Ever see that old movie about the family pooch? It was a heart-wrencher and led to the question (spoiler alert), “Did you cry when Ol’ Yeller died?” Well, I’ve seen some photos taken indoors that had an unexpected yellow or reddish cast to them that almost made me cry.
Pictures taken outside or with flash would have fairly correct colors, but photos taken inside with incandescent light looked wrong, so wrong.
Actually, photos taken under fluorescent light inside can have a similar problem except that they look a little too bluish. Just like Christmas lights come in different colors, lights that we use for household lighting have different colors. I’m not going deep into color science (I can though, so email me if you would like to know more), but want to hit the highlights (pun intended) instead. Incandescent lights create light by heating a little wire so hot that it glows. That light is white-ish, but has a definite yellow cast as you would expect from a hot, glowing object. Fluorescent lights create light by passing electricity through a chamber with mercury in it (this is also why you can’t throw fluorescent lights away – mercury is toxic), and the mercury gets all excited and emits light. This light has a slight bluish cast.
Sunlight is really fairly white when the sun is high in the sky. “White” just means that the colors seen with a prism (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet) are in balance and the result is white.
The problem of taking pictures that look like they were taken under white light (but were not) is called the issue of White Balance.
Cameras are very capable, but not too smart on their own. Some cameras will try to automatically detect the nature of the light and adjust. That’s usually better than not trying at all, but can give iffy results. Other cameras, on the cheaper and simpler side, don’t try at all (that’s the kind I had as a kid). Usually, cameras that cost a couple of hundred dollars and up have some user-activated feature to let you decide where to set white balance. Now, if you fully understand the problem, things can work out well. But some of these cameras just tell you where the white balance settings are and leave you hanging.
Most people then just ignore them.
For example, my wife’s camera is a small point-and-shoot. Deep in the bowels of the menu settings, there is a “W. Balance” section that describes how to adjust “the hue for a more natural picture.” However, the manual is a little hard to read (and appears even harder to implement), plus the manual says that “the white balance cannot be set in simple mode.” Guess what: Simple mode is the standard mode for that camera in our house.
If you can find your manual, check out the section on white balance. If you can figure it out, you will take better pictures indoors. Although I can’t help you adjust your individual camera, you can ask about how this stuff works by sending me an email at the address below.
Get those cameras out and keep shooting!