The Color of Light

The color of light is a fascinating part of photography, which is in essence is painting with light. When you think of light, what color do you think of? Maybe orange or yellow?

In reality, the light around us is full of all of the colors in the whole stunning spectrum of the rainbow. Certain objects will reflect back certain colors to our eyes, making the object (like a red apple) appear red.

The light source can also add color. In the photo above I didn't color it orange, I promise! The sunset was stunning that night, and there were fires burning down in the valley, all adding to an amazing golden glow of light that just colored everything around it orange.

The color of light can affect our photography. It can boost a boring photo to become a great photo, or it can ruin a photo. It can add warmth (like the photo above), or coolness (like the photo below) if it's on the opposite side of the spectrum. Both colors will add their own emotion to the image. 

Have you ever taken a photo out in nature, surrounded by green, and have the photo come out looking a bit green, so that even the people's skin looks a bit green? That's the light reflecting off the grass and trees, casting its green glow on your subject. We call this a color cast. 

We can use color to enhance our photography, but what do we do when the color cast is ruining our photos? For example, look at the photo on the left. There are so many green trees around the subject, the green light is reflecting onto her face and making it an odd color. You may not even notice this at first, I know I didn't! I would get so caught up in the beautiful expressions of my subjects, I wouldn't notice that their skin was green. Oops. So how do we fix this? How do we move from the image on the left to the image on the right?

In photography, there is this thing called "white balance." White balance is basically when we remove the color casts (like the green from the grass in our example above) from the photo so that the whites actually appear white. This is something that can save your photos!

To adjust your white balance, you can actually set it before you shoot (check your camera menu or your phone camera settings for white balance). You can choose a different setting for shade, indoors, etc. Take a few sample images to get a feel for what these settings do. Or, just leave it alone. If you don't choose the setting, your camera will choose "Auto white balance" and it usually does a decent job.

However, sometimes you'll still get funky colors. If you still don't get the correct color, you can use the color sliders in your editing app or program to add coolness or warmth to your image. Problem fixed!! 

If your phone camera or camera allows it, you can choose to shoot in RAW, which allows absolutely amazing flexibility in correcting color and lighting. (These files are bigger, though, so that is the trade-off).

Part of photography is learning how to notice light, and a big part of that is seeing the color of light. The most important thing to notice is if the light is affecting the skin tones of your subject. You don't want them to look too green, pink, orange or even gray. 

So how did I edit the photo above? In my favorite editing app, Lightroom, I can use the little eyedropper you see here to click on a neutral (colorless) area of the photo and it will choose the white balance for me. This sometimes works great! Other times it doesn't work and I will need to play with the sliders in order to get the correct temperature of light. Blues we call cool tones, and yellows we call warm tones. In this step of editing, we are either warming up or cooling down our photo, with the goal of getting the skin and overall vibe to look good. 

There is also a green/pink slider named "tint." Pink helps to remove green, and vice versa. On the photo of the girl above, you can see that I have cooled it down a bit, as well as added a pink tint in order to correct the green reflections. 

So there is hope for your photos! Play around with white balance, and notice the color casts in your images. If it takes you a while, don't get discouraged, just keep working at it.

It took me a long time to master the art of white balance in my photography and I'm still constantly working at it. Sometimes, if you're staring at the screen too long, you will get used to how your photos look at a certain white balance. It helps to step away and look at them again later, and see if they still look correct to you.

The goal of this post is to help you not just see light, but see the color of light.

And I wouldn't be Laura if I didn't throw in a little life application:

What color are you reflecting to the world around you? Light is bouncing off of you and hitting the people around you.  Are you reflecting hope, peace and warmth? Or coolness? In life, it's really up to you. Choose to correct your funky color casts, and reflect a beautiful glow to the world around you. 

Peace and Light,



My "Looking for the Light: Photography & Life" online course will launch in 2021. Are you interested in learning more about photography? Click below to view more about the course.

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