Mixed Lighting

When you’re lighting your painting, a common mistake is to mix lighting sources. If the lights you’re using aren’t bright enough, you may try to supplement it with the light from a window. Or perhaps you’ll mix fluorescent lights with LEDs.

This is going to cause problems with color accuracy because different light sources have different color temperatures.

The daylight white balance setting makes the daylight bulbs have a natural appearance. However, the tungsten light bulb on the right has an Orange tint to it.
When I change the white balance setting to the tungsten setting, the tungsten lighting on the right appears normal. However, the daylight bulb now has a Blue tint. It’s almost impossible to achieve accurate color by mixing lights with different color temperatures.

In both of the photos above, the light on the left is a Daylight compact fluorescent bulb while the one on the right is a regular tungsten light bulb.

These two photos are identical except for the white balance settings. In the top photo the white balance is set to “Daylight.” The bottom photo is set to the “Tungsten” white balance setting which is the one with the light bulb icon.

When I set the color balance of the photo to “Daylight” the light coming from the daylight fluorescent bulb looks normal, as shown at top. However, the tungsten light on the right has an Orange tint to it.

If I set the color balance to “Tungsten” to correct the Orange glow, the light coming from the tungsten light appears normal as shown in the bottom photo. The only problem is that the daylight fluorescent light now appears to have a strong Blue color cast. When you correct for one light source, the other light source becomes less accurate. You’ll never be able to achieve accurate colors in your photos when you mix light sources with different color temperatures.

When you set up your paintings to take pictures of them, use lights that all have the same color temperature. Make sure to block out any light coming in from the windows. If you’re using daylight LEDs to photograph your paintings, turn off any fluorescent lights that are in the room.

If you can’t block out the light coming from a skylight or a large window then it may be best to wait until night to photograph your artwork. Then you will be able to control the lighting.

When the Fluorescent White Balance Setting Is Wrong

As I alluded to in the above section, fluorescent lights can be tricky to work with. The white balance setting for fluorescent lights is typically meant for lighting that has a color temperature of of 6500K. This is for the “cool white” fluorescent lights.

This wasn’t a problem in this past because fluorescent lights were only available in one color temperature. These cool white lights are fine for use in a garage or a machine shop, but the cool white light is kind of harsh for use in your home. They produce a stark white light that leans towards the cool end of the spectrum. So manufacturers introduced warm white fluorescent bulbs that produce light that’s closer to a regular incandescent bulb.

So if you were to use the warm white fluorescent bulbs and then set the white balance to the fluorescent white balance setting, the colors would be off. That’s because the warm white bulbs have a color temperature of around 3400K and the white balance setting is meant for light sources that have a color temperature of 6500K.

The solution is to figure out the color temperature of the bulb and then match the white balance setting to it. Or you can use the custom white balance setting.

Use the Correct Lighting at Your Computer

Using the correct lighting while working at your computer is important. The color temperature of most computer monitors is roughly 6500K. If you rely on comparing the original painting to the image on the screen to make adjustments, the lighting in the room should match the color temperature of the monitor.

Below is an image of a watercolor painting in Photoshop. The original painting is in front of the monitor and the lighting is a regular tungsten light bulb. The White of the paper has a Yellow-Orange tint. It won’t be this obvious in real life, but the colors will look off.

The color temperature of the computer monitor is 6500K, but the lighting in the room is approximately 3400K. The difference in color temperature makes it difficult to compare the colors in the painting to the image on the screen.

The photo below uses compact a fluorescent light bulb to illuminate the painting. The bulb has a color temperature of 5500K which is closer to the color temperature of the monitor. The White of the paper looks more natural. It’s much easier to judge the colors when both the monitor and the lighting have the same color temperature. It doesn’t have to be a compact fluorescent bulb, I currently use a Daylight LED bulb instead.

In this photo, the color temperature of the lighting and the computer monitor are the same. This makes it easier to compare the colors in the original painting to the image on the screen.

Picture Styles

Picture styles are presets that process the photos for specific circumstances. For example, you may want to use the “Landscape” picture style when you’re taking pictures of a tropical landscape so that it exaggerates the saturation of the Greens. It’s easy to overlook these settings as the cause of inaccurate color.

While Canon may call this function “Picture Styles,” other camera manufacturers have a different name for these settings. See the table below.

Manufacturer Name of the Function
Canon Picture Styles
Fuji Simulation Mode
Nikon Picture Control
Olympus Picture Mode
Sony Creative Style

Most manufacturers use similar names for their picture styles, the ones Canon uses are as follows.

  • Standard
  • Neutral
  • Vivid
  • Landscape
  • Portrait
  • Faithful

You may assume the “Standard” setting is what you want, but it’s not very suitable for photographing art. Camera manufacturers set their “Standard” settings to increase the contrast and saturation because consumers want snapshots with colors that “pop.” This works well for vacation photos in a tropical location but it’s not appropriate in situations that require precise colors.

Look for an explanation from the manufacturer that describes what each setting is for. Find the one they claim will create the most accurate color. Canon has the “Faithful” picture style which seems to work best in my testing. “Neutral” is another good option if that’s available on your camera.

Definitely avoid the settings that exaggerate colors such as the “Vivid” and “Landscape” settings. These exaggerate the saturation. The “Landscape” setting also increases the saturation of the Blues and Greens. The “Portrait” setting is typically for improving skin tone colors.

Canon Picture Style Comparison

Below is an experiment where I took a picture of the same set of colors with my Canon T2i. The pictures use the same settings, except for the picture style.

Canon picture style comparison. Starting from the top, the picture styles are: Landscape, Standard, Faithful, and Neutral.

The colors are from the coated Pantone color book. Pantone colors are an industry standard for Graphic Designers, Illustrators, and printing companies. The colors, from left to right are below. The Yellow, Mangenta, and Cyan are the printing process colors.

  • Green
  • 375
  • 032
  • Orange 021
  • Yellow
  • Magenta
  • Cyan
  • Blue 072
  • Purple

Each picture style has an influence on the color. It may be tempting to use a setting that increases the saturation but that wouldn’t be an accurate representation of your work.

The “Faithful” picture style is the only one that gets the Magenta close to being correct. Although, it may benefit from an increase in exposure to make it lighter.

The settings for all six photos were the same except for the picture style. “Neutral” and “Faithful” are closest to the original painting.

Color Profiles

One more thing to check for is the color profile that’s embedded in the JPEG file. Almost every camera is set to use the sRGB color profile which is the one you want. If you edit your photos then you may have inadvertently set the color profile to a different profile. For example, the Adobe RGB color profile will make the colors look dull when you view it in a web browser.

On a Mac, you can select a file and press “command I” to “get info” on the file. The color profile is listed under “More Info” as shown below.

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