What is Colour Temperature?

Understanding colour temperature is one of the crucial rules of photography you must learn before you can begin to break them.
 
So what is colour temperature? In short, each light source has its own individual colour, or ‘colour temperature’, which varies from red to blue.
 
Candles, sunsets and tungsten bulbs give off light that’s close to red (hence the ‘warm’ look they give to pictures), whereas clear blue skies give off a ‘cool’ blue light. It’s fairly obvious stuff once you read it.
 
Colour temperature is typically recorded in kelvin, the unit of absolute temperature. Cool colours like blue and white generally have colour temperatures over 7000K, while warmer colours like red and orange lie around the 2000K mark.
 
When you set your camera’s white balance manually (find out how to make a custom white balance setting) you can choose from a number of pre-set colour temperature options like Tungsten, Daylight, Cloudy and Shade, or customize your own setting.
 
In our infographic below we’ve illustrated the colour temperature scale and show you where these popular white balance settings sit within it. We’ve also shown where some common shooting conditions, such as hazy skies and sunsets, sit within the colour temperature scale and what white balance setting you might want to use to capture accurate colours in these conditions.