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By curiosity, I tried to measure the correlated color temperature of different light sources in my house by taking a photo of a white object (a piece of paper) lit by a single source at a time. The temperature is then measured in Lightroom by selecting the part of the paper with no reflections.

While a gray card will give more exact results, the results I got are quite weird:

  • 7400K for a Nikon SB-600 flash,

  • 2800K for a LED spot,

  • 2400K to 2650K for different fluorescent light bulbs.

I don't understand the 7400K for a flash. Isn't it expected to be closer to 5400K? I would understand if it was, say, 6000K, given that the measure is not done with a gray card, but the measure I get looks too extreme.

Is there a cleaner way to measure the correlated color temperature of a light source without a gray card?

Note: I'll try the next week to take similar measures with studio light bulbs which are at 5400K according to the specs, as well as do the tests with a gray card. I still ask the question, because I think it may be interesting for people who don't have a gray card and don't want to spend $20 for one.

Update: I used the same technique with a studio light bulb rated at 5400K. I obtain 5500K in Lightroom, which corresponds to what I expected: there is some imprecision due to the lame way of measuring the temperature, but not too much. What is surprising is that the photo taken with an SB-600 appears much bluer compared to the same scene lit by studio light bulbs (white balance being set manually and kept the same across the shots). I'll take more photos with different settings and update the question again later.

  • Does the paper have an optical brightener? Did you underexpose the paper slightly to ensure that no channel is near clipping? – user32334 Nov 8 '14 at 20:07
  • The paper doesn't have an optical brightener. The paper was underexposed (exposure compensation at -1.3), so the paper actually appeared gray on the photo, not white. – Arseni Mourzenko Nov 8 '14 at 20:52
  • What type of paper? – JenSCDC Nov 8 '14 at 23:07
  • @AndyBlankertz: I'm not sure, and I don't have the original packaging. I've chosen the one which was the least reflective I could find. I imagine that it's an inexpensive, recycled paper. – Arseni Mourzenko Nov 8 '14 at 23:12
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    Speedlights do go up in colour temperature as duration (power) goes down, so higher ISOs + deliberately underexposed + too close (if you were trying to fill the frame) might have bumped it up a bit (although 7400K is quite a stretch). That said, you should be able to find a "close enough for government work" mid-grey paper (likely for pastels) at an art store for considerably less than $20 (more like $2-3 for a 19x25" sheet — Canson Mi-Tientes in "Moonstone" is just about on the money as far as neutrality goes — that can be cut up into 8-12 location-usable "cards". – user32334 Nov 9 '14 at 14:36
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You can use any non-reflective object that is truly white or neutral gray and be sure to expose so than none of the color channels are fully saturated (blown out). It also might help to switch your lens to manual focus and defocus so as to blur the target to average out any variances that could be caused by curvature of your target and varying light sources in different directions. Some gray microfiber cleaning cloths are close enough. So is a square cut from a piece of neutral gray construction paper with a matte finish. Most white papers have a slight bluish tint to them and don't do as well as a good gray paper will. At one time the blank pages near the end of Canon EOS Instruction manuals were supposed to be a correctly balance color of white. I've used them a time or two with good results. Just be sure to underexpose!

  • The inside of camera bags are very often in a neutral gray color. – Pete Feb 2 '16 at 15:24

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