photographers’ success stories, inspired by the Tangents blog

It always feels like a personal accomplishment when I get wonderful feedback from photographers who have been influenced and informed by the articles on Tangents, or by my books on flash photography & lighting, or the photography workshops.

These photographers show me images and describe their stories of insight, and of how their photography has improved. Often with huge strides. While it might be nice that I reply ‘oh, cool!’ to the sender, I do think that it is even better if others could share in this.

I’m hoping that the ideas and photos could be inspiration to other readers of this site.

Neil vN

{ 17 comments. } Add a Comment

1 Mike Whealan February 14, 2010 at 2:23 am

Hi Neil –

Before I discovered your website I was still just starting out my photography business. I have a full-time job on the night shift at a printer, so I decided to put my 20 years of digital retouching/color correcting experience to work for making money on the side because I’ve always been a “photographer”… even worked in college as a photojournalist. When I clicked on your website for the first time I was using a Nikon D80 and a Nikon 28-85mm f2.8/4 lens and shooting exclusively in Aperture priority mode thinking I was pretty good. I also had a Nikon SB-600 flash unit with a “flip” flash bracket. Not exactly pro equipment. Then I realized my work was HORRIBLE once I started comparing it to yours… and I had some weddings on the horizon to shoot! I knew I had to invest time and money in order to raise the level of my work. So…

I purchased your “On-Camera Flash” book and upgraded my equipment to Nikon D700, SB-900, 85mm f1.4, 70-200mm f2.8 VR and a Nikon 17-35mm f2.8. Then I just started applying your techniques and shot everything I could. I even used my daughters’ dolls as models for practice. Needless to say over the course of a year studying, shooting by trial and error, and using YOU as inspiration… I have dramatically improved as a photographer and I just want to express my gratitude. People in my neighborhood are singing my praises and I’m getting lots of assignments lately… even in the dead of winter in Chicago!

Last week I shot a 70th birthday party at a pizza joint. When I arrived I was faced with probably the worst lighting situation I ever encountered in my life. Dark, dingy, low ceiling room with no windows and recessed overhead incandescent lighting. I had no choice but to shoot in this back room because it was “reserved” and the restaurant had public customers in the other section of the place.

I’m including this black and white “tester” to show you the room I had to deal with and then one of my candid portraits. I barely touched this photo… just a slight Lightroom adjustment for color and exposure, because I want you to see how much you taught me.

The walls and floor were dark with minimal amount of light reflective walls. Doom! But then I literally thought, “What would Neil van Niekerk do?” SO I took a few test shots balancing ambient light with my flash and applied your techniques. The folks at the party kept encouraging me to “do the best I can” since the lighting was so poor. Well… I blew them out of their socks when I posted the images. I never received so many compliments and one person in the party is also a “photographer” (hence was telling people how lousy my photos were going to look) and emailed me wanting to know my “secret.” It was the finest compliment I ever received. I owe it all to you, Neil. Thanks!

Sincerely,

Mike Whealan
http://www.whealanphotography.com

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2 Daniel Sawrie February 21, 2010 at 2:51 am

Neil,

I just wanted to tell you how much your site and workshop have changed the way I approach flash photography. I am an avid amateur, and was always seeking a way to improve my images. I hated using flash because I did not understand it and how to correctly implement it in my portraits.

After reading the posts on the site and attending one of your workshops, I have embraced using flash in a way that has greatly enhanced my images and opened up a host of new possibilities.

These days, I am very busy with my day job and only really have a chance to photograph my daughter. The following images show how I have tried to implement varying lighting techniques.

First, I wanted to take a Christmas portrait of my daughter. The weather was bad and i do not have a studio, so I had to improvise. I strung some lights over a chair and positioned her far enough away that i could throw the lights out of focus. I made sure that the ambient light levels were low enough that my daughter would be lit only by flash, I placed a flash in a small softbox and used a pocket wizard to trigger it. I simply adjusted flash power in manual to suit what I needed. It was quick and simple, but I would not have been able to come up with this if it had not been for your inspiration.

The picture with the hat on backwards was with on-camera bounce flash giving the tell tale catch lights. The pics outside utilized fill flash dialed down.

The shot are definitely better than I was able to achieve without flash. Thanks again for all of your hard work on the site. Also, your workshop was fantastic!

Daniel Sawrie

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3 Tyler R. Brown September 1, 2010 at 1:50 am

I spent one day with Neil at his Flash Photography Workshop in Dallas, TX and came away with much more than just a basic understanding of flash photography. Neil gave me the tools, inspiration and confidence I needed to create images like this:

Plus I made some great friends, and learned some valuable lessons (sometimes the hard way). Neil’s excellent one on one instruction and constructive criticisms were just what I needed to feel like I finally had the control necessary to get consistent lighting from shot to shot. Thank you Neil for the workshop, the awesome book and the blog. They have all helped me immensely in my senior and wedding photography business.

P.S. I’m a huge fan of the “black foamy thing”!

Tyler R. Brown
http://tylerrbrown.com/

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4 Stephen Tang December 28, 2010 at 10:53 pm

Dear Neil,

I wanted to thank you for sharing your photography knowledge via your Tangents blog, published books, and workshops. Since 2005, I had been struggling to figure out how to take better pictures and how camera flash worked. I had read various resources on the internet, but I never fully understood what I was reading. When I found your blog about three years ago, I was finally able to being my journey of photographic understanding. Since then, I have attended one of your group workshops, and in 2010, one of your private workshops. Of note, the private workshop was immensely valuable, as it gave me the confidence I needed to push myself.

My current photographic interest is in cosplay (costume) photography. I attend several pop culture conventions annually, and there is a myriad of cosplayers who make and wear fantastic costumes, and I wanted to be able to capture this as best as possible. Many of the conventions I have attended don’t always have accessible bounce surfaces, so bounce flash may not work optimally. But when I apply your teachings about off-camera flash with a softbox, things improve dramatically…

I took the above photo at New York Comic Con 2010 at Jacob Javits Center in the west wing. The first lesson of yours I applied was finding a good or “least offending” background. At this location, there are very high ceilings, and glass windows formed the exterior building walls, like a greenhouse. As a result, there was a lot of sunlight, so ambient lighting was very bright. Using your teachings, I metered my camera so that my subject was underexposed. I positioned my softbox (with a SB-900 mounted inside) camera left at 45 degrees about four feet away from the model. I then raised the softbox about three feet above the model. I remotely triggered the softbox flash with my SB-900 mounted on my D700 using TTL-BL at FEC 0. Finally, I did some light post processing using Portraiture and Nik Color Efex Pro Tonal Contrast (using Normal Light at 40% opacity in Photoshop), based on techniques in your blog.

I took the above photo at the Steampunk Shootout, which was held at Museum Village in Monroe, NY. The event organizer was Hudson Valley Click, a photography group whose past events you have attended and have mentioned in your blog. In this situation, I was shooting in a historic general store setting. The ambient light was very low, so I decided to let my flash be the dominant light. I metered my camera so that the ambient light was to my satisfaction. Then, I positioned my softbox camera left at 45 degrees about three feet away from the model. The softbox was level with the model's face and upper torso. Using TTL, I remotely triggered the softbox, and I took three shots until FEC -0.7 was the exposure I wanted. Again, using post-processing techniques I learned from your blog, I did some light post processing using Portraiture and Nik Color Efex Pro Tonal Contrast (using Normal Light at 25% opacity in Photoshop).

I took the above photo at the Steampunk Shootout as well in the same historic general store. In this photo, taking a page from your blog entry about directing people, I directed the model to hold up the key towards the wood stove, as if she was unlocking a secret vault. My softbox was camera left at 45 degrees about three feet away from the model. However, the softbox was above the model’s head. When I remotely fired the softbox via TTL (FEC 0), this height differential created a slight feathering effect in the light, resulting in a diagonal “column” of light shining from top left to bottom right. The net effect was a high contrast photo of darks and lights. I did some light post processing using Portraiture and Nik Color Efex Pro Tonal Contrast (using Normal Light at 25% opacity in Photoshop).

In closing, several photos that I have taken using your techniques have received praise from friends and family, and even a professional photographer or two. I am extremely appreciative that you share your knowledge through your blog, published books, and affordable workshops. Now that I have learned repeatable techniques in metering and flash from you, I can begin to explore other topics of photography to improve my skills. I wish you continued success in your endeavors, and I’ll see you around on the internet.

Sincerely,
Stephen Tang
http://www.flickr.com/photos/tangst
http://www.stephentang.net/

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5 Robert Rossi February 14, 2011 at 1:59 am

I just wanted to take a moment and thank you for the time you diligently spend on your website. Your postings are the best that I have read, easy to read and understand, concise and very informative. About eighteen months ago I knew virtually nothing about flash on or off camera. Today I feel pretty comfortable in most situations because of your website.

Yesterday I did a family shoot at a sunset on the beach. I was able to pre-visualize what I wanted to do, set up my lights and it turned out great thanks to you.

Here is the picture that I took while trying to determine my ambient exposure, it was at 1/250 @F14 too dark. I opted for F9 for my exposure, still about one stop below normal exposure.

I set my camera to commander mode. Set channel A to Manual with power level set to full. Set both flashes up SB600 & SB800 at 45 degrees to my subject. I also include my pop up flash as part of the exposure also Manual at half power. Both Flash heads had Omni bounce diffusers on them. I wish I had soft boxes, next purchase.

Once again, thank you very much.

Robert Rossi

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6 Andrew Simboli June 27, 2011 at 8:35 pm

Neil:

I am a photographer in Tucson, AZ and have been following your website for some time now.

I applied your Black Foamy Thing bounce technique and my photos were just published in the Aftenposten Weekend Edition, the largest news publication in Norway with a circulation of 700,000.

It was an eight page article accompanied by seven photos including two two-page photo spreads. The culmination of some hard work by journalist Elin Gustavsen and myself.

This was my first time using your technique in the field, aside from some brief testing at home. The scenario was a dimly lit ballroom in Tucson, Arizona. Running and gunning around the ballroom, I was constantly scanning for walls to bounce the flash while being aware of the angles I was working with. The objective was to not have the subject see the flash tube and get the soft bounced light from adjacent walls. It took a few shots to get it dialed in, but following your direction to the tee I was able to get very good results in a short time. This was crucial to getting the shots I wanted under these conditions. I wanted to do the best job possible for the journalist I was working for.

I was using a borrowed Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VR II, as you know an amazing lens and the VR saved the day, as well as some other Nikkors. Camera was a D700. I was using my old beat-up SB-800 on the D700 and your black foamy thing on the speedlight. I had a ½ CTO on the SB-800. WB was in the range of 3800K and I was using high ISOs. I usually shoot full manual for my flash power settings but was using TTL and adjusting FEC because of varying conditions, just like you teach. Ambient exposure was full manual on the D700.

Thanks again Neil. Been shooting for 30 years and really only got into portrait work the last 2 years. I am only a semi-pro and learning from your site helped me bypass a learning curve that would have taken many more years. Your technique saved the day and played a big part in getting my shots published.

Andrew

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7 Rean Kriel June 28, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Hi Neil

As a fellow South African I have been following your postings for a while, I have also bought both your books and experiment with your techniques whenever I get a chance. I’m an amateur photographer who shoot for the love of it, I do the occasional wedding when I can, and I sometimes shoot for a Cape Town based Christian magazine (“Juig Tydskrif”, translated from “Joy Magazine”) when they need images for an article here in Johannesburg.

On a recent assignment for the magazine I had to shoot a couple for the front-cover. The brief was easy: make them look great, good luck.

I mentally prepared for the shoot by digesting your books with renewed interest and scouring your website for articles.

The day of the shoot was perfect for photography, grey skies with scattered light. Had this not been the case I would have directed the couple to areas with lots of shade while being careful about patches of sunlight falling on them (as per many of your articles). I then focused on the basics in your teachings without trying to remember the real technical stuff: check for complimentary background (I went for neutral as possible, trying to exclude skylines, buildings, trees), slightly underexpose the background while flashing for the subject (in this case I used TTL flash at -2EV). As there was not much to bounce from I opted to shoot direct flash outdoors, but when we moved indoors I bounced my flash shoulder-left while exposing for window light. I used my camera light meter at all times. I included one of the indoor images, the window exposure combined with bounced flash created naturally looking and balanced images, a far cry from the days when I thought that real men only shoot with natural light.

I didn’t use the foamie-thingy on the day, although I’ve shot some fantastic wedding images using it. In my personal opinion, that foamy-flashy invention of yours ranks just behind the modern camera, HD TV and the Internet … oh yes, and peanut butter.

The net result was a successful shoot, a happy client, VERY proud wife & kids, and my first image on the cover of a national magazine. Not bad for someone who doesn’t know his Kelvin from his elbow, and all thanks to sticking to the very basics that you teach.

Thanks for sharing information in the manner that you do, it makes a real difference.

Rean Kriel
Johannesburg, South Africa

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8 Jens Knipp November 7, 2011 at 10:11 pm

Hello Neil!

I started photographying about three years ago. Since then I have tried to learn as much as my spare time allowes me to. Last year I came to read your book “On-Camera Flash”; by now I’ve read it three times, and I guess it has been the most influential book for me as it lead me to understanding light and form it the way I want to have it.

Sept. 20th was the great day: I shot my first wedding (friends of mine). You can see some of the pictures here. (You can enlarge the pictures–except from the first one, which I already posted in an earlier article–by clicking them.) Of course there is much room for improvement and still so much to learn, but the bridal couple likes the pictures, and so I’m quite content with the results for now.

This photograph was taken from the wedding. There was a huge window behind the bride; bounced flash added to lighten up her face.

To cut a long story short–I just wanted to say: Thanks a lot for your book, which has tought me so much about using my flashgun properly! (Which, by the way, helped me among other things to get away from technical issues and to concentrate on the really important aspects of photography: subject and light…)

This one is an example of “everyday” pictures (bounced flash is the only source of light) – I don’t leave the house without a flashgun in my bag.

Kind regards from Germany,

Jens

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9 Blonnie November 9, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Neil,

Thank you so much for being such an excellent teacher – both at After Dark and especially at your workshop. I have both of your books, but hearing you explain everything in person gave me a lucidity on flash that was not previously there for me.

I very rarely use off camera flash. I did so on one previous engagement shoot, but I have always been a bit scared of it, because I felt like I was somewhat winging it in hopes of getting a good shot without a true understanding of what I was doing.

Your very thorough teaching methods made me feel much more knowledgable and secure enough to try using it again on my next engagement shoot (only a couple of weeks after your workshop.) Everything during this shoot went along so fluidly because my previous fumbling around with flash settings and constant testing had been completely eliminated and replaced with a solid comprehension. I used to take up to 3 hours per engagement sessions, but I got everything I needed for this couple in only 1 hour.

I’ve included one of my favorite photos from the day, which was done quickly and efficiently as we were walking away (through a parking lot) from a previous setting. I noticed this beautiful, colorful tree behind the couple, so I quickly positioned them, adjusted my settings, had my assistant hold up the flash and – took the photo. Easy as that. :)

Thank you again, for being such a wonderful teacher who really seems to know just the right way to explain flash (and even posing, background selection, etc.) It has truly been a pleasure learning from you.

Blonnie – Delaware / Maryland Wedding Photographer

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10 Neal Ridout November 11, 2011 at 6:20 am

Hi Neil,

My name is Neal Rideout. My photography is mostly as a hobby and on occasion will do some side jobs. I do a lot of Sand Sports action photography here in the sand dunes of southern California. This is what I am most noted for. I’m also a regular contributor to Sand Sports Magazine (sandsports.net).

The reason I’m contacting you is to just say thanks! Some time ago, I set out to improve on my action shots and started playing with a flash more often. I really sucked at it. Just couldn’t get it. While searching the web, I stumbled on Tangents and hung around awhile. Every time you threw out a lesson, I would absorb as much as possible. Finally the light bulb overhead started to get brighter. I purchased more speedlites and eventually some pocket wizards as my budget would allow. Many experiments using my dogs as subjects, moving cars, all trying to get those great action shots.

Believe it or not, the basics you teach, even though for portraits and weddings have components that will translate over to motorsports. My photos got better and my followers even started noticing. The editor to the magazine loves my work. All this is because you took a little time out of your busy schedule to help out those of us who are learning the craft. Thank you again!

What made me want to write this was about a month ago I was contacted to shoot a wedding. Not just any wedding but one in the Sand at Dumont Dunes on top of a 700 ft hill. I agreed to do it and even disclosed that I never did a wedding before. They wanted me to do it. So back to Tangents I go paying more attention to wedding related material. It was time to merge some of your techniques and my action skills to make this shoot work. Brutal conditions, cramped trailers and toy haulers, I think I did it good.

Your influence just rocked through this shoot. Again, Big Thank You!! The couple just love the shots. The Magazine loves how I integrated the action and wedding together so much that they want an article on it. That deserves another Thanks! Please keep the articles coming, we out here are learning.

If you wish, my photo site is at fe135.com

One last thanks! Neal

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11 Chris Ginn November 14, 2013 at 6:14 am

Hi Neil,

I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for the awesome information you pass along to your blog readers.

I have been an outdoor photographer for 15 years, but it wasn’t until I discovered your blog that I began to trust myself enough to take pictures for paying clients other than magazine editors.

Since I discovered Tangents, I have upgraded (through your affiliate links of course) to full frame gear and added all the extras to make off-camera lighting work.

I have attached a photo of my daughter taken during some down time during a full day of Christmas mini sessions. She wanted to play with the fake snow, and I captured this image while testing some of your lighting advice.

Thanks again. Because of what I have learned through Tangents, I am booked up!

Chris Ginn

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12 Chris Ginn June 19, 2014 at 7:16 pm

Hi Neil,

I am replying to an earlier correspondence we had when you posted one of my shots in the Success Stories of your blog.

I have just about memorized your entire blog, and just wanted to let you know what a HUGE difference it has made in my photography. Not just the photography techniques, but the posing guidelines, gear recommendations and the business tips shared through your Crafty workshops.

I just shot my most recent wedding this past weekend, and I wanted to ask you to look at my blog post of images from the wedding only so you can see what a difference you have made in this photographers life.

The officiant complimented me after the ceremony that it was the smoothest relationship he has ever had with a photographer. “I love how you kept telling the guys to sweep their feet to the front and actually showing them how to do it,” he told me.

Thank you Neil for the information you so freely offer on the web.

Chris Ginn

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13 Dom Bos December 27, 2014 at 3:28 pm

Neil,
I owe you a big big thank you !

After my kid was born, I shot 2 months worth of iPhone pictures, being truly disappointed with the results, i bought my first real digital camera. During daytime this worked great, during night / indoors not so great.

I hate the ‘flash look’ in images with a passion, and so after a google search ( seo paid off here ) I found your Tangents! After consuming all your written words, and bought ‘Direction & Quality of Light‘, everything just clicked.

Now 9 months after I bought my camera, I’m not only taking great images of my kid, but also doing paid shoots of other peoples’ kids!

So here it is THANK YOU !

and a big season greeting from The Netherlands !

– Dom

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14 Connie Grant February 7, 2015 at 2:16 am

Hi Neil,
I wanted to let you in on a secret. That black box thing called a camera is a mystery. So many of the things that one needs to make the black box work are not common knowledge and are not readily shared by other photographers. I have found that most photographers are very hesitant to teach, and if they do it comes at a heavy price, which I couldn’t afford! So, I set out to learn on my own, and it’s been an adventure. I love your blog, and I love my photography. My camera has brought the most awesome people into my life. It’s also something that feeds my soul. I think when you have that creative bean in the brain, you have to use it, or else you will just go bonkers.

On a personal note, when my dad died 10 years ago, I needed something to sink myself into .. something to bury my head and heart in. The answer for me was my camera. Unfortunately, nothing was coming out of it looking the way that I ” pictured” it looking. Fast forward 10 years of self teaching, and I am able to produce images that sometimes capture the attention of many… and many times capture the attention of a few. Photography, is a story in the making, It’s a way to save the moments in a life and share them forever. It’s something that is an investment. I started with Family and Senior portraits, and I have moved into some wedding work. I recently did this bridal session at the Boling Haxall house in Richmond Va. It’s beautiful, and I wanted to share it with you. I truly believe that without your sharing of lighting techniques I would not have been able to produce these images that are so lovely.

Your blog has given me so many ” ahhh ha” moments. Like.. whoa… shutter speed affects ambient light.. and flash is controlled by the aperture?… That was an eye opening moment for me. Learning to drag the shutter.. learning to flag and bounce with the black foamie thingie.. learning the quality and direction of light. .. Well, all of these have changed my craft. I use to put an image into a forum for critique .. and my lovely image ( i thought it was lovely) would be ripped apart. I would be heartbroken.. but go back and try it again. Then I found several devoted teachers.. One being you:)

Everyone talked about the light. I discovered the joy of The LIGHT! I started stalking the light, but then the problem was how to capture it, and how to create it. Well, you showed me how. Since most of my shoots are on location, I work mainly with speed lights and triggers, learning to balance and gel and color the light…WOW.. so much I have learned from you. I also have a friend named Emory who has taught me everything he knows, as well as sent me tons of info.. .. So a shout out to him.

So two months ago, I quit being a nurse… after 30 plus years of Emergency Medicine, i am now a photographer .. full time.. Licensed, Insured.. and well … kind of busy. .. and loving it all! Thanks for all the things that you teach.. I look forward to stalking your Tangents blog in the future. Please enjoy the beautiful Chelsea. This was a super fun shoot. My goal was to save the ambient, but light the shadows.. I think it went pretty well. For once something came out of the black box like I ” pictured” it.

Connie Grant
Connie Grant Photography
Chester Virginia

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15 Mark G February 7, 2015 at 7:12 pm

Connie,
Your images are amazing! I’m glad you found Neil and you were able to learn from him.
You did outstanding. Congrats to you!
Mark G

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16 Connie Grant February 7, 2015 at 8:13 pm

Thanks for inspiring me along the way Mark..

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17 Scott Thomas February 14, 2015 at 12:45 am

Neil,

I spend a lot of my time surfing the internet, looking for different ideas and research, for anything photography. Having developed a ‘bug’ to use ND filters, I researched the internet for more information. Some info good, some not. So finally I found you and I haven’t looked back since. I consider myself and avid amateur. I have read all that I can from your site that deals with mixing ambient with flash, ND filters and anything everything else in between. Your vast knowledge and ease of explanation makes visiting this site so much helpful and fun, in my photography. From trial and error, studying, countless hours of reading, I have dramatically improved as a photographer. Just want to thank you for your tangents and endless amounts of knowledge that you are willing to sharing with your fellow photographers.

Scott

D800E, Sigma 150 2.8
1/200th, f/5 ,ISO 200
Cheetah AD360 @ 1/8th power with 43″ softbox camera right

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