When I learned this simple trick for simulating the look of “golden hour” sunlight with flash, my life as a photographer changed for the better. Suddenly those overcast days were just an extended golden hour, providing the benefit of soft front light with the always-welcome golden back light. I’ll give you the simple breakdown so you can start using this to get that sunny look when weather doesn’t cooperate.
All of the images were made on an overcast day with no real sun. San Diego is known for good weather but we have a lot more overcast days than you would imagine, especially through May and June, so as a San Diego lifestyle photographer this trick comes in super handy.
All you need is a CTO (color temperature orange) color gel and a flash. For working on the go, I prefer to use a speedlight and a small gel fitted with velcro (try a Honl Speedstrap and a set of Honl gels, which already have the velcro.) If you’re feeling thrifty, just use any brand of gels cut to size and Scotch Tape to attach them to your light. I use a 1/2 CTO because I feel a full CTO would look too orange. You can go with your own preference here, but I recommend buying them in 1/2 or 1/4 CTO and you can always stack them if you want the light to look more orange.
You want an assistant to hold this light for you if possible, that way you can have them move just out of frame for simulated lens flare or farther out of frame for a more high contrast edge lighting.
Here is an accidental BTS with my assistant, Dave, creepin’ in the background. Nice thing about speedlights is they are lightweight enough to position at all kinds of crazy heights quickly and easily. We used a lighting pole instead of a traditional light stand because the legs of a light stand get in the assistant’s way. It’s also easier to remove the light stand in post if you happen to catch some of it in your photo.
In the above, the light stand was removed in post with a quick shift+click of the spot healing tool in Photoshop.
These are pretty much shown “as shot” but there are things you can do in post to make the effect even stronger. Experiment with color overlays, photo filters and color balance layers to warm the background areas in post production.
By using a smaller light source from a distance we can get the shadows going toward camera much like a back lit golden hour shot. Experiment a bit with distance and diffusion.
In most of these shots, I expose for the ambient exposure and simply add the flash at relatively low power, and then play with the position. The key is to keep your shutter speed slow enough to sync with flash. If this isn’t possible, try adding a two stop ND filter to your lens to achieve a slower shutter.
Thanks for reading!
Making things with your hands is remarkably addictive. The tangible, tactile and often useful finished item is naturally highly rewarding but many have also posited that the “unfinished” nature of more technical handmade projects keeps one’s subconscious mind actively pursuing the project, creating constant stimulation and a nagging desire to get out to the workshop. There’s also the “legacy” aspect (at the risk of sounding morbid), the underlying desire to extend one’s existence far into the future by leaving a body of work behind.
I caught up with my buddy Mikki Suvia of Lambs Mandolins to start a new personal project, photographing people who make things with their hands. No rules, minimal retouching and just going with the flow. I’ll ask a few questions of the people I photograph and the questions are based on my own hobby of building custom kitchen knives, something that’s consumed a good amount of my time and taught me a lot of hard lessons in craftsmanship.
Hours of being bent over a workbench and breathing dust makes caffeine critical.
Rob: Favorite energy drink?
Mikki: Rockstar, Watermelon, ALWAYS!
Rob: Favorite part of the build?
Mikki: Believe it or not, making sure that the inside of the Rib Set is perfect, and Carving the Scrolls.
Mikki noted that improvisatory, artistic nature of this part of the chiseling process was the reasoning- must be why we get along.
Rob: What percentage do you do by hand vs. machines?
Mikki: 75% hand, 25% machine. I prefer to build using traditional “old era” methods, and simply love the “hand built” aspect.
Unfortunately, getting a little frustrated and destroying things is sometimes a necessary evil. In making knives, the knife can often simply become a smaller knife (save!). With musical instruments, this is definitely not the case.
Rob: Most expensive piece you’ve ever destroyed?
Mikki: A fully built instrument that was basically ready for finish. Many hours of time lost and some very expensive Figured Maple down the drain.
If you’re a maker of things and would be interested in having a portrait made (and perhaps a few working shots), don’t hesitate to reach out to be part of my project!
With social media outlets representing a big chunk of brands advertising these days, there’s a need for nimble, quick lifestyle photography on mid sized budgets. My friends at Wonderful Machine have even coined a new genre for their listings called “brand narrative.” Photographers in this category are known to produce a series of lifestyle images to tell the story of a brand rather than the one or two “hero” shots of a more traditional ad campaign.
Capturing a large amount of usable images in a short time frame while keeping the setup mobile and simple is more and more, what mid sized brands are asking us to do.
Sometimes a scene just comes together if your eyes are open- in the shot above meant to sell board shorts, two surfers walked into our out-of-focus background with complimentary colored longboards to help drive the message home. Bonus!
For this shoot for Forged Clothing, we met early to have the models styled (pre-shoot) by Jen Bueno and I headed to Carlsbad Village with lightweight gear- camera bag, a few primes and a reflector. For larger productions we may have kept a wardrobe stylist or MUA on set all day with us or added a photo assistant or two. All of these things contribute to the refinement of the outcome, however, I have to admit that working with just my camera, client and models can be a very “free form” way of working that has a different kind of creative appeal. It is location scouting, shooting and styling on the fly that results in an easy going dynamic which can yield some really fun images.
Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to shoot Ballet Folklorico in San Diego for AAA, documenting the people and dance. I was traveling around my hometown like a tourist to various locations to see rehearsals and performances both indoor and out. The shoot resulted in three magazine covers for AAA and I’m stoked with how these turned out! This type of dance is a photographer’s paradise, utilizing a lot of color and controlled movement in combination. With this type of photography I had to think less like a lifestyle photographer who can stage scenes and ask people to do things and more like a sports photographer, often “zone focusing”, anticipating movements and waiting for something to happen. This would be followed by a burst of shots, some good some bad, and some with just the right elements to satisfy the photo editor’s needs.
Above: Dancer: Reyna Mendoza Company: Danzarts , captured at 1/160, f/2.2, ISO 3200
I can honestly say this s the first time I’ve been published at over ISO 1600, especially for a cover image but the choices at a recital are to either a) use direct flash b) light the whole scene with off camera flash or c) ramp up ISO and make the most of the light that is already there, which is less disruptive to the performers and audience.
Above: Dancer: Mireya Pinell-Cruz Company: Danzarts ISO 100, 1/125, f/3.2 (Lit with strobe and single 32″ softbox)
I was also tasked with getting a few posed portraits so generally I used a small softbox to keep things contrasty and emphasize the vibrant colors.
Above: Dancer: Dayanna Solis Company: Folklórico Real de San Diego (Claudia Gomez) ISO 250, f/2.5 1/400
The sweet spot shutter speed for this type of dance seemed to be around 1/125-1/500 for getting a slight motion blur on the clothing while keeping the dancer themselves sharp on the face. Outdoor shots afford the photographer more options of course, but I still had to watch my settings more than on a typical portrait or lifestyle photo shoot.
Here are a few outtakes/inside shots from the shoot…
Recently I did a corporate portrait session for a local Biotech and it was the first one I think I’ve ever rolled in with just 50mm and 85mm prime lenses and a camera for the most part. Of course I always tote a backup camera and some lighting gear along for the ride but the K.I.S.S. method prevailed because of the beautiful window light and great overall blue color cast of their office environment.
There are many factors that can put pressure on a photographer to go crazy with equipment such as a higher budget, more eyeballs on the photos (broad usage) or a brief window where the CEO is available, knowing that there will be no “do-overs”. Some of these things can cause us to over do it with a bunch of unnecessary lighting gear or extra lenses to cover all possible focal lengths. The simplest solution is often sitting in front of our face. Clients are not gear geeks like us- they won’t care if you use window light and a piece of white foam core for a reflector or an expensive Profoto head with a 9 foot octabox attached. They just want results.
Portraits are of course all about the subject’s comfort in front of the lens and the genuineness of their facial expression. We also need to look out for details like wardrobe malfunctions, stray hairs , etc. When we K.I.S.S. in terms of equipment, this often frees us up to concentrate on those things instead of becoming a “gear wrangler.”
(hair styling and makeup: Stephanie Costa).