature Scam

How many times have you been told to get the colour temperature right in your digital images? A million, right?

From the advertiser who says that the label on their juice box is not orange enough to the bride who complains that her face is too orange…everyone has a colour opinion. And they never seem to match yours – you, the person taking the picture with your camera. What causes them to see so differently from you?

Their eyes and their brain.

Until we perfect the Vulcan Mind Meld, there is no way that anyone can see colour exactly as anyone else does. We can all see numbers written about a colour in a Pantone book or an RGB chart. They can be called up on a screen or printed on good paper, and with a bit of luck they will stay stable and can be reproduced by dialling up those numbers again. However, as soon as our soggy old eyeballs send a signal to our soggy old brains, the game is off. Different eyes, brains, and signals.

It’s only a problem when we combine it with the human tendency to regard whatever we see or think as right. We are the standard of the world and everything else is measured from it. Don’t be sad or shy about this. It applies to all the billions that populate the place. And at least in colour vision, it is not a killing mindset.

The answer for the advertiser or the bride is to simply turn the orange up or down until they are happy and pay their bill. You are editing for their eyes and brains and just put your own in neutral.

When it comes to you doing your art ab initio, adopt a different tack – or series of tacks. Try this experiment:

a. Set the camera you use to Automatic White Balance and let it have its head. Be aware that its head may be better than yours and don’t be too proud to admit that.

b. Then measure the white balance of the scene with the custom white balance setting in the menu of your camera. Shoot a set of images with whatever it recommends.

c. Finally, set your camera to do a bracket of shots with different white balances. A lot of machines will do this, and some have provision for adjusting how far the spread of measurement is changed between the bracket shots.

The results you see will all visible on the little LCD screen of the camera, but you’d be better advised to take them to your computer and open them on a good monitor screen. Before you pop the card in the reader and peer into it, make sure that your computer or monitor screen has been colour calibrated with one of the kits available in Camera Electronic ( shameless plug that gets me paid for these columns…)

Sadly, the screen will only show you what it considers correct colour to be – you may still disagree and it doesn’t care. The one true advantage it has for adequate calibration is consistency – it’ll show the same colour image from day to day between its re-calibrations. You may be affected in your judgement by sleeplessness, bad eyesight, hangovers, or cataracts. In any case look at what that steady screen shows you of the test shots and…

Pick the one that looks good. If several look good – and look like each other – note the settings that were used, and go back to them in the future. If you can, print out a set of reference prints of all the test shots with careful notes as to the white balance setting used.

Next time you are shooting for a bride or a soup seller, show them the reference prints and get them to say which one they like. And then use that setting.



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