Why Is My Pink Flower Blue?

Text and photography copyright Sue Alden, 2005. All rights reserved.


I love photographing flowers. My yard is filled with an assortment of flowers that range in style and color. Many a time I am surprised when I view the images in my camera. I have to run back out and take a second look. My lovely pink flowers magically turned blue. I have to admit, it is usually a nice shade of blue, but not an accurate representation of what I attempted to achieve.

The two images were taken seconds apart but show different color tones. Both were taken with the Canon D60 using the Canon 100mm Macro 2.8 lens, at ISO 100. I set my camera to automatic for Image 1 to show the readings the camera deemed appropriate exposure for the conditions.

Image 1: Shutter Speed: 1/125; Aperture 4.5; Full frame; No Flash

The image to the right is actually a pink flower. OK, it looks bluish and that is because of the color temperature measured in °Kelvin. Color temperature is simply a way to measure the quality of a light source and is based on the ratio of blue light to the amount of red light, and the green light is ignored.

A light with higher color temperature (larger °Kelvin value) has "more" blue lights than a light with lower color temperature (smaller °Kelvin value). Thus, a cooler light has a higher color temperature. 5500°K is your noon daylight or "white" color temperature.

When shooting in conditions that measure a higher °Kelvin temperature the photo will look bluer. Below the 5500°Kelvin, the color will increase in orange tone. I will try not to get too much into the color spectrum here.

The first image was taken during midday under overcast conditions. So what happened? When you have cloud cover, the sun is obscured and some of the red and yellow wave lengths of light are absorbed by the water droplets of the clouds. The colder end of the spectrum, the bluish wave lengths, pass through unimpeded giving you the bluish color. You will notice the greenish center, where you should see yellow.

Image 2: Shutter Speed 1/125; Aperture 2.8, Canon 550EX Flash Unit Exposure Compensation @ -1.0, Full Frame

The second image shows the correct color tones for the flower (as seen in my garden). Pink is pink, and yellow is yellow, all as it should be. I used my Canon 550EX Flash unit for this image to bring in more light. Remember, I shot this during midday so I did not want a full flash (5500°K) for this image. I only wanted to compensate for the overcast conditions. I set my flash compensation to -1.0. I also opened up my aperture to 2.8 to allow more light to enter at the same shutter speed.

Every camera is different in some respects depending on the manufacturer, but for the most part your camera's automatic White Balance (WB) is set to 5500°K or daylight. If the conditions in which you are shooting does not match up, neither will your colors. If your light is overcast or shaded, you need to compensate for this by using flash, setting your aperture to accept more light or custom set your WB.

A better explanation would involve a discussion on the magnetic spectrum and how your camera "sees" color (WB). I do not have the time to get that technical. Hopefully, this article has shed some "light" on the subject and will help you to capture those "true colors".

About the Author

Sue Alden received her BS from the University of Maryland. She is now an Environmental Scientist working for the Army as a civilian and expects to retire in two years. After retirement, Sue is planning on pursuing a Master's Degree in Photography. Sue is also a forum and gallery moderator for www.photomacrography1.net.

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