AurumLight: Mixing Flash and Modeling Lights

One of my New Year's resolutions is to learn to be more creative and adventurous with mixing color and light. UK-based photographer Jarek Wieczorkiewicz's photograph of Jay Jessop does just that—using daylight flash, gelled flash and tungsten modeling lamps.

I love this kind of thing, and would like to evolve my lighting to the point to where I can have the confidence to almost never use just white light. Below, a full BTS video on how Jarek lit this image.

Experimenting with Color and Time

Jarek is using time and light color to create in camera something that looks like he spent a lot of time in Photoshop to get. He is no stranger to the technical use of Photoshop, which you may remember from his Water Angel photo last year.

But this photo is done in camera, as if he was limited to shooting film with little to no post. Here is his BTS.

(Note: Vimeo, which is hosting the video, seems to be having some issues. If it is not displaying, you may have to check back in a bit. -DH)

The mix of flash and tungsten is cool and all. And especially making use of the fact that his tungsten modeling lights are very controllable because of the accessible Einstein light mods.

But what is most interesting to me is using the colored light as fill. He used a Lee green (but not window green CC) gel. I've been thinking about experimenting with my CC green gels in the same way. Mostly because they are always with me and that they can be exactly counterbalanced with the complimentary magenta gels.

As usual, my roadblock is not technical. It is that I have never had a good feel for color. And as such, I have no confidence in creating color that is not natural or literal.

It's a roadblock I am trying hard to get past this year. I expect to occasionally fail spectacularly—and you'll be around to see it! But I am willing to bash my head against the wall until the use of color gets to me more intuitive to me.

Jarek has a really nice and comprehensive post on making this photo, here. Hopefully, studying more work like this will help me get past my (sadly, almost literally) khakis and denim wardrobe approach to using color with light.

Then maybe I can attack the actual wardrobe itself. Sigh.


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Blogger Brian Lahue said...

Thanks to your thinking-out-loud, I'm slowly (okay, very slowly) learning to play with color myself. Two lessons learned so far with neutral key lights on daylight WB:

1) I like green-gelled fill light in a fluorescent ambient environment, a lot!

2) But completely counter-intuitively, I hate CTO-gelled fill light in a tungsten environment. Even half-CTO is too warm in the shadows. Yuck.

December 17, 2012 9:13 AM  
Blogger Kevin B. said...

This definitely got the ideas and creative juices flowing... thanks for sharing!

December 17, 2012 9:55 AM  
Blogger Jay Grabiec said...

I look forward to what you come up with as you push the limits with this kind of thing.

December 17, 2012 10:01 AM  
Blogger bradmagnus said...

Mixing those light colors really adds a very painterly portrait feel to the image. At first I thought it was a digital painting.

December 17, 2012 10:13 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Oh, I would think of it much more as baby steps than doing any limits-pushing for a while...

December 17, 2012 10:37 AM  
Blogger Stephen Cupp said...

Does anyone have any recommendations on books that teach about color? More specifically which colors go well together and which to avoid.

December 17, 2012 1:41 PM  
Blogger Peter Tsai said...

Very cool, I shot something similar to this a couple years ago using an LED panel with CTO to really make my models red hair pop and blur.

December 17, 2012 1:57 PM  
Blogger Em said...

I think "fire" is pretty cool but the green doesn't work for me. Her face seems too cold for the rest of the picture (at least in my opinion).
I like the concept though!!! The video is also very good in explaining in how they set it up

December 17, 2012 3:32 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Stop thinking David Hobby. Just put on the gels and see what happens! It's 2012 - aint no Ektachrome up in here! And shake that white balance slider like it's a can of paint!

December 17, 2012 4:30 PM  
Blogger tao jones said...

This is a good site to learn about colours plus create your own swatch

December 17, 2012 8:53 PM  
OpenID simonpeckham said...

Very cool use of lighting. I have been trying similar mixed lighting techniques, like using my iPad to creat light trials around a model and then popping the flash speed lights at the end of the long exposure. Takes some practice but some great results. If you want to see what it looks like.
Love your work David and your DVD's thought me so much. Keep up the great work in 2013.

December 18, 2012 8:55 AM  
Blogger Brian McCarthy said...

Thanks for the post! I really like what his done here and I appreciate your own humility in discussing your weaknesses (how many of us won't even admit our private terrors???)

Tao -- thanks for the adobe link as well.

Watching his video reminded me a of a related discovery I had a few days ago. I'd like to see if anyone else had this experience.

As a favor to my daughter's daycare I took pictures for their annual yearbook. Nothing too inventive, just so long as I got them smiling (challenge enough). The first day I did a custom white balance. The second day I came back to photo four kids that had been absent so, in an effort to be fast, I just set my camera's white balance to "flash" (Canon 5D III). I expected this would lock the white balance at 5600K -- boy was I wrong!

I found that I had two different temperatures, depending on the photo -- 5750K and 6900K. After some research I discovered Canon white paper from Europe that explains that all of the white balance settings, except for custom or kelvin, still require the camera to interpret the scene. The difference is that I includede a "sunlight" reflector for some fill in the images and that's when the camera switched to 6900K.

Have any of you encountered this before? I have to admit I always thought the programmed white balance settings were just shortcuts to specific temperatures. Instead it appears that you're just telling the camera to interpret the Auto White Balance from a narrower part of the spectrum.

December 18, 2012 3:10 PM  
Blogger Enrico ITA said...

How do you gel an octabank without actually putting a huge piece of gel over the front diffuser? My guess would be to make a small cone of rolled gel over the flashtube. Does anyone know?

December 19, 2012 4:04 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Octas may be the toughest to gel, which is one reason I shy away from them. But yeah, cone of gel around the tube. You have to be far enough away not to burn it, tho.

FYI, I have an upcoming post on this topic (how to gel a wide variety of light mods efficiently.)

December 19, 2012 7:27 AM  
Blogger James said...

When I first saw the photo in this post, I thought, "Eureka! The Boris Vallejo look!" It would be an interesting exercise to try to reverse engineer Boris' use of light and color.

December 19, 2012 8:36 AM  
Blogger Deb Smith said...

David have you ever talked about the new Anova Rotolight led system? ( yes I am on a iPad for the white background)

December 19, 2012 10:33 AM  
Blogger J. Blair Images said...

I was wondering the same thing! Please do a post on gelling modifiers. WOuld love to add some color to octas and soft boxes for some soft colored light but just can't figure out a slick way.

December 19, 2012 11:07 AM  
Blogger RFS said...

Wanna really learn about mixing color? Take a class in watercolor painting...that's all they do is mix colors in a way that's very similar to gelling lights.

December 20, 2012 12:50 AM  
Blogger Jay Grabiec said...

@RFS - That sounds like a good idea. Taking art classes in general is a good way to keep your eye working, but I've never thought of applying mixing color to this kind of color mixing. Thanks for the idea!

December 20, 2012 10:04 AM  
Blogger RFS said...

@stephen cupp
A great book is any edition of Color by Paul Zelanski, because it is aimed at artists in all fields including photography and the graphic arts. More importantly the authors get into the emotion and effects of color on the viewer.
But you can get a book on color from the kid's section of your local library and learn a lot as well. If you try to figure it out yourself by trial and error you could waste years. If you read a book, you can get a great foundation in a weekend.

December 22, 2012 12:05 PM  
Blogger Kristen said...

I can't wait to see what you come up with. I am just in love with Jarek Wieczorkiewicz's talent and creativity. I look forward to you sharing your journey with color and light and inspiring the rest of us to experiment with light in more ways.

December 22, 2012 10:49 PM  
Blogger Kristen said...

I can't wait to see what you come up with. I am just in love with Jarek Wieczorkiewicz's talent and creativity. I look forward to you sharing your journey with color and light and inspiring the rest of us to experiment with light in more ways.

December 22, 2012 10:49 PM  
Blogger John Griffin said...

Oh, man! That's a deep question. There is so much written on color theory. Start with looking up "the color wheel" and playing with relationships across and around the color wheel. (I put "the color wheel" in quotes originally because you can come up with any number of color wheels just by mixing your own colors (and think "bounce card"). Colors which oppose each other on a color wheel often work well (blue/orange, red/green, yellow/purple), as do combinations of colors found one-third of the way around the wheel from each other (combinations of primaries, for example). That's just a place to start: you can get as complex with this stuff as you want. Remember, you also have the colors of the objects in your shot to play with, too.

January 07, 2013 7:10 AM  
Blogger riikkapuu said...

Many thanks for this inspiring blog post! I love the picture by Jarek Wieczorkiewicz. To me, this seems a way that photography approaches the art of painting.

I don't have similar studio gear myself as the author of the image, but I wanted to see whether I can reproduce the concept with small flashes and a small flashlight and window green + red gels. As I was hoping for, the concept was not too difficult to reproduce; the result is here: The color combination I chose was not the best possible, though - I used the window green (or Tough Plusgree by Rosco), and I think the red should better be "cold" to have a pleasing contrast with this (mine was warm on the flashlight). But the important thing was to be able to reproduce the concept; fine-tuning colors is another project. If you will experiment on this during the year as you say, I will be following it with great interest!

Last, I want to thank you your the Strobist site, which has been a great source of varied information to me for probably two years now. Lighting 102 is great - I have slowly been going though it and doing all exercises (I am almost finished); you learn so much from them. And it helps that one can see the exercise results by others in Flickr. Warmest thanks for creating this whole concept, David Hobby!

January 13, 2013 8:07 AM  

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