Creating Moods with the Kelvin Scale

Creating Moods with the Kelvin Scale

In this article Christina Nichole sheds some light on the Kelvin Scale.

Have you ever gone into a shooting scenario and struggled to match your white balance to the available light? Have you ever wondered how to intensify the color of a sunset without digital enhancement, or create a mood with the color of your available light?


I have two words for you:

Kelvin Scale.

Found on most modern cameras, the Kelvin scale is a control feature forgotten among photographers. However, the Kelvin Scale can provide opportunities for fantastic creativity with a little bit of knowledge.

The Kelvin Scale ranges from 2000 … 10000. The coldest tone of the scale starts at 2000, casting a very cold bluish tint to photos. The warmest tone of the scale ends at 10000 and is extremely red-orange.. It may help to think of the Kelvin Scale in terms of white balances:

1000-2000 K Candlelight

2500-3500 K Tungsten Bulb (household variety)

3000-4000 K Sunrise/Sunset (clear sky)

4000-5000 K Fluorescent Lamps

5000-5500 K Electronic Flash

5000-6500 K Daylight with Clear Sky (sun overhead)

6500-8000 K Moderately Overcast Sky

9000-10000 K Shade or Heavily Overcast Sky

Just as your camera’s white balance will “compensate” for the way it “sees” the light in a scene, Kelvin Scale allows you to control the color correcting of your images point by point.


Why use the Kelvin scale as opposed to a standard white balance? If you can’t control the light tones of a room according to the standard “tungsten”, go Kelvin. If you can’t achieve the perfect skin tone of your subject by shooting on “cloudy”, once again, go for Kelvin.

Kelvin scale can also be used creatively for enhancing the colors of sunsets and sunrises. By altering and adding color with the Kelvin Scale, your images will achieve that “creative edge” with ultimate control.

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Christina N Dickson is a visionary artist and philanthropist in Portland Oregon. Her work includes wedding photography and leadership with

Some Older Comments

  • Kurtz August 6, 2013 09:29 pm

    Kelvin is a way to go to get more accurate WB instead of tweaking it in LR or RAW programs, save you time, plus you get more good at it and get better pictures compare to relying in softwares, Bragging about how you can do it afterwards is just an Amateur thing or your just plain lazy.

  • Charlotte Lee May 5, 2012 10:42 am

    Giving the Kelvin Scale in a nutshell is great, as well as your comments. Thanks!!

  • Prasad phutane April 8, 2012 05:52 am

    Thank you ! A good tip for setting .

  • Harry cb March 15, 2012 08:45 am

    This website will help. Remember the camera does not adjust to colour temperature, like our eyes, so we need to take a white balance. A kelvin setting higher or lower than the current lighting in a scene will have reverse effects.

  • nearlywild January 5, 2011 04:27 pm

    From a design point of view (I am a garden designer) Kelvin color temps are just the opposite of the way I was taught to percieve color, which is that reds, oranges and yellows are the hot or warm colors and the blues, purples and pinks are the cool colors. Green, thank goodness, is still neutral. So what is the derivation of that way of seeing color?

  • cory October 18, 2010 10:20 pm

    I liked the article and think it gives photographers options and food for thought. Once in a while, we need inspiration to keep shooting and if this helps one to do just that, then a job well done. Right or wrong in its completion great article! I have investigated on all the features of my D300s and seen that early on. I played with it and now that this article has come out and I have advaced as a shooter of life, I will give it another try. Thanks for the inspiration....

  • Stephen Hurlbut June 13, 2010 02:26 pm

    I'm not too familiar with Nikon, but I know where it is on my Canon.

    @Les Smith:
    It can be found in the D60 using P.A.S.M modes only under menu/shooting menu/white balance/K (choose color temp/select temp. Once K has been selected it can easily be changed by pressing WB button and rotating dial under on/off switch (display in LCD on top of camera.

    For Canon it is symbolized by a K as well, and it is right next to the custom white balance. Reading the explanation above about how to find it reminds me of why I didn't like Nikon too much. To change my WB settings, all I need to do is hit a button that says WB and scroll to K or whatever type I want to use. I usually leave it on auto, because it does a great job and setting it requires me to change it. Plus as we know, the light can change. The K setting when I used it, I didn't understand the temperature scale well enough to make much use of it. I use custom, but I tend to prefer the auto.

  • benjie soriano June 3, 2010 09:05 pm

    yess indeed, if we can achieve what we want in our white balance thru our camera, then we spend less our post processing

  • benjie soriano June 2, 2010 09:49 pm

    sometimes it pays to break the rules.manipulating white balance can have a stunning effect

  • richarquis March 30, 2010 04:48 pm

    Personally, I HATE sitting at a computer and having to do anything with my pictures - Even cropping annoys me, although it is the one single adjustment I'm prepared to make. Although still very much a learner, I'd rather use tips like these to get everything right first time, in camera. Not only does it help me avoid wasted shots, but also, the learning curve of all this is the best part! The whole reason I bought a DSLR was so I could have creative control over my pictures. Between various lenses and filters, and knowing how to use the different functions on my camera (2nd curtain flash being my absolute favourite so far) my photos have evolved from ho-hum snapshots in bars or parks or whatever, into the beginnings of an artform I can call my own. I'd much rather experience that from behind the lens than in front of a bl**dy monitor.

    Thanks to all at DPS for the work they do that allows me to progress, and to those who add to these forums.

  • nancy December 1, 2009 02:47 pm

    I think this feature (Kelvin Scale) would be useful for those of us who prefer less time in front of the computer... and maybe more time outside in the fresh air..

  • Jeremy November 14, 2009 04:20 pm

    great blog for those that have not yet or have forgotten there K scale settings however a mistake in your writing was found

    The Kelvin Scale ranges from 2000 … 10000 (correction[The Kelvin Scale ranges from 0- ? ]) the use of Kelvin in color temp and in Noise still hold the 0- to infinite ranks although we cannot see 200k light or after 25,000K our vision of it begins to disappear it is still there and can still affect cameras both film and digital to some degree

    btw its 275K outside where im at =)

  • Ana April 18, 2009 04:45 am

    EXCELLENT tips!! I think I found one of the missing secrets to those supersaturated "ice blue" and "sunset red"... can't wait to try these out.

    DPS, you guys rock!!!

  • nils October 29, 2008 05:04 am

    Bought a D200 last week. I really love the kelvin setting possibility!

  • Genghis2510 August 5, 2008 03:00 am

    Any photography tip is worthwhile exploring. Thanks.

  • Marc August 3, 2008 12:16 pm

    Great tip! I tried it tonight on the sunset. Amazing, simply amazing. Thanks!

  • Sunnyman August 2, 2008 10:46 pm

    I'd have liked to edit my prevoius post, but here goes:
    What the author is trying to say is that you can, for instance, "fool" the camera to make the image look warmer by telling it the light is very bluish, ie. high up on the Kelvin scale. The camera will then try to compensate by adding more red to the image.
    I guess this feature is not found on the cheaper digicams, they may have simpler settings like "cloudy" etc.

    In my experience, if you get the color balance totally off by having the image shot with the wrong color balance, it is then very difficult to get it right even in an advanced image editing program like Photoshop.

  • Sunnyman August 2, 2008 10:34 pm

    As said above, this was kind of a confusing article, since it in the beginning says the Kelvin scale goes from bluish to reddish when in fact it is the opposite - low end = reddish, as in candle light; high end = bluish, as in noontime sunlight. This is stated correctly later in the text, but the contradiction is likely to confuse.

    FYI: the Kelvin scale is identical to the Centigrade scale; expt. it has its zero point at Absolute Zero (about -273 degrees Centigrade), instead of at the freezing point of water!

  • Les Smith August 2, 2008 10:25 am

    Sorry people, I got it wrong. my comments re using the Kelvin settings were for the D80. Can't comment on the D60 as I don't have one.

  • NormMonkey August 2, 2008 04:20 am

    Regarding the RAW vs. in-camera war that's cropped up here:

    Both are right!

    Setting the whitebalance in-camera saves time AND is good practise (learning to do it right vs. fixing it later).

    Using RAW *does* give you more control, AND an opportunity to correct mistakes - or get creative - later, without degrading quality.

    What does this mean to us when we're behind the camera?

    Take advantage of BOTH by shooting RAW *AND* setting the white-balance properly. The camera saves the WB setting in its RAW metadata; any decent RAW interpreter lets you use the camera-chosen WB in addition to setting it by some other means (e.g. auto-setting, choosing your own setting manually, picking a region to interpret as white).

  • Chris August 2, 2008 01:22 am

    By the way, Anthony, look up "color temperature" in Wikipedia and you'll get a techy explanation of how kelvins (for color temperature) relate to black body radiation. Even Planck's constant gets a look-in !

    Just too techy for me...

  • Blake August 1, 2008 11:59 pm

    I use a Canon EOS Rebel XT (350D). I shoot RAW images set to automatic white balance and post process with either Canon's Digital Photo Professional or DxO Optics Pro. Both programs have settings for color temperature and they work well. The auto white balance gets you close to what you should have. Just move the slider in either of the above mentioned programs and you can get just what you are looking for. I would rather do this adjustment at home on the computer. When I'm shooting, I just want to worry about composition and exposure settings.

  • his4ever August 1, 2008 11:58 pm

    I had fun with the Kelvin scale the other day. I do not have filters for my flash yet, and my pictures were coming out very very cool, so I bummped up the scale, and volia! The pictures came out pretty cool!


  • Brian August 1, 2008 11:31 pm

    This is fairly confusing (even to me and I use WB creatively often).

    Here's a post that is a bit more user friendly (also from DPS):

    The thing is that Auto WB attempts to make the light from a 1800k candle light the same white as a sunny day ~5800k. So, to make the candlelight look warm, you need to override and set the white balance to something higher than 5800k.

    For those who don't have the ability to set color temp, you can made more crude adjustments by setting your WB to cloudy or shade to warm things up.

  • ladytx August 1, 2008 11:30 pm

    Thanks for the article. Yes, it can be done in post process but I want my shots to be correct in camera. The less time I have to spend post processing a couple hundred images from a shoot the better.

  • Chris August 1, 2008 09:30 pm

    richard is right, Anthony. Think of it like a lump of metal. The hotter you get it in a furnace, the less red it glows and the more yellow, then white it glows. The hotter the metal, the more it tends towards emitting all the colours of the spectrum - white. Bit counter-intuitive, admittedly, but then so are f-stops.

  • richard August 1, 2008 07:06 pm

    I think that the information is backward. The coolest color temperatures are "warmer to look at"= reddish. Blue=hot is the hottest, but is more blue.

    So when we set a minus to our white balance... for example set at auto with a minus 2 "white balance tuning" you get a slightly more red-orange picture... warmer to look at but a lower color temperature.

    I know this sounds backward, but it is due to the color temperature being taken from red=a not so hot flame to blue=a really hot flame.

  • Les Smith August 1, 2008 05:50 pm

    Hi, interesting article. Had never used this feature (still havn't). It can be found in the D60 using P.A.S.M modes only under menu/shooting menu/white balance/K (choose color temp/select temp. Once K has been selected it can easily be changed by pressing WB button and rotating dial under on/off switch (display in LCD on top of camera.

  • rahmad August 1, 2008 05:28 pm

    do I buy external thermometer scale

  • Rosh August 1, 2008 01:52 pm

    I'm a fan of the Raw and make adjustments on the computer method. I also like to create color variations on different images with the same scene.


  • Rob August 1, 2008 10:51 am

    Good article. I often use Kelvin to get the right temp on my Sony Alpha A100. It's much easier that wasting time on the computer. It's also worth experimenting with Sunset or Cloudy setting in WB. Often Cloudy is the better setting to use outside...just a touch warmer.
    Keep up the great work...cheers..Rob

  • Bob August 1, 2008 08:52 am

    First, Kelvin scale is the same thing as white balance on Nikon, Canon and most other cameras.

    Second, you should shoot in Raw and adjust to please, but there is nothing wrong with getting it close to what you had in mind before you shoot. So, go ahead and shoot in camera at the setting you think best.

    Third, in the trptich above, third picture, the picture is warmer still than the second pic. But, you indicate increasing the K val. to 8000. THAT would cool it down, not warm it up. I think you mean decrease the value to something below 7500°. You might want to double check your entry.

  • Anthony August 1, 2008 08:33 am

    Good post but it thoroughly confused me. I'm used to thinking in terms of astrophysics and blackbody radiation when it comes to the kelvin scale, which is the complete opposite - the hotter the object, the higher the temperature and the lower the peak wavelength of light emitted is (higher frequency, more blue). In this scale it's the cooler objects that are more redish. If you're not familiar with the terms, Wikipedia has a good entry on blackbody radiation. Why an overcast sky would have a higher temperature then direct sunlight overhead?

    Can anyone explain the difference? I'm guessing it has something to do with the way light is scattered by the atmosphere.

  • Josh Lloyd August 1, 2008 08:12 am

    Yeah, this was a good post, but definitely not enough information! Few people will know what cameras have this option. I have a D60 also, and I'm familiar with the Kelvin Scale, but I never knew it was a feature on a camera. Just checked mine, I don't seem to have it.

  • John August 1, 2008 06:13 am

    @Stephen - Anything you can do in camera will save you time. I'd rather get it right first than have to fix it in post.

  • CabbyDear August 1, 2008 05:37 am

    How do you get to the Kelvin settings?

  • JP August 1, 2008 03:57 am

    There are plenty of reasons to set WB on camera... so you save time in post processing. 99% of the time I shoot RAW, and I occasionally shoot jpeg and practice white balancing with a gray card and color chart. This is true you have more control in post (saying you have a legitimate color accurate monitor). But I think there is value in knowing how to set color temperature on the camera, its just like knowing how to set exposure in manual mode, you save your self time in post.

  • urbanworkbench August 1, 2008 03:56 am

    A good tip for setting the mood, I have to agree that if you shoot RAW, post processing this is easier, and you can really tweak the image to create the mood you want.

  • Stephen August 1, 2008 03:29 am

    Why use the kelvin in camera? Shoot RAW and do it in post. You have more control.

  • ShaZ August 1, 2008 02:34 am

    err..does dis apply to any semi-slr camera?

    XD XD

  • Ministry August 1, 2008 02:13 am

    My Canon 450D just has 'full daylight', 'shade', 'overcast', etc. icons for the WB settings, but the user manual gives the corresponding Kelvin temperature for each.

  • Larry Eiss August 1, 2008 01:22 am

    If you shoot RAW, you can set it after the fact in Capture NX or other RAW converters.

  • Pete Langlois August 1, 2008 01:19 am

    My D50 doesn't have a Kelvin setting either. I know how to set WB on my camera and I can tweak the Kelvin color in Adobe Camera RAW. I don't really see the need for this "in camera".

  • iRonnie August 1, 2008 12:46 am

    hmm.. i don't remember seeing this feature in my camera. probably none for nikon d60. :(