Using complimentary colour combinations to dramatic effect, fast!

When I have the opportunity, often times I like to use complimentary colour designs in my lighting. The contrast of complimentary colours always makes for a pleasing image.  There are many combinations of complimentary colours to choose from and each can work if you are painting a room. But when you are filming people in a natural setting your choices become much more limited, very fast. This is because you can only light people with warm or cool tones unless of course there is a creative motivation for lighting them with a more unnatural colour.


For most intents and purposes, I use the orange/blue colour combination about 99% of the time.  It has never let me down and clients love it.  Yet, when I ask them to explain why they like it they can seldom explain it to me. The reason we accept it so easily is because we see it in nature all of the time. Blue wavelengths of light are shorter in the visible spectrum and as such are scattered more efficiently by the molecules in the atmosphere. This causes distances and deeper backgrounds to often appear blue.

Other common examples of this contrast is a warm skin tone from a hall light contrasting against a dimly lit blue room. Or a warm flash light or fire against an approaching stormy blue sky. The colour scheme can be flipped too. Light the subject in the foreground cool blue and contrast with a warm glowing background. It works both ways and it always adds another layer to the scene. Here are some examples of the blue warm colour combination in both my work, Hollywood work, and art.

Michael Bay loves this technique. Check out Transformers 4 as the whole movie is lit and coloured this way.tumblr_lzpi7ltFEi1qfglxzo1_500

Here is one of my own examples where I used the technique in interviews. I took advantage of the natural cool background and did not correct for it. I simply lit my talent warm and fast, and rolled.



And here is an example we can all see and enjoy everyday. This was shot on my iPhone 4S atop the Spoke club at king and Portland.


“Don Quixote and Sancho Panza”, by Andreas Achenbach. 1790-1800. Was a German Romanticist painter. To a more subtle effect, romanticist landscape painters used this technique often because it appeared in obviously appeared in nature.


Ironically, I use this technique a lot for interviews when I have very little control over my environment or when I have less time or resources to light a scene the way I really want to. I actually use this technique as a sure fire way to pull off something that will look good in almost any situation I encounter when I don’t have time or resources to make a big production out of the lighting.

Here is a tip on how to pull off a scene like this, fast. When I show up for work in the morning, I check for the natural colour balance of the light source in the location. Sometimes places are lit with daylight high pressure metal halide, or even many varieties of the compact fluorescent bulbs that have an inherent cool colour temperature to them.  This means you can take advantage of these sources and go for an orange/blue complimentary lighting scheme.  The beauty is, the background is already lit so you’re more than half way done your job! The only thing left to do is light your talent with a warm colour source and you are off to the races with something that has a fast set-up time yet pleases everyone in the room, just because they are so used to seeing it!


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