Technique Tutorial: Color Correcting for Mixed Light

I was going to write a post griping about the lack of color correction gels for Paul Buff strobes (Alien Bees, Einsteins). Instead, I figured I’d show you how I came up with my own solution. Take a look at this picture:

Dining Room

The image was taken on “auto” white balance with a strobe fired through an umbrella. Take a close look at the colors. You’ll see some orange mixed with white. The orange light is the warm light coming from the incandescent bulbs. The “white” light is actually “blue” daylight coming from this open sliding glass door:

Living Room

The strobe matches the daylight color temperature and the camera reads it as white. In order to balance the colors, I need to match the light sources. The first thing I do is to close the sliding glass door and the curtains. This filters out any blue daylight leaving me with a single light source. My strobes, however, are still balanced for daylight. I can put a gel over my speedlight which I’ve blogged about here and here. But that won’t give me enough power to properly light the room. My Einstein is powerful enough, but as I mentioned above, the company doesn’t make color correction gels. They do have gels, just not color correcting ones.

(If you’re new to color correcting flash and you didn’t read the previous blogs I linked to above; here’s the primer: Light from a flash roughly matches daylight which is around 5600 degrees Kelvin. Incandescent lamps are warmer at around 2800-to-3600 degrees Kelvin. Putting an orange gel (Color Temperature Orange) on a flash turns it into an incandescent lamp.)

So I had to buy my own gels that would fit the Einstein. I went with a pack of LEE daylight-to-tungsten filters. The pack includes a range from a full cut of CTO down to 1/8. They are big enough to cover the 7-inch reflector but there’s no way to attach the gel to it. I could buy clips, but I would pay more in shipping than the things cost. So I just use two small binder clips.

Einstein Strobe with gel

Here you see the set-up (notice the curtains are closed). It may not be elegant, but it works. If I want to use an umbrella, I would have to cut a hole in the gel. Usually, I’m close enough where I can hold it in front of the strobe or I just use the timer on the camera so I can run and hold the umbrella.

Now that my strobes (I’m also using a gelled speedlight) match the light source in the room, I just set my camera’s white balance to tungsten and take the shot.

Dining Room Color Corrected

If you’ll notice, this image just seems more balanced. All the light in the room is roughly the same color temperature. One of the biggest challenges I face shooting interiors is shooting in mixed light. Having the right tools can make all the difference.

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