The other day a fellow contacted me about a picture I made nearly ten years ago. He was an assistant to the master woodcarver and I spent a few minutes making pictures with them. The event was Baby Animal Days at the Western Heritage Center in Logan, UT, and the entire Cache Valley Photographers club came to make pictures for the day. This was my favorite.

Patch made hand-carved wooden spoons to sell to tourists, and he did it with tools from the mid-nineteenth century. As if this wasn’t enough camera fodder, he also had a genuine eye patch. He was quite a character and generous with his time for a photo. “Generous” to normal people who are in a photo means you get two minutes.

CTO to match the light

The two key technical things about this portrait are the color and quality of light. You’ll notice the lamp hanging over the workbench is a normal tungsten bulb, very warm colored. “Warm colored” means it’s orange, and it gives that area a very comfortable glow.

If you were standing there with me, you’d have seen the windows casting a very soft and flattering light into the room. But, since that light was coming from the open sky outside, it was a very blue light, and it contrasted with the warm light bulb in a troublesome way. I knew I could conquer this problem of different light colors by using a flash with a gel on it.

A gel changes the color of the light it covers. It’s basically just a piece of colored cellophane, but they come in very specific colors to make your flash match all kinds of situations. This pack of gels is ideal for getting started working with flashes. the main thing you need is CTO, color temperature orange, to match warm light bulbs with your speedlight.

I gelled the speedlight and shined it through the diffuser portion of my 5-in-1 reflector kit, also a must-have tool. This made the light larger, like a window, and made the light very flattering on Patch. Lastly, I asked two people standing by to stand in front of the windows to block most of that light so only my flash was illuminating Patch.

Nikon D90, 50mm f/1.8 lens, f/3.5, 1/200s, ISO 400.

Try it yourself

To make a picture like this, start with the flash off. Choose the aperture you want to use for creative reasons, set the shutter speed and ISO to allow that light bulb in the back to appear much brighter than it actually (a slow shutter speed), then turn the flash on and balance its brightness with that light bulb. Using the TTL setting for the flash would be appropriate in this case so you could get it done quickly.

Portrait Tips come out each week, and you can see them all right here.