Color temperature and why it makes photos look yellow...

This is for beginner photographers interested in how to gain an edge on color temperature management, particularly inside of buildings where backgrounds can appear yellow.  

I was just working on some sample photos for a client and noticed this perfect example of a case where the foreground had a significant color temperature variation from the background.  Here the skin tone of the subjects is reasonably close to looking natural.  In technical terms, the color temperature is 5650 for this version of the photo and that was achieved by changing the color temperature in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.  

Source:  Wikepedia

Source:  Wikepedia

According to this basic color temperature chart (courtesy of Wikepedia) you can see that the color temperature of 5650 is in the range of vertical daylight.  Most camera flash units are also designed to create a color temperature that mimics standard daylight.  

The idea of a primary light source at daylight temperature is great, except when the background exists in the land of yellow "soft" white lighting courtesy of ballrooms and office buildings around the globe.  In this case, the light in the background was operating at a range of about 2650.  This is shown in the image below where color was corrected for the background, instead of the foreground.

As you can see, when adjusting the photo for the background color, which is technically 2583, our subjects are now blue which is pretty nice for the background but not usable for the couple.  

Source:  Yerocus

There are solutions that are fast and some that take a little more time.  Most photo editing software will allow you to control color temperature to make adjustments.  But typically you are having to do this adjustment on the entire photo and a decision has to be made. I think most photographers would adjust to correctly represent color on the subjects and depending on how bad the background is, additional steps may be required.  

Sometimes these steps can include brush-painting color changes on the background, or more extensive work (as shown below) where two photos are merged using the background from the 2nd version of the photo and the foreground from the former.

I wanted to include this as a blog because I have had many clients ask about the yellow tint in photos they see, especially those taken by other guests.  Some of this is fixable easily, some of it requires professional editing.  

The best solution is to pay attention to the color settings on your camera.  Most cameras do adjust automatically for color temperature, but almost all cameras will allow you to do this manually as well.  And be aware, when you use flash, your subject will be at something close to daylight color temperature and your background will be what your background is.  Just pay attention to this rule and use it to your advantage to avoid the "land of yellow"  in your background when possible.  


  1. If you are in a building or office with "soft" white light, use color settings on your camera when possible.
  2. Understand when you use flash in these situations, your subject will probably have a different color than your background, so just be aware and when possible try to minimize that background lighting by turning off or turning down "soft" white light sources and try to increase natural ambient light by opening windows, etc.  In professional portrait sessions, as an example (this is not feasible for most but makes a point), we turn off all light sources except for our flash units to avoid any alternative light sources affecting the color temperature integrity of our digital images.  
  3. Try to take photos in areas where light sources are most consistent.  Window light as an example is not going to conflict with an outdoor background because the color temperatures are in the same range.  Same for using a little flash.  
  4. Use a CTO (color temperature orange) gel or color correcting flash cover to match the flash to the background. This is hardly an option at some busy weddings because adjustments and test shots are needed typically.   However, if you have time this is an excellent solution most pros use when forced to operate under "soft" white lighting conditions.
  5. Take tutorials on photoshop to learn how to create layers and correct images in Photoshop, or even more simple ways exist in Lightroom when less extreme measures are required.
  6. Avoid doing what I did here in this example, taking a photo of a subject with a background of extremely different color temperature, unless you know you can fix it later.  

If anyone would like to see the steps taken in Lightroom and Photoshop to accomplish this reasonably easy fix, please let me know and I will be happy to do that in one of our next posts.  Also happy to hear of additional techniques used by my more informed colleagues.  

Stay mellow but never too yellow :)

Best of luck in 2017 and thank you for visiting!!!

~ Brett