What Is Colour Temperature and White Balance In Photography?

In the world of product photography, we often use the white balance button on a camera to select an automatic white balance or a specific measurement. Some cameras also allow for the colour temperature to be set according to your requirements.

This opens up the question of what the relationship is between white balance and colour temperature and how they affect each other. For a packshot photographer reading this article, you will discover everything you need to know about temperatures, their colours and how to set both white balance and colour temperature on your camera.

The link between colour and temperature

Everyone working in the world of product photography should understand that every temperature has a colour that represents it. These temperatures are measured in Kelvin and range from 1,000K all the way up to 10,000K. Anything under this number and you just won’t see a colour on the scale.

To give you an idea of some of the common temperature and colour levels used by a packshot photographer, see below:

  • Sunset is 2,500K
  • A lightbulb is 3,000K
  • Noon/Midday is 5,600K
  • A clear blue sky is 10,000K

On a camera, many of the presets for white balance will have an icon that represents a certain colour and temperature. There are some fantastic product photography guides out there that include images to help understand, as well as user guides for the specific cameras.

Why setting the colour temperature helps with white balance

By now, people working in product photography will know the colours of light during daytime and how this changes depending on the time of day and the conditions (for example whether it is sunny or cloudy).

Most cameras give you the ability to choose predefined settings for specific times of day, so you don’t need to worry about selecting the specific temperature. However, it is a good idea to try to fine-tune as close to perfect colour temperature as you can.

For example, in some of the more advanced cameras, you will find within the white balance menu an option to move the Kelvin number up and down until you have the best custom temperature possible.

Once you have done this, you will effectively reach the correct white balance level. This is because if your camera is set to the correct colour temperature then something white (e.g. a piece of white paper) should look white in the image.

Do I need to get the white balance perfect?

The answer to this question very much depends on the aspect of product photography you work in. Some scenarios will require such detail and in this case, you will need to control the colour temperature and white balance.

In the majority of situations, being perfect with the white balance isn’t necessary and being slightly out won’t cause any noticeable difference because the light is always changing during the day. Take advantage of the camera settings and if you have the ability to manually make changes, then take some test shots until you find the best set-up for your needs.