It’s Raining But, Here Comes the Sun…

It’s Raining But, Here Comes the Sun…

The Combrink Family

It’s been done by everyone. Everyone but me, that is. Well, now everyone includes me. People say you never stop learning but no-one ever tells you what order you learn in. Sometime old tricks can be new to old dogs like me. I am not a strobist, in fact my use of a flash until now has been for nothing more than to fill an equipment list.

Yesterday some family friends asked if I could quickly shoot a family portrait for their Christmas cards. What I had envisioned was a nice sunset family portrait with an evening blue sky back drop and the warm glow of the setting sun on their skin. But it was not to be. It’s been raining in Penang for weeks so the chances of getting a nice blue sky or a nice sunset glow on anything was next to impossible. Then I remembered a trick I saw Dave Honl do on a video. It’s not a new trick and certainly did not originate with David, but if I could get it to work it might fix my rainy day and bring out the sun. So I grabbed my Honl gel kit, my 580EX flash, stuffed them into my new Retrospective 30 with my 5D MKII and my 24-70mm, then popped over to the beach for a quick photo session with a nice tropical background.

The idea, if you don’t know, is that by setting your camera’s white balance to tungsten, the image with come out very cool. Actually cool is an understatement. More like really blue. But by putting  CTO[1. The main color correction gels are CTB (color temperature blue) and CTO (color temperature orange).] gel on the 580, everything within reach of the strobe’s light will have a nice orange sunset color to it. Everything else after the flash has dropped off will have that wonderful blue evening sky feel. At least that’s what I was hoping for.

So not being really confident and not having a lot of time to play with manual settings on the flash, I connected my 580 flash to my 5D with the Canon Off-Shoe Cord 2. Using the cord, I put my flash about an arm’s length distance from the camera which kept the light from being overly flat on my subjects, plus it gave me TTL metering for the flash. I set my camera’s white balance to tungsten and slapped a full CTO gel on my 580 and started shooting. The hardest part was holding that big old 5D with the 24-70 mm lens on it with one hand and the 580 flash with the other. Besides that, it went pretty well and I got the look I was wanting.

What would I do differently next time? Probably use a soft box. The shadows, if you look on the ground and the young lady’s leg in the front are very strong. But outside of that, not much.

Lesson learned? Keep reading and keep experimenting. Your bag can never have too many tricks in it.

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About The Author

Matt Brandon

Matt is a Malaysia based humanitarian and travel photographer. Well known as a photographer and international workshop instructor, Matt’s images have been used by business and organizations around the globe. Matt also on the design board for Think Tank Photo, a camera bag manufacturer. In 2013 Matt founded the On Field Media Project to train the staff of non-profits to use appropriate technology to produce timely as well as quality images.


  1. Dzulnajmi

    happy ending story 🙂

  2. Andy Wilson

    The real trick was getting all five kids to smile at the same time. 🙂

  3. Matt Connors

    Very topical for me right now Matt. I’ve been experimenting a bit more with flash of late, and am learning, well, that I have a lot to learn. Currently, I’m bumbling my way through with various success rates depending on the image. I don’t plan on being a hard-core strobist, but do think it’s important to have many tricks in the bag, as you say, and be comfortable with a flash.


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