Dealing With Mixed Lighting

by Charlie Miller

Derrick wrote a nice tip on his personal site about using Adobe Camera Raw to correct mixed lighting and it reminded me that I’ve been meaning to share a tip about how to deal with this issue in Aperture. Whether you’re shooting with a manual white balance setting or letting your camera determine white balance, it’s still tricky to deal with images in which you’ve got two different temperatures of light. I’ve had success in combining Aperture’s white balance adjustment and selective color adjustments to correct images that suffer from “mixed lighting syndrome”.

Case in point: the image below. This is a favorite photograph of mine, capturing a posed, but very natural moment. Unfortunately, my camera was set for automatic white balance and set itself based on the neutral white of the background — around 4000K. My subjects in the foreground (also known as “Mom” and “Dad”) were lit by a desk lamp nearby, resulting in a color temperature of around 2700K.

The original photograph, suffering from mixed lighting

My first step in correcting this image was to use Aperture’s white balance adjustment: I used the eyedropper tool and clicked on the white sweater sleeve at the left of the photo. Doing so resulted in the image below. I was pleased with the improved and more natural white balance on my subjects in the foreground, however this adjustment created a new problem: my background was now overly blue.

White balance adjusted

So the next step was to explore the color adjustment panel. I selected the cyan color and dragged the saturation slider almost all the way to the left, pulling most of the cyan out of the photo. A little tweaking of the range, and the result was the image below. A vast improvement over the original and a photograph suitable for printing.

The final photo, with white balance and cyan color adjustments

I also echo Derrick's sentiment that this technique definitely works better on some photos than others. Give it a try if you've got a photo in your Aperture library that could benefit from these adjustments. And be sure to share your feedback in the comments.


marie boyer
2007-10-22 02:58:59
What if you like the first photo with the light illuminating their faces, but want just a little less of the yellow?

Do you reduce the saturation of yellow? Or do you move the white balance slider to get slightly cooler? Both? What is your preferred method in that case?

Thanks in advance for any help with this!

2007-10-22 05:08:31
I use this trick a lot when I am balancing with fluorescents on location. Works like a charm, unless someone is wearing a green garment. Then I have to switch to Photoshop.
2007-10-22 15:52:55
Marie, I'm not sure there's a correct answer — both options are good ones, and both could yield different results with different photographs. One technique I use frequently is to use the white balance eyedropper and if the adjustment is too drastic, I make a note of the new white temperature, and then undo the adjustment. Then I can manually slide the white balance toward the target number and stop whenever I get a result I'm happy with.