Mixed Light Photography


Ever wondered how to create those wonderful atmospheric photographs where golden light from a house window streams into the cold, blue light of the street? You must have seen them – National Geographic photographers use this technique all the time when taking pictures of villages or towns. Advertising photographers use it when photographing hotels and guest houses. It’s a really old trick to make the place look cosy and inviting – the front door is often left open so that yellow light spills out onto the doorstep.

Philip Dunn’s students get to grips with the technique of using mixed-light

Yellows and blues
This technique is pretty simple – provided you understand what’s happening to create all those lovely deep yellows and blues. It’s all about colour temperature and ‘mixing’ the high temperature blue light of dusk with the low temperature yellow light of interior tungsten lighting.

Think what happens at sunset – you take lots of colourful pictures with lovely oranges and reds in the sky. Perhaps your pictures include the silhouettes of buildings in the foreground. Then the sun goes down below the horizon – the reds disappear from the sky as the sun sinks way down. It is now almost dark – twilight – so dark that people have to switch on the lights in those buildings so they can see what they are doing.

Just take pictures right now!
Take more pictures right now. This is your opportunity to ‘mix’ different colours of light – yellow tungsten and blue twilight – it doesn’t last long, usually no more than 10 minutes, so make the most of it.

photo techique,mixed light,menorca,ken terry
This immaculate and atmospheric photograph was taken by my friend and student Ken Terry during one of our Photography Holidays in Menorca. Notice how the effect of the low-temperature street lighting has been maximised with the reflections on the wet surfaces

So what is happening? Well, it’s all about colour temperature, and this is measured by the Kelvin scale. You may even have a ‘K’ (for Kelvin) setting on the White Balance (WB) function on your camera. According the Kelvin scale, normal daylight (the sun in a blue sky with a few small puffy clouds) measures around 5,500K. When it goes cloudy, the light gets bluer and climbs up the scale to perhaps 6,500K. You’ll notice that the Kelvin scale works opposite to our normal logic – we think of warm light as orange/red light and cold light as blue – you’ll just have to accept this, I’m afraid.

lord Kelvin,kelvin scale,colour temperature
William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin, OM, GCVO, PC, FRS, FRSE was a Scots-Irish mathematical physicist and engineer. You’d have thought he’d have a smile on his face having devised the Kelvin scale which has been confusing photographers ever since

Twilight can sometimes reach an intensely blue 10,000 or even 15,000K. That really is very blue, while an ordinary household bulb is at the other end of the scale – about 2500K – and will register as very yellow in your camera.

Don’t worry about the numbers
The nice thing is you don’t have to bother with these numbers if you don’t want to. All you have to do is set your WB on the ‘Sunny’ icon and shoot away. By locking it on the ‘Sunny’ icon, you will intensify both the yellows and the blues. But experiment. Every situation is different and you may find you get better results by using the Auto White Balance (AWB) setting.

If possible, put your camera on a tripod or rest it on a firm object because you will need to use a slow shutter speed to capture the ‘mixed’ light of twilight – come on, it’s going dark!

Twilight does not last long – so set up you camera beforehand and be ready.

If you’d like to put all this technique into practice, you can join me in Shrewsbury at 7.30pm on the evening of April 21st 2018 for an evening Photography Workshop covering the wonders of ‘Mixed Light’ photography.


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Photo Technique Articles

The old PhotoActive website blog had a vast store of photo-technique articles. I am starting here with a clean sheet – a new website, a new base here in Shropshire – and a new plan for the photography courses and workshops.

But all those photo-technique articles are just as valid now as they were before. I know for certain that they have helped countless photographers. So my plan is to re-post them here over time.

As the first of my evening workshops will be to explore the wonders of ‘Mixed Light’ photography, I thought I would kick of with a post about colour temperature and how it can help you create some interesting images, like the atmospheric photograph here taken for You Magazine at the dog races.

Mixing the high temperature blue light of early evening with the yellow of artificial tungsten light has added considerably to the atmosphere of this photograph taken for You Magazine. Photograph by Philip Dunn


If you’d like to put all this technique into practice, you can join me in Shrewsbury at 7.30pm on the evening of April 21st 2018 for an evening Photography Workshop covering the wonders of ‘Mixed Light’ photography.

Many of these articles appeared in Amateur Photographer Magazine some while ago. Future posts will cover a very wide range of subjects such as…

Direction and Quality of Light
Action photography
.. plus how to photograph trees, still life, fog, reflections, sparks, sunsets, waterfalls and much more.

So let’s start with that ‘Mixed Light’ Photography.


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Street Photography on the beach

As it’s Valentine’s Day, I thought I would give this old photograph another airing. Well, today is all about lovers, after all.

Lovers on the beach – a really intimate picture of two people cuddling up together on a chilly beach near Kirkcudbright in Scotland

I took this picture while working alongside one of my one-to-one photography students in Scotland a few years ago. It was captured on one of my favourite little cameras – a Canon Powershot 500.

It’s always a good idea to keep a little compact camera about you wherever you go. Yes, I know phone cameras are wonderful these days – I often use one myself – but there’s something special about using a real little camera.

…and yes, they did know I was taking their photograph. They saw me approaching and I begged them not to move because they looked so lovely together. They were very content!

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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So many friends from photography courses


Building the new PhotoActive website over the last few days I’ve been delving into past files in my search for pictures of the many photography holidays, weekends and courses we organised for so many years.

So many pictures of friends. So much fun…

Ken Terry – who came on our Menorca photography holidays 13 times! Professor Martin Rowe – he came with us to Menorca, Venice and Scotland. He’s been here to Shropshire, too, for one-to-one tuition recently.

Cathy Robertson, Russell Turner, Joe Banin, John Proud, John Cannon, John Smith, Maria Falconer, Peter Frisby, Jenny Nicholl and countless others too numerous to mention here. All people I am proud to call friends. All came to me initially as student clients with an interest in photography and a desire to learn more about it. People like those in the picture below taken on one of our last photography holidays in Menorca.

A group of friends – Philip Dunn and Norene with the photographers on one of our last photography holidays in Menorca


I’ve watched these friends extend their knowledge of photography over the years. Some are now selling their photographs, some have become full-time professionals. Others have published books. It’s all a great source of pride to me.

Now that we are finally established in our cottage in Shropshire, Norene and I are really looking forward to the possibility of welcoming back some of these lovely people. Although we shall no longer be doing the overseas holidays, we do plan to arrange some group workshops here in lovely Shropshire. That’s in addition to the one-to-one photography tuition available.

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New PhotoActive website

Here’s a new beginning – a brand new PhotoActive website in the making.

As you can see, the website is under construction – it’s work in progress. The new homepage went online only yesterday, so there is much to do, and many pages are yet blank spaces.

After two years offline while we have been totally involved in the renovation of our old cottage, we have decided to offer one-to-one photography tuition once again. This will be on a very limited basis. I am, after all, supposed to be retired. But sitting by the fire with a mug of cocoa while wearing cosy slippers is just not for me.

Norene and I are exploring the possibility of again arranging the occasional Photography Weekend based here in beautiful Shropshire – but we’ll take it a step at a time. We both miss the buzz and friendships we enjoyed while running those hugely successful Photography Weekends we organised for so long in Scotland.

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