An Old & Easy White Balance Technique

It was shortly after 9 AM in the morning, August 23, 2008 - another clear, hot day in Tucson. The light was bright and harsh, but this was the start of the very first Kelby Photowalk. I thought I would try something new.

I brought along my friend Jennifer. It is a great benefit for any photographer to have a drop-dead-gorgeous friend, and this was the perfect time to try a well-known technique to darken the background in order to focus attention on the model.

The most common way to accomplish this is to use an off-camera flash to "overpower the sun." This simply means setting a shutter speed that is high enough to darken the entire scene, then illuminate the subject with a flash:

A short shutter speed darkens everything, while the flash lights the model.

A short shutter speed darkens everything, while the flash lights the model.

Instead, I wanted to see if I could make the scene look like dusk - quite a challenge in the blinding Arizona sun! I set the white balance on my camera to Incandescent, so now the camera is expecting orange-colored light such as would come from a tungsten light bulb. To make the scene look natural, the camera shifts the color of the scene toward blue, the opposite of orange. Since sunlight is bluish, this should give the bluish look of dusk. We do not want Jennifer to be blue too. So, an orange gel (called CTO, or color temperature orange) was placed over the flash to render the color of light the camera is expecting. Therefore, Jennifer should appear to be normally colored:

Most of Jennifer is illuminated by the the orange light of the flash.

Most of Jennifer is illuminated by the the orange light of the flash.

If you have a camera with adjustable white balance, a flash which can be triggered off camera, and an orange gel, this is a fun technique.