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20 May 2022

Mixed Lighting

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Term: Mixed Lighting
Description: Mixed Lighting is a lighting situation where more than one type of light is present. It can be intentional, or a problem which needs to be solved either on location or when post-processing. An example of an intentional use of mixed lighting is the use of strobe and continuous lighting together in a studio setting for special effects. This combines a long enough exposure to show motion with the frozen image provided by flash. An example of undesirable mixed lighting is the use of a tungsten light in a room with daylight coming through a window. No matter what white balance you choose on your camera, because the two light sources are a different color your resulting image will have parts that are either blue / cool, or orange-red / warm..

What is Mixed Lighting in Photography

Photographically speaking, mixed lighting refers largely to the color of two different light sources, moreso than any other aspect of differing sources of light such as flash versus natural light, or bright versus dim, etc. Even though technically, any two different light sources could be considered "mixed".

Daytime ambient sunlight, for example, is roughly 5500 Kelvin white balance temperature. Indoor lighting that is roughly similar to the traditional Tungsten color temperature, on the other hand, will be in the vicinity of 3000 Kelvin white balance. (See also: Color Temperature.)

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Mixed lighting conditions can also be created intentionally, such as using a colored gel on a flash for a special effect. Gels can commonly be orange-red or "warm", blue or "cool", as well as more "for effect" colors such as green or pink or any other color.

When shooting in mixed light, if you match your white balance to one of the light sources, that light source will appear neutral in color while the other light sources show their true (relative) color. For example, shooting an indoor + outdoor scene with daylight white balance set would render the outdoors "normal", while the indoors would be rendered with whatever warm color is coming from the lamps indoors. Oppositely, if you set your white balance to an indoor setting, (incandescent, tungsten) then that light would appear more neutral, while the outdoor light would appear extremely blue.

If the difference between two light sources is great enough, (dusk light is far more blue than normal daylight, for example) ...then splitting the difference between the two light colors would result in both very warm colors indoors, and very cool colors outdoors.

When processing a raw photo that is captured in mixed lighting, the same constraints apply when setting your overall white balance. If you match one light source, the other will exhibit its relative color. To fully correct this and match light colors, localized brushes and/or selective color adjustments would need to be used, to cool down or warm up any undesirable colors.

Oppositely, if a special effect is desired, pushing the white balance further in one direction can result in a very dramatic colorization.

How to Balance Mixed Light when Photo Editing

Balancing mixed lighting in Lightroom is tested by your understanding of color temperature and light balance. There are two ways to correct mixed lighting: Either you can balance light while shooting, or correct it in post production.

Light Balance

During this bridal prep shot, we chose to leave the lights on and work with the ambient daylight coming through the window. However, in an ideal situation, this scene would play out in two ways:

  1. Leave the lights on - In order to balance the tungsten lamps with the ambient light, we would need to block out the light coming through the window (the key light source for our subjects) and add in flashes balanced with CTO gels in order to match the color temperature of the lamps.
  2. Turn the lights off - By switching off the tungsten lights, you are strictly using the natural daylight as your main light source, preventing you from having to balance the two light sources.

We chose to build in the imperfections (no offense to lamps) to balance the daylight with the tungsten light. Although the lighting correction wasn't made during the shoot, we can apply a similar technique to bring these two color temperatures together in post.

Balancing Exposure

Start off by bringing up the Exposure to brighten and balance the light. Next, pull down the Highlights and Whites and bring up the Shadows and Blacks to even-out the image. Any loss in contrast due to these adjustments can be added back using the Tone Curve.

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Since we are going for a more natural feel to the image, we can use the Tone Curve to mattify the image by bringing Mid Tones up whilst also muting the pure highlights. This will, in turn, soften and flatten our the image to give us a matte look.

Balancing Color

After adjusting our lighting, the eye is immediately drawn to the bright orange lamps in the background due to the overall increase in brightness and contrast in the image. Using the HSL Panel we can target this outlier and de-saturate the color to match the overall tone. Pay attention to skin tones as you adjust the reds, oranges, and yellows in an image like this, as to not pull color from various parts of it.

Split Toning

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With the loss of warmth from the adjustments made to the HSL Panel, we need to neutralize skin tones by Split Toning the image. Gather a reading by selecting a targeted area over the subject's skin tone to select an accurate tone to add into the Highlights. In this case, selecting a middle ground between yellow and green for Highlights, and blue for Shadows, neutralizes the red in skin tones.

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How We Shot It | Wine Room Mixed Lighting

As much as weddings are about capturing the moment as is happens, in our photography studio, our clients expect us to challenge ourselves and create something extraordinary out of ordinary scenes for the couples session of the wedding day. One way to do that is with mixed lighting as you can see from the image below.