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How Do You Deal With Mixed Color Temperatures In Interiors Photography?

Published: 08/01/2016

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John wants to know:

How others fix white balance issues on white ceilings. Color casting from adjacent walls, interior lights of varied temperatures and some sunlight all make for a challenging fix. I have been adjusting by using local adjustments brush on the ceilings and using WB tool, a little desaturation and increasing brightness. Wondering if there are other techniques out there.

There are several approaches to fixing the color problems arise from mixed temperature light sources that are common when shooting interiors:

  1. Use an off camera manual flash, bounced off the ceiling or a wall. The flash color temperature is close to outdoor color temperature and will dominate the scene and overpower other color temperatures (depending on the flash power). This takes a little trial and error until you get the hang of it. You can also gel (colored sheet you put over the flash to change the color temperature) flashes to even out the competing color casts.
  2. Shoot a frame with the room lights turned off and one with the room lights turned on. Then in Photoshop open the two frames in different layers and mask the just the lights you want from the room light frame onto the frame with the lights off. This is a variation in the approach shown in the Photoshop tutorial above.
  3. Use adjustment brushes or gradient adjustments in Lightroom. This too is a variation of the Photoshop technique shown in the tutorial.
  4. Change the incandescent bulbs to LEDs - see this post for details and discussion. This is only practical on a small scale but some do it. This approach used to be more widely used before digital photography and Photoshop.

To me,#1 is the quickest and easiest once you learn how to do it since it requires no time in post processing. Scott Hargis's Lighting Interiors eBook covers #1 and John McBay's Image Editing For Real Estate Photography eBook covers #2.

Larry Lohrman

10 comments on “How Do You Deal With Mixed Color Temperatures In Interiors Photography?”

  1. First of all I use a Sony A6000 that has a great auto white balance engine along with bounce fill flash and photographing in RAW. What this doesn't take care of I use Nik Vivesa to make local adjustments. As a last resort I'll use masking adjustments.

  2. I use several methods.
    In LR I will use adjustment brushes for smaller adjustments.
    For large areas such as ceilings I will make a color layer and paint the color across the ceiling. I will also even out the tone if necessary.
    I also use a color adjust meant layer and mask areas I wish to change.

    What I have noticed that after I sweat the details and still feel there is a bit of color pollution that display on the web or in print minimizes the issue because of limited gamut.

  3. I find that #1 technique (that I've only started using last summer) results in a good balance between actual colors and color casts. I'm not a big fan of complete elimination of all color casts from tungsten lighting, sun, and foliage reflections. Some natural color casting affords warmth and reality to the scene. I see a lot of shots from respected sources where the room is totally white -- no color casting at all -- resulting (IMHO) in a flat and cold (somewhat unrealistic) image.

  4. Larry M. - I always use my camera set to auto white balance and a Yongnuo YN560-III flash, hand held, I bounce off a wall and/or ceiling. The A6000 does a great job of AW balance the image most of the time. Also, I have all the lights in the house turned on, to me, the warmth of the lights make the house more inviting. For some small bathrooms I find it difficult to do any flash and I only use the ambient light. Even so, the 6000 still does a great job set to AWB and all I need to do is move the Camera Raw Color slider a little bit one way or another until it looks balanced. With all the other cameras I've used it took me longer to WB and many times I never got it close to being right. This is why I love the 6000 and it immediately cut my post and in house time by an average of 33%. Another thing, I find it much easier and faster to work in camera raw and Photoshop than in Lightroom.

  5. Ever since reading Iran Watson's method pieced together from reading various Flickr posts of his, I've cranked the shutter speed as fast as possible to eliminate white balance issues from in house lighting.

  6. @Tony : thanks for pulling that one to the surface again! @Jason: interesting your approach to use a very fast shutter speed when interior lighting needs to be shown switched on: presumably in conjunction with flash... this would make the flash illumination the more dominant light source with the tungsten lamps just about registering without a lot of yellow cast. Nice one-shot solution which avoids the need to process two versions of the scene and blend , but I suppose one needs to be careful with the flash to avoid an obviously blitzed look: but still use plenty of it as it will be doing much of the work with a little help from the ambient daylight. I imagine this method would also be useful for harnessing window views at the same time.

  7. I'm definitely going to bring my flash to see what it can help me do on my next shoot. I don't want images to look lit up like Wal-Mart, but some spaces definitely can benefit from a bit more light or light in the right places. I like that this could be used to deal with the different color temps. I often find this happens to me with interior and the exterior view out the window.

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