3 Ways To Fix Mixed Lighting in Your Photos

If you're a wedding or event photographer, chances are, you've encountered mixed lighting situations. Though mixed lighting can be used creatively, there are times when it just isn't ideal. Today, I'll be walking through several examples of mixed lighting conditions with solutions on how you can work around it on location or fix it in post-production.

What Is Mixed Lighting?

Mixed lighting is when your subject is lit by two more or lights of different colors. This is common when shooting events with multiple types of lights, such as chandeliers or uplights from the DJ.  Below are a couple of examples.

Example 1

In the example below, our subjects are lit unevenly by both the deep orange from a nearby heat lamp as well as the cool ambient light from the blue hour sky. If I try to correct for the skin tones in Lightroom, I end up turning the image blue, which also isn't ideal, as you see in the image on the right.

Example 2

In this other example, the warm tungsten indoor light is the primary source. The window in the back lets in some neutral daylight, which is what the camera is calibrated for (in the image on the left). When we adjust the white balance for the skin, the image still seems a little off because the window light is now blueish (in the image on the right). 

Solution 1: Turn Out the Lights

In this scene, we have daylight coming through the windows and tungsten lighting the room. The result is a deep orange hue throughout the image. The solution is quite simple. Turn off the lights and angle your subject to the strongest or most consistent light source. In this room, the daylight is bouncing off the warm-colored walls.

To correct for this, do the following:

1. Turn out all the lights.

2. Turn the model toward the primary light source.

By angling our model toward the window, the primary source of light, we get great highlights and the naturally warm-colored room fills in the shadow side. Once we adjust for the warmth in post, we end up with a much cleaner look. This is the best solution when you have a large warm-colored room like we had here.

Solution 2: Use a Gel on Your Flash

For our next example, we have a large ballroom that's lit by large tungsten light fixtures. For obvious reasons, we're unable to turn out the lights. This is when we would use a gel.

Place a gel, in this case, a CTO (Color Temperature Orange) over your flash unit to balance with the existing light.

Then, use the gelled flash to light your subjects, and the colors will be balanced with the rest of the room.

In some instances, the ballroom or reception hall may have various colored lights instead, like magenta or blue. In these cases, leave your light ungelled, as your daylight-balanced light will be much closer to these colors.

Solution #3: Editing in Lightroom

In the scene above, I lit the couple using the natural light of a large open doorway. Then, the background is only lit by the warm light fixtures in the chapel. When the warm colors inside are a little overpowering, I prefer to ease the background in post-production.

First, I adjust my white balance for the skin. Then, I use HSL to ease up the intensity of the background colors. This is easy when there is a clear separation from the foreground and background. However, this isn't always the case.

Take a look at this example where the ballroom is lit by tungsten but also has plenty of blue from the DJ lights on the ceiling. I used a CTO gel on my flash to match the natural color of the ballroom. However, I wasn't getting enough light from the flash, and the image ended up mostly blue.

Check out the settings above for how I edited the photo. If you're looking for a shortcut to deal with these situations, our Visual Flow Presets include a "Tungsten Mix" preset that corrects for the strong blues in these specific lighting situations. 

In addition to the settings above, I also added a radial burn and a gradient to darken the edges and bottom of the image.  You can see the before and after in the GIF below.


I hope you enjoyed this article and video. Mixed light can be easy to work around once you get the hang of these tricks. Don't let unideal lighting conditions keep you from taking great and memorable images. Before you go, be sure to check out Visual Flow's lighting-based presets as well as SLR Lounge Premium for a full tutorial on weddings, events, and location lighting. Thanks for reading!

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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1 Comment

Thank you for writing an article and not just embedding the video Pye. I really like the videos you've been doing with Adorama recently bye the way.