I made this portrait the other day at the Out of Oregon Photography Conference. I was teaching a class on portraiture, and I had a picture like this in my mind as soon as I found out Maygen would be helping as the model. She was a surfer and I knew we’d be working at one of my favorite beaches. See, in Oregon, the forest often ends right before the waves begin, so it’s not too strange to photograph a surfer in the woods.

Off-camera flash

The key to making a photo like this is using an off-camera flash with a warming gel (CTO: Color temperature orange). I’ve got the flash in a small softbox (26-inch diameter), but a white umbrella (48-inch diameter) would work, too. The flash is to my left. If it was on the camera, there wouldn’t be any shadows across her face which show us her form and I wouldn’t be able to use a softbox.

The flash is on a 7-foot tall light stand, and my friend Lisa is holding on to it to ensure it doesn’t tip over in the breeze.

Color temperature orange

Using a gel to color the flash is important. CTO makes the flash the same color as a standard light bulb, which is very orange when compared with daylight. Compared with a late afternoon overcast sky, CTO is as orange as can be. The key thing is that your camera has a setting for orange light. It’s the white balance option that looks like a little light bulb.

When you use this white balance setting, the camera applies blue to the whole picture to compensate for the orange. The orange is only shining on the subject, though, so we get a natural-looking light on the person and a cool blue cast to the rest of the photo.

Color contrast increases the sense of depth

This is an exaggeration of a classic color technique I learned from Clay Blackmore and Joe McNally. Warm colors in a picture draw the eye and make the subject appear to come forward. Cool colors, like blue, recede and seem to be farther away.

Blue and orange are contrasting colors. Using them to illuminate the portrait increases the sense of depth in this scene. To enhance that sense a little more, I used Luminar’s Sunrays filter to warm up the sky a very little bit. When you see this photo, you see the surfer first, then you look over her shoulder down the path to that brighter, warmer sky, and then come back to her face. Use color contrast to enhance the sense of movement and depth in your photos.

Also, there are more Out of Chicago Photography Conferences coming up. I think they are one of the best ways to become a better photographer and you should take a look.

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