On Location PhotographySubmitted by Michael on Thu, 2014-07-17 10:30

Postcard-blue Sky and Mountains

Sometimes life is a bitch. For example, when everybody around you agrees that the mountains at your location are breathtaking scenic background for the photo they want you to take. However you - the photographer - seem to be the only one thinking that those mountains are not looking so spectacular after all, but rather... dull, at least in this cloudy weather. But hey, they did not hire you to be the party pooper but to make spectacular photos, which is actually pretty easy.

Deep down in your camera bag you have a couple of color temperature orange (CTO) gels. Sure, this babies are pretty small and screaming orange, but that is exactly why they let sky, the mountains and the lake look postcard-blue in our outdoor portraits. Of course you will use a flash to light your subjects, won't you?


1. Subjects posing in front of the scenery with lake and mountains

2. Two shoot through umbrellas with speedlights, guide number 58 on about 1/8th power

3. Camera with APS-C sized sensor, ISO 200, f/8,0, 1/160 sec, zoom @ 22 mm

I wish you good light!



In Issue 09 of Good Light! Magazine, the awesome Laya Gerlock shows you how you can use this technique to make awesome portraits in urban environments. Isn't it funny, how Laya, who is living on the beautiful Phillipines is seeking an urban background for his photos, while I, living in the industrialized Germany, drive 800 kilometers to Switzerland in order to capture scenery?

What are your favorite locations for photos? Let me know in the comments below!


Hard to get my thick German accent? Here's the transcript!

Hey fellow photographer! How's it going?
I'm Michael Zelbel.
I would like to ask you, how can you capture
an outdoor scene much more beautiful in camera than it actually looks in reality?
I'm just back from a destination wedding in Montreux in Switzerland,
which is a lovely place,
and you've got spectacular mountains over there: The Alps.
The couple has chosen this destination because of the lovely scenery.
The guests love the mountains as well.
Sure, they all want photos of them in front of the spectacular scenery.
Of course we want to give them that photos.
We want to start with the obligatory wedding dress photo,
and even hang that one outdoors in front of the mountains and shoot it.
When you're shooting such photos,
it might be that your photos actually don't look as spectacular
as guests or the couple would expect it.
I mean, the Alps are looking great in reality, but on a photo,
you might notice that there's a lot of moist in the air;
that it's actually a little bit dull;
that you actually don't see so much of the Alps. That's normal!
How can you easily make the Alps, let's say, "postcard-blue"
so that they are really jumping out?
Do you want to use color gradient filters? Do you want to use polarizers?
All of that won't do the trick here,
because you will quite often have subjects in often have subjects in the photo,
and you have to care about them as well.
In the good, old film days postcard photographers used tungsten film
in order to shoot daylight photos of mountains
and make the mountains postcard-blue.
We can do something similar.
Why don't we just set our camera white balance to Tungsten,
while the mountains are in daylight?
That makes the Alps really postcard-blue. That's nice!
But now that we have the camera on Tungsten white balance,
we have to lighten our subject with Tungsten colored light from our flashes
so that we capture our subjects with the correct white balance.
For this we simply put a little CTO gel,
a Color Temperature Orange gel in front of our speedlights.
This way our subjects got a nice, warm skin tone from the flash
while the mountains stay lovely blue, because they're lit by daylight,
which is much colder than the orange light from our flashes.
One little tip for playing around with gels, let's say a handy tip:
start by shooting your hand against the sky.
Make test photos this way.
If you've got regular daylight white balance and you shoot your hand against the sky,
it might look a little bit dull.
The sky is probably not as nice as you want.
Now switch your camera to Tungsten
and then you will see the sky is blue, but so is your hand.
You just discovered that you are an alien!
Now you attache a CTO gel to your speedlight and
while the sky is staying postcard-blue,
because it's not affected by the flash,
your hand is actually nicely warm.
Congratulations! You're ready to take beautiful photos of your subjects
in front of a scenery that is looking out of this world beautiful.
People are going to love you for that.
And I wish you good light for this!

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