Bipolar Egg Lighting Walkthrough


Above is a recent project I worked on that I thought I’d share how it was lit since many people always ask me how I get my photos to look the way they do.

The What

Aside from the color, this photo was actually lit very simply with two lights. Yep, two lights.

Let’s start with the fill light. It was a Paul Buff X-1600 White Lightning studio strobe behind the camera, pointed at a very large, very white wall with an umbrella reflector, so it was blasting light pretty much everywhere.

I gelled it with my stand-by Rosco Calcolor gels: 135 units of Calcolor Cyan, 75 units of Calcolor Blue. I metered it to f/2.8, so that it painted the entire scene with a super deep blue with a slight push to green.

For my key light, it was also a Paul Buff X-1600 White Lightning studio strobe, however, it was placed camera left, and had a standard reflector and 40 degree grid. I gelled it with 90 units of Rosco Calcolor Yellow, and 45 units of Rosco Calcolor Red. I metered it to f/8.0 and placed the light so that it would split the egg in half, one half a nice warm glow, the other half a deep cold blue.

Other technical data: the background is a Savage Thunder Gray seamless paper, the egg is sitting on a studio stool with a black table cloth.

I kept the Lightroom and Photoshop work to a minimum, set the white balance to 5500K, spot healed a few spots of dust/fibers, etc. Very minor tune ups, what you’re seeing in this picture is pretty much straight out of camera.

The How

So how does this work? How do you figure out what strength gels you need where?

Again, this is pretty straightforward if you’re using a calibrated set of gels, which is why I love the Rosco’s Calcolor gel set so much.

So I wanted the overall lighting to push to yellow-orange on the highlight side, and push to blue-green on the shadow or fill side of the egg, both by equal amounts. Since I metered 3 stops between the two halves, all I had to do was figure out my overall proportions, then scale them. For the key side, I kept my scaling at 1.0, which meant my shadow side needed gels with 3 added stops of strength to match.

So, starting on the fill side, I knew I wanted 60 units of blue, multiplied by 3, makes 180 units of blue. In order to reduce how much magenta crossover happens, you need to put a fair amount of green in with the blue, typically half to three quarters. More than that, and it starts to look more cyan than blue. You can totally do that if you want, but for this image, I wanted more blue than cyan, so I went with 135 units of cyan, and 75 units of blue, which gives me a total of 180 units of blue (cyan = green + blue), and 135 units of green. Taking the multiplier into effect, this means 60 units of blue and 45 units of green.

OK, so on the highlight side: The fill touches everything, so just to get back to white, we need 15 units of yellow, and 45 units of red. But we don’t want white, we want yellow to orange, so on top of that, we need to add an additional 60 units of yellow, bringing our key side total to 75 units of yellow, and 45 units of red. This gives us a more green yellow than orange yellow, so we need to add just a touch more of red, say 15 units. This brings our total to 60 units of red, and 75 units of yellow.

And that is what you see in the image above.

Petaluma, CA, USA

Author: Adrian Bacon

San Francisco Bay Area Portraits | Headshots | Event Photography | Photo Lab | Bespoke Printing Services | Film Processing

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