My original vision was to show how separate red, green, and blue lights can be combined to form the secondary colors—cyan, magenta, and yellow.

My obsession with color continues. Last night I worked on a photo to open the “Mechanics of Light” chapter in the new Speedliter’s Handbook. My original vision, much along the lines of the photo above, was to demonstrate how separate sources of red, green, and blue light combine to form all of the other colors.

In the photo above, you will see that the secondary colors of light—cyan, magenta, and yellow—appear as shadows. For instance, the magenta shadow on the left is created where the skull blocks the green light coming in from the right side—leaving red and blue to merge into magenta. Conversely, you can see the green light on the right side of the nose where the bone blocked the red and blue light coming from the left side.

Original Idea Lightroom Gallery-600px

A portion of the first shoot. I went after my original idea from a number of angles.

As is the case sometimes, the picture I had in my head was better than the photos I was making. As you can see above, I explored the interplay of the light from a number of angles. The screenshot (out of Lightroom) shows about a third of the shots that I made before I decided to take a break. I had an interesting idea in my head, but did not feel that my photos were capturing that vision.

Discovering A New Path For Personal Work

When I came back, I impulsively crumpled a sheet of paper and positioned it where the skull had been. In an instant, I understood how to fill the gap between my vision and the shots I’d made previously—I needed to show the camera more faceted surfaces. More importantly, as I marveled at the tie-dye colors that I’d cast onto the white paper, I knew that I had found a new visual path to explore as a photographer interested in abstract images. [Read about my abstract Color Fields here.]


An impulsively crumpled sheet of paper helped me close the gap between my vision and the shots that I was making.

Trichroics is the word that I’ve appropriated for this new series. Dichroics are a type of optical filter that allows a narrow range of light to pass through. The bulbs that I used for this shoot are old dichroic flood lights at GE stopped making years ago. Trichroic, I figure, is a good word to describe my images made with a trio of primary colored lights. Geek speak: a trichroic filter refers to the pairing to two dichroic filters in a manner that splits RGB light into separate paths for each primary. As I said, I’m using my artistic license to appropriate Trichroic for my uses.


A set shot showing the skull after I created a nest of crumpled paper.

There’s a vibration that goes off inside artists when a new discovery resonates deeply. Seeing the interplay of RGB light on the facets of crumbled paper set my mind abuzz. This is just the beginning of a new personal project.

Color Theory…Quickly

The primary colors of light are red, green, and blue.

  • Red + green + blue = white light
  • Red + green = yellow light
  • Red + blue = magenta light
  • Green + blue = cyan light
  • Absence of light = black

Top: red + green + blue. Middle left: red + green, middle center: red + blue, middle right: green + blue. Bottom row: the primaries by themselves.


Red + Green


Red + Blue


Green + Blue


Red only


Green only


Blue only


Replacing my trichroic light set-up with overhead fluorescent.




4 Responses to Personal Work: My First Steps With Trichroic Lighting

  1. Mathew Lodge says:

    Hi Syl,

    This is very interesting stuff. There’s a similar concept behind designer Peter Saville’s work on a 1989 album cover for New Order’s “Technique”:

    He doesn’t say how they shot the garden ornament to make the cover, but it looks like a similar technique (no pun intended).

  2. Daniel says:

    Love your vision & work. I am wedding photographer myself trying use the Color Theory for different looking & more creative lighting.

  3. Rex Gigout says:

    Syl, this is very interesting. Thanks! I am looking forward to your new book. Your Speedliting Intensives (in Houston and Austin) were very helpful, and I also look forward to attending one of your longer workshops in the future.


  4. […] to illuminate common materials. For a behind-the-scenes look at my early trichroic work, check out this post from February, 2015. For peek at recent trichroic work, click on the photo below to hop to an […]

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