It’s a gray flat sky day, and you need to get something interesting, but the sky isn’t helping. It's time to think of something different. Of course, time to go blue.
Not just blue, but “moody blue” that is. Moody blue isn’t my term but rather a term I got from Dave Black along with the technic. The technic is rather simple but does require several steps and the use of a flash. Like most images that incorporate a flash, an off-camera flash will give you the best results. Along with a flash, you will need a color temperature orange (CTO) warming gel for the flash. CTO gels are just that, orange gels that you place in front of the flash to change the color of the flash to orange. They come in different strengths called quarter cut, half cut, and full cut. A quarter cut CTO is the lightest in color while a full cut CTO is the darkest orange color.
The Moody Blue technic involves underexposing the overall image by at least a stop. This gives the whole image a dark look and permits the subject to be highlighted with the flash. Of course, the amount of underexposure can be adjusted to provide a darker feel or a lighter feel, but I’ve found for my own taste that I like to keep it between -2.0 and -1.0 stops. Remember you are going to be lighting the subject with a flash, so you are really interested in the difference in exposure between the subject a the background. For the image of the motocross rider below, I didn’t want an extreme contrast between the subject and the background, so I went for a -1.0 stop difference.
The next step is to change your white balance setting to Kelvin (K) and set the temperature to around 3,330 K. This is what gives the image that blue coloring. Just like the exposure, this can be adjusted slightly for personal taste. If you want lighter blue for the image, you can set your white balance to a higher temperature in the 3,600 K or 3,700 K. Of course if you a looking for an even darker blue drop you white balance below 3,300 K.
The last step is to gel your flash. By gelling your flash with a CTO, it corrects the cool white balance setting thus giving your subject a daylight white balance. I’ve found that for a white balance of 3,330 K I need to use a full cut CTO to get a natural daylight exposure on the subject. Of course, you don’t have to have natural daylight exposure. You can add another quarter cut CTO to the full CTO to give your subject a little warmth. Or, of course, you could use a three-quarter setup of CTOs to give your subject a slightly cooler look.
One aspect I really enjoy about the moody blue style is that it permits so many different looks just by adjusting the exposure, the white balance, and the amount of CTO gel. Add in various elements like a cloudy sky or a dark forest, and you’ve just added more creative features to make your photos stand out from the ordinary.
While the technic is simple, I did find it took a little practice to determine what my tastes were. So go out and practice and see what works for you. You don’t need a human subject to practice on. In fact, I spent a day photographing a large rock in my yard while trying numerous setting configurations.