What Is Color Temperature?

Posted on by Larry

[A version of this article first appeared on TheInsideTips.com.]

Color temperature is the measure of the perceived color of white light on a scale from warm (gold) to cool (bluish). It is based on the temperature of an ideal black-body radiator that radiates light of a color comparable to that of the light source. In other words, this represents the color of something as it is heated.

In practice, color temperature is meaningful only for light sources that do in fact correspond somewhat closely to the radiation of some black body, for example, light in a range going from red to orange to yellow to white to blueish white. Color temperature is conventionally expressed in kelvins, using the symbol K, a unit of measure for absolute temperature.

(Image courtesy of Bhutajata – CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44144928)

The curved black line in the middle of this CIE 1931 Chromaticity chart shows the different “shades” of white light based on color temperature.


Here’s a Wikipedia article to learn more.

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2 Responses to What Is Color Temperature?

  1. Mark I. Scott says:

    3200k, 5600k, 6500k are all Color Temperatures used in both Film and Video Production acquisition. Most indoor sets are lit for 3200k. Daytime outdoor sets are usually lit for 5600k. Most video monitors on set are set for 6500k. One of my jobs for the last 30 years has been photographing monitors, projectors, phones and video walls seen on a set lighted for the main two color temps of 3200 and 5600. FYI

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