What Is Correlated Color Temperature (CCT)?

When choosing lighting for your studio, you may come across the term correlated color temperature, or CCT. You don’t want to confuse this with color temperature. Note the difference:

Color temperature: Artists often refer to cool and warm colors. Most people perceive that the color blue appears cool while reds and oranges look warm. These correlations, known as color temperatures, come primarily from things we associate with those colors. Blue reminds us of ice, water and other refreshing elements; red and orange make us think of the sun, fire and heat.

Correlated color temperature (CCT): This has to do with whether the light (as opposed to the color) looks cool or warm to our eyes. CCT is measured in Kelvin. Light with a warm yellow glow—such as a candle flame or an incandescent light bulb—has a low Kelvin rating. Light with a cool, bluish or white cast—such as noon daylight or northern light—has a high Kelvin rating.

Here are the approximate correlated color temperatures of common light sources:

  • Candle Flame – 1,800 K
  • Traditional incandescent bulb – 2,700 K
  • Sunrise/sunset –  2,800 K
  • Halogen incandescent bulb – 3,000 K
  • Moonlight – 4,100 K
  • Daylight, noon – 5,500 K
  • North light – 7,500 to 10,000 K

Note that the CCT of north light is actually a higher Kelvin number than that of candlelight. The fact that light that looks cool has a higher Kelvin temperature than light that looks warm can be confusing. For an artist considering studio lighting, it’s important only to note that the higher the Kelvin rating, the more cool and blue your light source will appear.

Because of the nature of her husband’s business, artist Koo Schadler has relocated her studio 10 times in the last 14 years and has worked under a variety of lighting situations. Teaching workshops across the United States has also familiarized her with various lighting situations. Her husband is now building her a studio, which will reflect the lessons she’s learned about lighting through research and experience.

Click here to order the October 2010 issue of The Artist’s Magazine with Koo Schadler’s article on choosing the studio lighting that’s best for you.



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