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Setting Color Temp, Skin Tones, and all that

Hi - I sometimes struggle with setting the correct color temp to give me the correct exposure for a photo. Sure, getting the color correct for a posed photo is fairly straightforward, but I'm not a portrait photographer. I photograph events with sometimes a myriad of different colored lights, and I'm sure wedding photographers have the same issues at receptions.

Unless there is a person who stands out in your mind - "hey, I remember that guy, and his face really WAS that red", I'm sure you can't remember everyone's coloring. And, I really doubt you folks are carrying a gray card around with you, shooting it every so often and using the result on a few photos, and repeating the process every time you move to a different area. Or carrying around and using a color-temperature meter (I actually downloaded a free app to my phone, and use it when I first get to an event location. It gives me a different reading even by rotating my phone 90 degrees, so not all that useful).

I try and use the "eye-dropper" tool in LR, but that is a 50-50 shot. What happens if you can't find white or gray that gets the three numbers to be pretty equal? Oh, and that leads to a question about using the eye-dropper: how "close" in value do those three numbers have to be? Can they be off by 1 or 2 or 4 or 5? How "close" is "close" for you eye-dropper users.

OR, is it just experience?? How do you folks deal with this stuff? I *think* I'm getting to the point now where I can look at a skin tone and the surroundings and bump the color temperature up or down, and get something that looks good. But that's like trial-and-error. And it's time consuming.

Thanks for any insights.



  • TrevTrev Moderator

    The 2 keys here are getting 'pleasing skin tones' and not be perfect, and also to shoot each segment/setting with the same WB setting then adjusting just a group of images instead of individual ones.

    There are 'basic' settings you can do from the get go.

    Normal daylight around 5500K Canon, and 5800K Nikon.

    Early morning/late afternoon your WB will be way too warm at those settings, so around the 3800 mark works good for natural light or a bit higher to keep the 'ambient warm feel' and you have to watch the skin does not go orange at those times.

    Tungsten light natural light shooting inside at night, around the 3800, but get it close then keep the same setting for that section so all images can be adjusted at once if wrong.

    Flash overpowering ambient, well normal flash is around 5500K, but, if you want to keep some warm tones in background looking more natural rather than too orange at 5500, then I would put a 1/2 CTS gel over flash, set the WB to around 4200 or so, that way the really warm tones will cool down a bit at 4200 but the skin will look fine because of the 1/2 CTS gel over flash head.

    Really it's just a matter of taste. As I say (and Neil's mantra) 'pleasing skin tones' as opposed to trying to get them perfect. All people's skins vary in shade/colour so trying to put a dropper on a neutral grey will sterilise the image too much IMO.

  • Hi, Trev - These are great tips and guidelines, and I appreciate you taking the time to send them along to me.

  • Hi Dave,

    For what its worth, white balance is subjective and will be viewed differently by everyone. You may be exactly perfect and when viewed by a client, everyone will be orange. It all depends on monitor and viewing device.   I always try to get close, but worry later since I shoot raw. I worry mostly about the skin tones, but I do not go as far as remember what shade everyone is as it will drive you mad. Trev has some very good guides above. I use my best judgment and make it look its very best to my eye. So rest easy, and shoot away. Your the professional and deliver what you think the photo should look like:) 

  • Thanks, Jay.

    Funny you should mention everyone looks orange. That's how I feel after developing a photo on my now color-calibrated monitor, and look at it on my work computer. Orange-y. I know I need to calibrate my monitor, but for a while I was wondering why I should, because everyone's monitor is not calibrated.
  • I am with you Dave. That is a very good point.  I resisted the calibration for the longest time. I ultimately calibrated for the overall brightness of the images and my "own" personal satisfaction. I do not print in house, so it really could be deemed a moot point, but I do know that the image is close to correct, whether it looks bright or dark and it was the right thing to do. Looking at your images takes some getting used too after calibration and you will get a feel for the application. 

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