Add Depth to Your Photos Using Mixed Lighting

If you’re a wedding or event photographer, it’s likely you’ve come across mixed lighting situations, and understanding how to work with or around it is crucial. If done right, mixed lighting can have a flattering effect and can add visual interest and depth to your photos.

Last week, we discussed Mixed Lighting and How You Can Fix It. Today, We’ll be discussing different ways you can incorporate mixed lighting into your photos. In case you missed it, mixed light is when two different color lights fall on your subject. Let’s dive in.

What to Avoid

This is an example of a not-so-ideal situation. The orange light is too strong on the face and clashes with the cool ambient light in the rest of the scene.

In this example from last week, we solved the dilemma by turning our model toward the dominant light source, which was the neutral window light. Then, we angled the camera so that the window light would be an edge light and the warm fill from the rest of the room would provide a clean overall look.

Example 1: Adding in Background Lights

Sometimes, simply turning off the lights might not do all that much, especially when the room is a little plain such as this room here. The result is colors that look a bit sterilized and uninteresting.

To add life back to the image, leave on some background lights such as lamps. However, keep them dim. Then, keep your subject lit by the window, using the curtains to control light spill. You'll end up with images that have much more depth and warmth.

The trick is to prevent both lights from mixing over the subjects. Here are a couple of tips to get a good and balanced image.

  1. Turn off any other light that crosses over to your subject. This keeps the subject separated from the background.
  2. Keep background lights subtle. A bright background light will distract from the subjects. 

Example 2: Separating the Lighting

First, let's start out with a shot using only the lights in the room. All the tungsten lamps were on and the curtains were fully drawn. The result is a flat image that lacks depth. No amount of correction changes that.

Instead, I opened up the curtains to light the subject, being careful not to spill too much on the background. Then, I turned off some of the indoor lights. I left on the lamp behind our subject to create a warm highlight.

You can see the difference between the before and after. The second image appears more polished and dynamic. 

Example 3: Turn to Create Rim Lighting

In this example, we have the tungsten lighting falling on the male model's face, creating a split light. While this can still work as a final image, I think we can improve it. I much prefer the way the tungsten light creates a rim light on the female model.

To create a rim light on the male model as well, I shifted the angle. I positioned them more in front of the lamp and the tungsten light becomes a rim and hair light for both models. This is the result once I edited the photos with Visual Flow's Pastel Presets.

Here are two more images from the set. I kept the models turned away and in front of the light to keep the lamp as a rim highlight on both models.


I hope you enjoyed this article/video. Learning how to deal with mixed lighting is crucial, especially if you photograph weddings and events. Next time you find yourself in a mixed lighting situation, try out these tips to create a visually dynamic photo.

Before you go, be sure to check SLR Lounge Premium for courses on all things photography. In addition, be sure to visit Visual Flow for intuitive lighting based presets like we used in the examples above. Thanks for reading and we'll see you next time!

Pye Jirsa's picture

Pye Jirsa is a director, photographer and educator. Founder and Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography, a boutique Southern California wedding and portrait photography studio, and SLR Lounge, a photography education website, Pye devotes his time to helping photographers develop their shooting and business skills.

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