Shooting With Mixed Light Sources

In everyday life, we take light for granted. If it’s too dark, we just flip a switch or we wait until our eyes adjust to the surroundings.

But when it comes to shooting images, you can’t ignore the various light sources that are available, and flipping a switch could change your shot in a dramatic way. If you were shooting a movie, it’s time to summon the director of photography inside you.

Not all lights are created equal when they are seen by your camera. That’s why you have to pay extra close attention to the light sources that get in your frame.

Backlight, diffused light, frontlight

To show the subtle vairations you can create when you place a person in your frame, we used a ceramic doll from another age.

In the image on the left, the doll is in the shade and the sun lights her from behind. Since the background carries much more light than the foreground, she looks like she could tell us a secret. That’s exactly how they create a very dark foreground on TV news when they need to hide someone’s face.

In the center, you have a great example of diffused light, where everything becomes flat. That’s because there are clouds between the subject and the sun. This diffusion gives a flat neutral tone to the image. In the last image, on the right, you can see the shadow of the doll’s hat on her forehead. If she was a real person, she would surely have squinted in reaction to the bright sun.

If you choose to frame your shot this way, you’ll get even exposure from the foreground to the background, but your subject will not look comfortable. Also remember to pay attention to your own shadow, we don’t want to able to see your outline and the camera’s in the shot!

Choose your color cast

Depending on how you set your white balance, you can get various color casts. It’s now time for your inner director of photography to get to work. It can be really difficult to correct color in postproduction. Better to take care of this important aspect before you push the record button.

The best way to guarantee consistent results is to choose a specific white balance preset and keep it for the whole shooting, as long as the light doesn’t change. If you’re shooting inside with incandescent lightbulbs or fluorescent tubes, you should lock your camera to that preset.

Even if there’s a window in the background and we can see daylight outside, your subject is inside and it will be the centre of attention in your shot. You should trade a certain amount of color shift coming from outside in exchange for the proper color balance on your subject. It’s always a better choice.