I was invited to shoot the opening night of a local San Diego theatrical play. The theater hosted a "Director's Circle" reception before the performance in honor of the supporters and contributors. I was told that the event would be held in Craftsman Furniture store.
To prepare, I went to the store and met someone from the theater to get an idea of expectations for the reception (and I'm glad that I did). The first thing I realized was that the store was lavishly lit with craftsman style fixtures that gave off a nice warm incandescent glow. As inviting as the lights were, I knew that the photos would show this as orange tinted light. However, even with the abundance of orange tinted lights, I would still need to use a strobe. This complicates things. Typically a strobe is "cooler" (bluer) than the incandescent lights: if I white-balanced for the lights the people would look blue, if I white-balance for the people the store would look VERY orange. The other challenge was to avoid the typical "bright strobe, deer in the headlights, harsh shadows" look of a bare on camera flash. What to do?
Here are some tips if you happen to find yourself in a similar situation.
I took some establishing shots of the light fixtures before the guests arrived. I white-balanced the light to my taste. I could've balance the light to make it technically "correct", but I didn't like the outcome. The style of lighting and furniture really benefitted from a slightly warm glow, so I tweaked the balance just a bit to retain some of the intended warm ambiance. I then shot a few test shots with the strobe and, as expected, things lit by the strobe appeared bluish in comparison to the background. To fix this I put a warming gel (an orange tinted filter) on my strobe. This did the trick. Orange tinted light in the background, orange tinted strobe, white-balance the whole lot and everything looks normal. I then placed the strobe in a 24" portable soft-box that I had a friend port around (This was no easy task, he had to avoid bonking either people or furniture in a rather confined space! Bonking either of which could prove disastrous.).
The overall result was perfect! Properly balanced light from a soft-box took the harsh edge off shadows AND allowed us to angle the light that was more natural. People retained their skin tones balanced with a slightly (but not overly) warm background light. Very complimentary portrait lighting!