One of the incredible advantages of using strobes, either portable speedlites or larger, more powerful monolights is the ability to have complete creative control over your photography. Many photographers are frustrated using flash, and don’t like the results and give up, but with practice and some experimentation, you would be amazed how great flash is and will add an enormous capability to your photography repertoire.
I was shooting in bright sunlight but wanted the look of blue hour for a quick portrait of my daughter Kimberly a few years ago. I reached into my bag of tricks and by customizing the white balance, I could turn the ambient light blue.
Unfortunately, the subject also turns blue, and unless that’s the look you want, can be pretty unflattering. The way to fix this is by adding a strobe. I gelled a speedlite with a full cut of CTO (color temperature orange) gel to overpower the blue tint on my subject and warm her up to mimic the look of the directional light of the setting sun. Of course, you’ll need to experiment with how much orange gel to use, you may prefer a 1/4 or 1/2 cut CTO. The point is, you have control. I’ve used this technique many times before, and love the effect.
There are some gotcha’s. Strobes create shadows that need to look natural, so strobe placement is critical if you want a realistic result. I like to place my flash the same side where the sun is, or near where it will be when setting. If the sun is higher up, the effect may not work unless you crop in tight to avoid seeing errant shadows that are different than your strobe.
Overcast days can work better as there’s no natural sun direction, the sky is one big light source, so shadows are diffuse and less of an issue.
Here’s examples showing a normal exposure with correct white balance, and subsequent example showing the customized, cooler white balance with gelled strobe added:
Here’s the specs for the blue hour shot:
1/125 @ f/4
93mm (Canon EF 24-105 f/4L IS USM)
Canon 5D Mark II
Color Temperature 3200K (tungsten)
Full Cut CTO Gel, Canon 580EXII Speedlite (off camera, right side)
I have an array of gels from various sources including the standard color correction gels and a bunch of theatrical colors for effects. However for speedlites, I mainly use David Honl’s, pre-cut gel system, and they’re great. There are others that are equally great, such as MagMod which attach using magnets, or ExpoImage’s Rogue Gel system, to name a few. They’re all good choices, but the MagMod system can be pricey. For an economical system, the XP PhotoGear Speedlite Kit is an amazing value for a complete kit, although I have not tried this one. Most of these systems can be purchased ala cart or in a kit.
If you have any questions, please reply in the comments below. Happy speedliting!