Like most photographers, I started using my DSLR on auto white balance (AWB). I didn’t understand white balance and assumed my ‘high end, fancy camera’ would take care of that setting for me. I was too busy learning the important things, like how to master manual. Plus I figured whatever needed to be fixed could be done in photoshop. Easy peasy, check that off my list and move on.
Except one day I realized I was a little frustrated with always having to correct my white balance, and, as it turns out, white balance plays a very important role in exposure. Often times, what I thought was an underexposed photo was really just a photo with off white balance. Which certainly explained why when I upped my exposure, the photo still looked ‘off’.
I started paying more attention, and hearing a lot of talk about Kelvin. I thought ‘who is he and what can he do for my white balance?’.
Yeah, turns out, he can do a lot. Kelvin white balance rocks my world.
Kelvin is a setting in your camera that measures color temperature (i.e. how cool-green/blue- or warm-yellow/red- a scene is).
It’s easier to set on Nikon than Canon, but I usually set mine at the beginning of my shoot and don’t change it again anyways so the extra step doesn’t bother me. Look in your menu settings and when you see the K symbol, set your Kelvin temperature. You will see numbers and a color chart.
My starting point for K is usually 5500K, if I am shooting outdoors on a sunny day.
Because I shoot RAW (and I think you should too!), I know that if I need to adjust my WB in photoshop, it will be easier. Wait a minute, didn’t I just say one of the reasons I switched to Kelvin was so that I would spend less time editing WB in photoshop? Yep.
But here is the key: When I shoot in Kelvin, I gain consistency. If I set my K to 5500K, and I see during editing that I need to bump it up, as long as I shot in the same light, I can change my WB and it will have a consistent look on each photo. Consistency is important, and I depend on it. When I was using AWB, my camera made the decision on each photo what the WB should be and I had no say. One picture might be cool, and the next warm if I moved or changed settings. And that made editing a nightmare because I could not achieve the same look on any 2 photos from the very same shoot.
Let that sink in for a second.
Using Kelvin, you have the ability to control the foundation of your entire shoot.
I know that some photographers swear by CWB, or cloudy, or whatever. And some use a gray card, which is a wonderful tool. But Kelvin gives me consistency and when I started using it, my editing time was drastically decreased and my SOOC images were noticeably better. Sold.
So how do I decide what to set my Kelvin temperature to? There’s a lot of technical reasoning behind how and why Kelvin works, but the simple answer is: it depends on your lighting source.
I created a little ‘cheat sheet’ to help you match up the best pairing between lighting source and Kelvin temperature.
This is the guide I use, and what I find to be most helpful for me. But, I do tweak it occasionally and you should feel free to play around with the different settings to find ones that really work for you too.
And just to show you what a difference Kelvin (and shooting in RAW) makes, here are 2 examples.
It is important to note, both of these pictures were taken in the very SAME spot (my backyard) at about the same time of day. Yes, the camera and lens are different…but look at the differences in the SOOC.
First, you have a picture I took last year. Gosh, I was super proud of this one. (do any of y’all look back on your old work and cringe?).
Y’all! Why didn’t anyone ever tell me how bad this was? I am pretty sure I tooted my own horn on this picture…wow.
Anyways, so look, something just seems off with this photo. Her skin is really cool, even after my edit. Because I didn’t shoot in RAW, there was very little I could do to improve this photo in editing.
But, here is a quick play I did today, adding a warm up action (Normally I use actions as little as possible, but without being able to edit in ACR, I needed to use a warming action)
My WB is still off. And, I can’t really fix it without a whole lotta’ tweaking.
Here is a picture I took using Kelvin shot in RAW.
I am really digging the warmth SOOC. My skin tones seem pretty spot on (my son naturally has red cheeks with freckles), and he had been eating a blue lollipop hence the darker lips.
I hope this encourages you to go out and try Kelvin (and also shooting RAW!). Having this much control over your photos really is freeing, and super easy.
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