Color Photography: achieving accurate tones at night

Night photography settings your camera wants you to use

Our latest post in our series on color photography explores some of the common photography problems encountered with different light sources when shooting low light photography. Find out how you can use mixed lighting in your night photography and get the most accurate color balance possible.

Night Photography Tips: best camera settings for any subject

Night poses special problems for color photography. It’s not the level of illumination that’s the problem, but the color of the lighting.

If you shoot in a busy city centre, you may have a mixture of tungsten lights, fluorescent lamps, yellow/orange street lamps and even multicolored neon.

How are you supposed to reconcile all these with a single white balance setting? Our advice would be not to try. This is one situation where your camera’s auto white balance should just be left to get on with it.

Only if the colors look completely wrong should you worry about taking over manually.

Color Photography: achieving accurate tones at night

Using different light sources at night

It’s not possible to compensate for every single light source, and sometimes the color of the light doesn’t fall neatly on the warm-cool color temperature scale.

White balance adjustments work by shifting the whole spectrum of the light source up or down the scale.

They rely on the light having a full spectrum of colors, but simply shifted one way or the other.

Some light sources don’t have a full spectrum of colors. The prime example is orange street lamps.

They look orange because that’s all there is – no blue, no green. It’s impossible to correct orange street lighting to produce a full range of colors.

Fluorescent lighting is the other oddity because it contains excess green. Digital cameras deal with this with one or more dedicated ‘fluorescent’ settings.

These increase the levels of magenta (green’s complementary color) to restore a natural-looking color balance.

PAGE 1: Using different light sources at night
PAGE 2: How to achieve a good mix


Night photography tips: 9 essential steps for beginners
12 common errors of night photography (and how to fix them)
Deep depth of field vs shallow: 10 common questions and answers