Speedlight Magic

Last week I found myself on an assignment in the dark recesses of a 911 call center. Given extremely limited time to work with, I channeled my inner Joe McNally, placed a single SB5000 with a blue gel on it in the background, and hid a single SB5000 with a CTO gel behind the bank of monitors. Click…click…click…and I was escorted back out so as not to distract them any further from their high-stress jobs!

(Before and after with Nikon Z9, 24-70 f2.8 S, ISO 1600, f2.8, 1/40s, WR-R11 transmitter, 2x SB5000 flashes)

Blue Sky Magic

I’ve had a lot of folks asking me how I get my dramatic “BLUE SKY” effect. It’s a technique I learned from the legendary Sports Illustrated photographer, Dave Black. And I recently saw a couple shots by Joe McNally with this technique as well.

Take this scene for instance. It was a dreary, overcast, hazy, UGLY GRAY evening sky. Who wants a BLAH background like that, right? So to make it POP, you have to set your camera’s White Balance Setting to a cooler tone. You can set it on the Tungsten setting if you like. I prefer to use the Kelvin Scale since it gives me more control. I often use 4,000K, which is a little warmer than full Tungsten. Now changing this in the camera means it’s a GLOBAL change…everything in your scene will be blue, including my subject.

So to get the right color back on my subject I place a WARMING gel over my flash and light him separately. I underexpose the sky by about a stop and a half to make this easier and to give the background more saturation. I have an SB-800 just out of camera frame on the left, zoomed to 105mm, with a full CTO (Color Temperature Orange) gel, at about 1/4 power. I’m controlling this flash through Nikon’s CLS system (I didn’t have my Radio Poppers on me at the time). The flash on my D3 is an SB-900, pointed strait at the sensor on the remote flash. All it’s doing is telling the SB-800 what to do and when to do it. I was shooting from across the street with the 70-200 to frame the subject with just enough of the beautiful Spanish Moss covered oak tree overhead. This was shot last week at Legend Oaks Golf Course.

As you can see, legendary golfer Bill Kalback now has a nice warm shaft of setting sunlight on him, while the gray sky in the background shifts to a complimenting blue twilight tone. Next time you’re faced with an ugly sky, give this a try!

Joe McNally

Joining a packed house of photographers, I was at the Charleston Center for Photography last night being inspired by the legendary Joe McNally. I’ve met him several times and been to many of his presentations. But his stories never seem to get old. He’s been a big influence on my work over the years and is always engaging, insightful, and full of mischief and humor. 🙂 It was also wonderful to see his lovely bride Anne Cahill again. She’s a Nikon Professional Services representative, of which I am a die-hard member. Stacy Pearsal has done a FANTASTIC job with the CCforP since taking it over from the great start by Jack Alterman. If you haven’t been recently, get down there and check it out!