Regis Lefebure
Regis Lefebure

Regis Lefebure chronicles and captures the world of Motor sports with the grace and beauty of speed with still photographs that have life, movement and depth, and with a palette that would be at home in the company of the great Impressionists.

Getting Creative with Speedlites in Flat Light

November 18, 2014

I am dipping into the archive for this blog to illustrate a particular situation working with Canon Speedlites (particularly the Speedlite 580EXs using PocketWizards) in flat light. The goal was to create greater visual interest through use of the camera’s white balance setting and gelatin filters that modified the Speedlites’ color output.

This assignment was to create standard photos of the iconic Audi R8 racing cars campaigned by Champion Racing. This took place at a pre-season winter test in Sebring, Florida. The photographs would be for public relations use by Audi.

When you are shooting cars, you are often looking for killer light for bold contrast or vibrant sunset colors reflected in glossy paint. Sometimes the client only requires straight-up documents of the car: a head-on view, a straight side look, rear view, and maybe a front three-quarter shot from a slightly elevated position, like from a stepladder.

A team like Champion Racing, under the watchful gaze of a manufacturer such as Audi, runs like clockwork. Every minute of every day is accounted for. There are no do-overs, should something go wrong. The morning of our shoot dawned dreadfully gray with heavy overcast. There were no extra days, no time slots available for rescheduling – you take what you get and you run with it. No excuses.

With the overcast conditions, I knew the light would be flat and the color horrendous. The cars would lack the crisp bright colors the popular Champion team was known for. I decided in the hour before we started shooting to go with a two-light setup using Speedlites, along with the EOS-1D Mark II and the EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens. The overcast weather was predicted to hold through most of the morning so I anticipated no change in the thirty minutes I had with the cars. Using Speedlites would bring out the graceful lines of the Audi R8 as well as the colorful graphics.

Photo by Regis Lefebure


As for the background, it would remain muddy gray. So I decided to create a look as if it were close to twilight. This was achieved by switching the color balance on the camera to the tungsten setting and attaching CTO filters onto the Speedlites. In addition, I underexposed by 2/3 stop from the ambient light to slightly darken the background. My exposure setting was at f/7.1 at 1/250 of a second and ISO 100.

I wanted the background to separate from the white cars, but not go too blue. The color temperature at the tungsten setting is approximately 3200°K so I used 3/4 CTO filters attached to the Speedlites (combining one 1/4 CTO over a 1/2 CTO, taped to each light) rather than going with full CTO. Processing the RAW file, I bumped the color temperature to 4500°K to make a warm white color of the car’s base paint. The adjusted color temperature casted a blue tint to all areas not lit by the Speedlites, but not as blue as a temperature of 3200°K. The resulting image is more interesting, with depth and dimension, vivid contrast, and color that sings.

Photo by Regis Lefebure

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