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20 Mar 2012

Understanding Color Temperature Featured




Understanding Color Temperature

Color temperature is a term used to describe the color of visible light, however it is not just a posh word for blue light, red light etc. C.T is a reference of the perceived color of “white” light in lighting and equipment that uses light, like cameras. Color temperature is measured in Kelvins (K); the physics behind the measurement is a bit involved and doesn’t really matter for now.

Light colors in the Kelvin scale include candlelight (a warm orange) at 1500K to the light from a bright blue sky over 10,000K. A relevant point on the Kelvin scale for stage lighting is 3200K, a tungsten light bulb color temperature, another is 6500 Kelvins; daylight. These color temperatures are points on a range and not the exact color of each light bulb or sky. The color temperature chart shows a range on the Kelvin scale.

Color Temperature and Cameras

Why do we need to define light colors in this way? The human eye is capable of changing it’s perception of reflected color automatically- it does it very well. Equipment that uses light, such as cameras and screens, need a bit more help and giving the camera a reference to “pure” white does this.

Modern digital cameras and video equipment can set a “white balance” based on the available lighting but older, more inflexible techniques like photographic film, came pre-set. Daylight film and Tungsten film were used to capture the correct color temperature for the lighting of the shoot. The lighting could also be changed using color correction gels.

So, the color of the lighting and it’s interaction with the camera are linked. An understanding of color temperature is an essential part of lighting design if cameras are involved.

Color Temperature in Stage Lighting Design

Color temperature has a place in stage lighting design, even if you are not working with cameras. The color of firelight or a bright sunny day is recreated successfully by understanding that “white” light in everyday life has a subtle color. This light quality can be in art works by the Impressionist painters.

Our job in stage lighting design is to convey a sense of location with lighting. We have the tools to change the color temperature of our lights using color correction filters such as Tungsten to Daylight (3200K to 5700K) etc. These correction filters block certain colors in the spectrum of a light source to produce a new color temperature. Knowing that daylight is blue and tungsten light orange, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that our Tungsten to Daylight correction filter (such as Lee 201 Full CTB) is a light blue gel.

There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to choosing lighting colors but an understanding of different light sources and their color temperatures are vital. A warm orange glow from a fire or the cool blue of an overcast sky give the audience a visual clue to the surroundings of a scene on stage.

Colors relevant to stage lighting are: 

1500 K - Candlelight

3000 K- 200W Incandescent lamp (light bulb)

3000 K -Sunrise/sunset

3200 K- Tungsten lamp

5500 K -Sunny daylight around noon

6500K-7500K- Overcast sky

9000-10000 K- Blue sky

The actual color temperature of a stage lighting bulb filament depends on its intensity level. A dimmer set at 10% will make the light more orange than at 100% brightness. When choosing color correction filters, it might be helpful to consider what levels the lighting will be set to during your show.

Last modified on Tuesday, 20 March 2012 10:06


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