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August 25, 2011 / arthill

The color of light

Yesterday we went to a children’s museum with our grandsons.  One of the areas of the museum has a whole bunch of exhibits about light.  One of them featured colored blocks in a booth with a constantly changing light source. It was fascinating to see a yellow block change to orange and then to white.  I decided to try to capture the essence of this experiment with my camera.   When I took a look at the pictures on my computer I saw that the Auto White Balance was “fooled” much of the time.  I opened up the RAW file in each case and use the eyedropper tool to set the white balance by clicking on the desk surface.

Here’s what I would call a “normal” view of the blocks


In this shot the Auto White Balance was really off


By adjusting the white balance I got this – which is what my eye saw


Here’s another from the camera


And the WB adjusted version



So here are the same blocks in three different lights



Note the shift in red to dark red and then orange.  And the blue to turquoise and back to blue.

Here are three more unadjusted shots that have picked up a blue cast


Correcting the white balance though gives very different results



So here are all the variations that we saw (these have been adjusted to correct white balance)



Two points to take away from this:

  1. Keep in mind the color of your light source
  2. Shoot RAW and check the white balance to see if you can get a better result.


Leave a Comment
  1. Donna McCommon / Aug 25 2011 8:51 am

    An excellent example of white balance. Thanks, Art.

  2. Maryann Tia Engel Goldman / Aug 25 2011 9:51 am

    I really like how you’ve showed us just how much difference the color of the light we’re shooting under can make in our shots. Cold or warm light can really make a big difference.

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