The Power Of Filtered Light

by William Lulow

Recently, I was assigned to shoot a Reiki master for her website and other promotional materials. From talking to the client before hand, I learned that she strived to provide a warm, calming atmosphere in which she could go about her healing. I naturally thought that a warm photograph was needed to convey this feeling. When I arrived at her office, I had some ideas about how I would make the room look warm. One was to shoot with available light and let the incandescent light provide a warm look. The other was to filter my flash units with a yellow gel that would simulate the look of incandescent light.

I’ve written about color temperature before, but let it suffice that incandescent light (light from an ordinary light bulb) looks yellow to a sensor or film balanced for daylight. Measured on the Kelvin scale, it registers about 3200K. (Daylight, for instance, measures around 5500K, which is much more toward the blue end of the visible light spectrum). If you left your camera’s sensor on AWB (Auto White Balance), you probably wouldn’t be able to pick up much of the light bulb’s incandescent color temperature (yellow). And, if you simply lit up the room with your flash, everything would be registered as “normal”, i.e., daylight which is a cooler-looking light. That would defeat what you were trying to do with the light – create a warm-looking atmosphere. Here’s what the room would look like lit only with unfiltered flash:

Everything looks fine, but the room doesn’t have any warmth to it.

The solution to this lighting problem was to filter the flash head with a yellow filter and slow down the shutter speed so that some of the warmer tones from the flash’s modeling light combined with the ambient room light, produced the warm result:

The slower shutter speed of the lead image in this article helped to render the scene warmer by letting in more ambient light from both the flash head’s modeling light and the regular room light. The the look on the above photograph was produced by mostly filtered light and created the close-up we were trying to achieve. I even liked the warmer tones on the subject’s face.  (Exposures were f/5.6 -f/7.1 @ 1/20th of a second, ISO 100, camera on a tripod and subject asked not to move).

Thanks to Donna Miller-Small, Reiki Master.