Window Light

Lets see if I can do this in just a few words rather than 2000 which were a few more than I planned on yesterday. I like to bash on speedlights a lot - I might sound like I am bashing on them but in reality I am just trying to balance a bit of the speedlights are the greatest shit ever stuff with a little dose of reality. They are very very handy in a lot of cases and a a lot of the link bait out there leave just a few things out of the 4 secrets to get rich with two speedlights kind of non-info.

I don't think I mentioned this in any of the posts about one of my little road trips to DC lately. Window light - which I used exclusively on the last trip due to the monsoon - can be quite the pain in the ass. In many cases can be as tricky as mixing speedlights with ambient from a color point of view. Let's take the included image at the top as an example for discussion. At first glance this has to be about as simple and as fool proof as it gets right? No big deal like falling off a log.

The light was very low the entire four days I was in DC - this shot around mid-day was 1/80s f/1.4 at ISO 800 but that was the least of why it's challenging. Walking into the room would smack you in the face with any particular issue that felt problematic. It's kind of typical. No strong color on the walls, floors, or ceiling. Cloudy/rainy day light coming through an apparently clear window so what's the issue?

Take a look at that strange blobulous patch resembling some sort of green slime on the floor center left. Hmmm, Hmmmmmm, WTF is that? Whoa - not just the floor, it's on the lower wall, door, and trim as well. I noticed this about an hour or so before this shot while doing a quick exposure test. Looking out the windows on that side of the building revealed the issue. Some gigantic outdoor light fixture mounted on the top corner of the building next door aimed right in the windows. Lucky me, it was dark enough to trigger the auto-on function at noon. God knows what sort of industrial tech this was but it was very strong - as strong as the skylight and quite horrible in terms of color.

The patchy-ness I would assume is some characteristic of it's manifold angled silver reflector surrounding the alien planet light emitter. The patches were all over the place and so close in brightness to the cloudy sky coming through the two windows it was virtually impossible to actually see with your eyes. Camera sees it just fine. The Ikky alien green mixture wasn't limited to just the patches either. It was various different mixtures of green/yellow/blue that were all over the map every few inches towards or away from the window as well as laterally. Impossible. To make matters worse the fill was coming from the opposite side of the room (obviously) which after bouncing around on the very warm white walls and red/orange floor and mixing a bit of pink coated incandescent bulbs that were on in proved quite the awful nightmare scenario.

The last thing you want is exact opposite direction color corrections coming from different directions. Compounding that situation was the complete variability of those conditions every few feet. For me that's a quit and call it a day kind of thing as there isn't even a one sized fits all "fix" except for just going black and white. I pushed on and shot anyway - hooray for me. Actually I had to play geometry games to keep me from being completely depressed at the situation since I was going gear free this trip and had no recourse.

I sort of fixed a couple by pushing various color tints in here and there but sub-optimal and not fun. I hate post. Especially messing around with individual images. So what can we learn here?

  • First off - things may not be as they seem at first glance even in really simple scenarios with no blatantly obvious problem sources like a big bright green wall with the sun shining on it opposite of your pristine window light.
  • Pay attention if you plan on shooting color. At least be aware that you have some issues. At least that way you can make decisions about them. I made the decision to do nothing but I knew the only think I might actually use from this day were a couple images for a personal project that would be black and white. At least that's the decision I made.
  • The problem here as usual isn't the color of the light coming in through the windows. It's the fact that it's completely different from the other direction. In other words two different light sources - two color temperatures - two directions.
  • The lower the lighting ratio you choose to shoot in the bigger the color issue. It will show up more as the shadows get brighter and brighter. It also has the effect of making it more and more difficult to push one color into the shadows and another into the highlights or anything of the sort.
  • Taking that last thought and extending it in another direction look for ways of getting rid of one of those sources. If you are using the window as the main source one way of dealing with this is reflecting that back into the shadows using a white/silver reflector which also (if large enough) block a lot of the ambient from that same direction. This is one reason to use purpose built or at least white reflectors instead of using ambient for fill for sure. Yes that reflected fill will still be green/blue but it will be much more similar in color which is a no-brainer to color balance in post.
  • Lower your saturation a bit. It's usually crazy high after you add even a pinch of contrast. High saturation will make this more and more ugly. The above image is about as saturated as I can go even with corrections without it looking really really bad. With people - the more saturation the more absolutely perfect it must be to look "right".
  • Kill the ambient all together and use just speedlights - not mixed with ambient that will make this situation worse. Kill it all and go with a setup that will look like this. Not hard I would use two speedlights - one in a big box in place of the window and another bounced onto a big white foam-core from the other side.

Or as I mentioned go black and white - but even with that decision you probably want to shoot a bit differently so it's better to know that while you are shooting rather than hope it looks decent afterwards.

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