You Searched, I Answer: Do You Need a Flash for Golden Hour Photography?


Often, people stumble upon my blog by typing in a phrase in a search engine. The exact term is not always something I’ve written about, so I’m always tempted to reach out to that person to answer their question. Of course, I have no way of knowing who searched for it; all I have is the search term.

So, I am going to try to start a new blog series called “You Searched, I Answer”.

My last post was about apps that let you track the sun; which can be particularly useful if you want to shoot during the “golden hour”. Someone found my blog by searching for “do u need a flash for the golden hour photos shoots?

Well, it depends on what you are shooting, but I assume you mean portraits. If you do a Google image search for “Golden Hour Portraits”, you’ll see some good examples.

golden hour portraits - Google Search

Google Image Search of “Golden Hour Portraits”

I would begin by using the sun as a rim light. That is, have the sun behind your subject so that the light creates this almost halo effect. It works especially well with women because the light shines through their hair. Now of course, your subject is back-lit, so you need to do one of two things. First, you could use spot metering and meter off of your subject’s cheek. Your camera will expose for the skin and all the highlights will be blown out.

If you want a more balanced image, then you need to provide some fill light. You can use a reflector. Some reflectors come with a gold-colored side. You could try this, but it might be overkill. I would use the white side to throw the orange-colored light back onto the subject.

If you want to use flash, I would gel it with some CTO (color temperature orange) to match the warmth of the natural light. If you fire your flash without a gel it will look blue (remember the flash is daylight balanced). More on gels and white balance here.

I don’t want to use another photographer’s image without permission, so check out these links for some good examples:

Using the Sun as a Rim Light

Using a Reflector to Fill in Shadows

If you do use a reflector, make sure it’s up high so the catchlight on your subject’s eye is at 10 or 2 o’clock.

You searched. I answered.

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Technique Tutorial: Color Correcting for Mixed Light


I was going to write a post griping about the lack of color correction gels for Paul Buff strobes (Alien Bees, Einsteins). Instead, I figured I’d show you how I came up with my own solution. Take a look at this picture:

Dining Room

The image was taken on “auto” white balance with a strobe fired through an umbrella. Take a close look at the colors. You’ll see some orange mixed with white. The orange light is the warm light coming from the incandescent bulbs. The “white” light is actually “blue” daylight coming from this open sliding glass door:

Living Room

The strobe matches the daylight color temperature and the camera reads it as white. In order to balance the colors, I need to match the light sources. The first thing I do is to close the sliding glass door and the curtains. This filters out any blue daylight leaving me with a single light source. My strobes, however, are still balanced for daylight. I can put a gel over my speedlight which I’ve blogged about here and here. But that won’t give me enough power to properly light the room. My Einstein is powerful enough, but as I mentioned above, the company doesn’t make color correction gels. They do have gels, just not color correcting ones.

(If you’re new to color correcting flash and you didn’t read the previous blogs I linked to above; here’s the primer: Light from a flash roughly matches daylight which is around 5600 degrees Kelvin. Incandescent lamps are warmer at around 2800-to-3600 degrees Kelvin. Putting an orange gel (Color Temperature Orange) on a flash turns it into an incandescent lamp.)

So I had to buy my own gels that would fit the Einstein. I went with a pack of LEE daylight-to-tungsten filters. The pack includes a range from a full cut of CTO down to 1/8. They are big enough to cover the 7-inch reflector but there’s no way to attach the gel to it. I could buy clips, but I would pay more in shipping than the things cost. So I just use two small binder clips.

Einstein Strobe with gel

Here you see the set-up (notice the curtains are closed). It may not be elegant, but it works. If I want to use an umbrella, I would have to cut a hole in the gel. Usually, I’m close enough where I can hold it in front of the strobe or I just use the timer on the camera so I can run and hold the umbrella.

Now that my strobes (I’m also using a gelled speedlight) match the light source in the room, I just set my camera’s white balance to tungsten and take the shot.

Dining Room Color Corrected

If you’ll notice, this image just seems more balanced. All the light in the room is roughly the same color temperature. One of the biggest challenges I face shooting interiors is shooting in mixed light. Having the right tools can make all the difference.

Technique Tutorial: Photographing and Editing a Bathroom


Bathroom
I hate shooting bathrooms. It is one of the most challenging scenarios I face when shooting interiors. Mostly because of the darn mirrors; I have to figure out how to shoot it without catching my reflection.

When I shoot, I try to give the image context by showing a room in relation to its surroundings. The image above, for example, is a master bathroom in a condo. So I always try to show the room it belongs to in the reflection in the mirror. This gives you a sense of space and lets you know that you can access the bathroom from that bedroom. Easier said than done.

The first step is to get an exposure for the room reflected in the mirror.  If I shoot to expose for the bathroom, the reflection will be overblown and you won’t see detail in the mirror. You can see from the reflection in the shower door that I am holding a flash “Statue-of-Liberty-like” and bouncing it off the ceiling. I also have a strobe in the room to provide the light in there.

Now I want to expose for the bathroom. There’s one problem, however, and that is white balance. I’ve written about white balance before and how you can use gels to correct for light sources. In this case, the bathroom is lit with incandescent  bulbs (warm light) and the light coming from the open door is daylight (cool light). To filter out any blue light, I just close the door. That doesn’t solve my problem, though. The light that comes from flashes is also daylight balanced. So I put a full cut of CTO (color temperature orange) on the flash and set my camera’s white balance to “tungsten” (incandescent for Nikon users). The difference is subtle, but I want to capture what I saw with my eyes and what I saw was the warm glow of the bulbs. But I still have my reflection on the shower door. One more exposure to correct for that:

Then it’s just a matter of masking in Photoshop. I use the first exposure for the room in the mirror and to correct for the overblown lights. I use the third exposure to get rid of my reflection. I then had to do some cloning to remove the reflection of the camera on the shower door. The end result is the image at the top of this post. Three shots for one bathroom. Did I mention how much I hate shooting bathrooms?