It Is Not the Heat, It Is the Temperature: The Shades of Light

By | 07.02.2009

Lighting is an art. Without light there is no color, no shadow, no contrast and no art, no science, no plant life, just a big fat empty void. Light fills the void and is the foundation of life and culture. Light is a big deal. Yet tons of folks treat light like a forgotten mistress. The giant solar orb rises and they can see just fine. The glowing orb sets and the streetlights come on. The house lights could be oil lamps, incandescent bulbs, fluorescent lights, moon light or the glow of a computer screen. The natural lighting of the sun, fluorescent lighting, and the glare of a bulb all illuminate, but they are not the same. Light has a degree of tonal color. Artists, cinematographers and designers are very aware of the color temperature of lights. Professionals use them to create the tone they want. Understanding color temperature is an important skill for any artist or designer.

Color temperature is discussed in terms of warm and cool. The hottest temperatures run in the reddish hues, the coldest in the bluish hue. Average person on the street associate heat with color, thinking the hottest light source should create the warmest colors. The opposite is occurs. Solar light has blue tones and a candle has red tones. A candle is perhaps the easiest way to understand this range of tones. The hottest part of the flame is the section nearest to the burning surface. This part of the fire is usually blue. The edge of the fire is yellow, orange and sometimes even a bit red. Color Temperature can also be illustrated in the passing of the sun. In the cooler hours of the day, the rising or setting sun is red, while the noon day sun beats down hot and blue. Our eyes view sunlight as white and therein exists the challenge in photography, cinematography and design.

The human eye works like one of the finest filters ever invented. In any given situation, the eye and the brain work work in conjunction with each other to determine color. A room with white walls lit by incandescent bulbs will appear white. During the day the same wall will appear white. The ocular nerves and the brain adjust. This can easily be seen by taking a photograph with the camera adjusted to the wrong color temperature. If it is white balanced for sunlight and the room is lit by light bulbs it will appear very yellow. If it is white balanced for electric lights and shot when lit by daylight the picture will appear very blue.

Interior designers, photographers, filmmakers and painters all take into account color temperature. The room paint whatever color it is, will vary with the quality of light. A good designer considers the color of paint in tandem with the source of light. Colors help set a tone and a mood. Even when the untrained eye thinks it is looking at white, the body reacts to the warm and cool tones.

Understanding color temperature is a helpful tool for anyone interested in art or home design.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *