A Simple Solution—Speedlite + CTO Filter

I photograph completed projects for builders, interior designers and fabricators. In my neck of the woods, especially in today’s economy, these folks are looking for good photography for their websites, but won’t pony-up the big bucks they were willing to spend just a few years back to get it.

It’s a reality; if I want this type of work—which I love to do—I need to figure out a workflow that allows me to remain profitable at fees these clients are willing to pay.

The solution—work fast, capture a good image in-camera to limit post processing, deliver it, bill it, and move on.

The work fast part means trying to limit supplemental lighting to a minimum for these interior shoots.

My job in this example was to photograph countertops and bathroom vanities for a cabinet and countertop fabricator.

Photographing bathrooms can be a real pain in the toilet seat. Think small rooms, limited access, highly reflective surfaces, and tungsten (orange color) lights.

The photo above left shows the bathroom lit by the existing tungsten light fixtures. I have my camera set to “Tungsten” white balance at an exposure that keeps the light fixtures from blowing out. Obviously the cabinetry—my subject—is too dark.

If I increase the exposure time the light fixtures will become distracting white blobs, and chances are the front of the cabinet will still look to dark.

The obvious solution is to add light. Here’s the challenge; I need to do it fast, and I only have a small doorway to work through.

My solution is a handheld speedlite attached to a wireless trigger. Handheld because it allows me to quickly and easily direct light exactly where I need it. (In this case the front of the vanity.)

Only one last problem to solve… Tungsten lights light the top of the vanity; my speedlite puts out daylight colored light. If I white balance my camera for tungsten the vanity top will look color correct, but everywhere the speedlite strikes will be blue.

The solution? By wrapping a CTO (color temperature orange) filter around my speedlite it is now tungsten balanced. I now have a tungsten light torch in my hand. I can direct color-corrected light exactly where it’s needed to light the cabinetry. It’s fast; it’s easy; my client is happy with the image and the price he paid for it. And most importantly, when I figure out what I am earning per hour I can still financially justify doing this type of work.

In practice the formula is simple: Expose and color balance for the existing room light. Then add filtered (color corrected) flash to supplement the existing light as needed.

Until next time,



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