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Weekly Video Tip: Advanced Lighting Concepts Part 1, Color Temperature

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By Stephen Schweickart

Want to bring lights on your shoot? Want to shoot like a professional? Then you have to know a little something about color temperature. You can’t just plug in your camera and expect it to know what you’re doing. You need to make sure it knows the temperature of light you’re using, and I’m going to tell you how to distinguish that right now.

You’re most likely going to be dealing with one of two types of light: daylight, when you’re outside, or tungsten, when you’re inside. But knowing how to manage these vastly different colored lights is essential in making sure you aren’t stuck in the color correction process for days.

Color temperature of lights is measured on the kelvin scale. 5500 kelvin for daylight, and around 3200 kelvin for tungsten. This can change of course based on the time of day or the types of lights you’re using, but generally, that’s what you’re dealing with. Once you know what kind of light you’re filming with, pull out your instruction manual, unless you’re so pro that you know where the color temperature setting is, and make sure you’re camera knows what lights you’re using. If you don’t, you’re going to get back to your editing suite and realize you’ve made a gigantic mess for yourself.

In the simplest terms, daylight shines blue. At least that’s what the camera sees. Telling the camera you’re shooting at 5500 kelvin will let it know exactly how to adjust. So if you’re shooting outside, your camera will know to add orange to the scene to make sure all your footage doesn’t look like the hospital scene from Terminator 2. Conversely, if you’re shooting indoors with no outside light from windows or skylights, you need to make sure your camera is adding blue to the scene, by setting the color tempt to 3200, so your shots don’t all look like a romantic dinner at dusk.

“But Stephen what if I’m filming outside and I only have tungsten lights?!?! OMG MY SHOOT IS A FAILURE!”

Yikes, calm down. There’s an easy fix for that, and it’s called colored gels. If you have a tungsten light that, if you remember, shines orange, but you’re shooting outside in the blue sunlight, just slap a blue gel in front of your orange light and VOILA all of a sudden your orange light reads blue on camera and a 25 cent piece of equipment just saved your shoot.

More than likely your fancy camera will have that tempting “auto” setting, but take it from me–you want to manage this yourself. If you’re shooting an interview with a little blue light from outside, but lighting primarily with orange tungsten lights, that auto setting won’t know how to handle itself. You’re better off rolling that setting around in the camera until you find a happy medium that works best for what you want the final output to look like. Unlike Terminator, the machine won’t make the best decision to save your life. In fact, it’ll probably make it quite miserable for a long, long time.

Take our advice. If you want your shots to look natural, learn how to manage your camera’s color temperature settings and get control of your picture. You’ll be happy you did.

Stephen Schweickart is the co-founder of VScreen. For more information on this topic, visit VScreen’s site at http://www.vscreen.com/.

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