off-camera flash

photographing a vintage motorbike on location, with Profoto lighting gear

I’m getting to meet so many people while photographing interesting subjects for my next book, 60 Portraits, that I was bound to meet some truly interesting characters. John collects vintage … oh, everything. His entire house filled with collectibles – it is like stepping out of a time-machine into a different era. I joked with him that the only two things in his house from the 21st century is his fridge and his dog!

Most impressive in a way, is John’s workshop where he maintains his two vintage era motorbikes and a Model A Ford. The tools in his workshop are all authentic to the era … and they work. The way John describes it, it actually makes sense in the way he maintains  everything with hand-tools and lathes and such.

His one motorbike is from WW1 era, and the other is this 1928 German-built Triumph. The sidecar was made by Hindenburg Metalworks. Yup, the zeppelin guys. John’s friend, Barbara, frequently accompanies him to shows and rallies, and came along for this photo shoot. After all, there is a side-car!

I photographed a few sequences of John and Barbara with this motorbike, using different setups. I liked this dramatic series the most, with the light from behind casting a shadow in front of them. I wanted the light to etch the frame of the motorbike and side-car, without revealing too much detail – I wanted this to be a portrait of John and Barbara. However, I took a number of other images, where the motorbike is better lit. Just to have the variety. Such a unique opportunity doesn’t come along that often, so I had to make sure I got variety in the images.

Now, the techie details about the photograph:
camera settings were 1/250 @ f/14 @ 200 ISO

As always, the pull-back shot to show the lighting setup …

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thoughts on using a beauty dish as a single light source

A beauty dish is one of those light modifiers that sound attractive just by name already. And when photographers start exploring other options than direct off-camera flash and umbrellas or a softbox, a beauty dish is usually one of the first alternate light modifiers that catches attention. Mine too. Right after I bought my first Profoto kit, I purchased a beauty dish for it and started exploring using a beauty dish.

A beauty dish is ideally used at a closer distance for portraits, with the light “focused” on the face, creating a gradient where the light rapidly falls off between the lighter and darker areas – yet looks soft where the light is focused. But there’s more to it than that – a beauty dish is best used with a grid to help control the light. Or used with a sock, but then the beauty dish acts very much like a round softbox, and some of its specific qualities are lost.

Quite a few of the softbox options for speedlights offer a way to create a beauty dish-like effect. An example is the Westcott Rapid Box Octa Softboxes (B&H), as mentioned in the review: Westcott Rapid Box 26″ Octa Softbox. You can take the front diffuser off, and add the Westcott 2030-DP Deflector Plate (B&H), turning it into a beauty dish of sorts. But the same limitations appear.

Looking at the portrait of David above, you’ll notice a semi-circular band of light to the left. This is because, even though the light from the beauty-dish-ified softbox focuses light on him, there is light that spills from the edge of the speedlight. The detail photo of the Westcott RapidBox will explain it better …

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on-location corporate headshots – aiming for efficiency and speed

That’s me, all set up for on-location corporate headshots last week. Five speed light & Softbox set ups, to be placed in a different area each, to efficiently give 5 different looks. My client wanted head-shots of a list of people, with varying backgrounds around their offices. And also with different sets of clothes. We decided that 5 different looks would work best, and give them variety.

I considered the options I had. Two of them amounted to too much disruption:
- dragging one light around, and setting it up every time for each person, or
- setting up in one spot, and then having everyone file past. And then setting up again, and having everyone file past me.

The best and most elegant option immediately seemed to be to  set up lighting in 5 different spots, with pre-determined exposure settings and flash settings … and then walking each person to each spot. This sounds like a mission, until you realize that 3 of the spots were within 20 yards of each other in the main lobby area.

Instead of moving a light-stand around, I would walk up to the already set up light-stand & speedlight, and switch on the radio trigger for that spot. All setting up and testing done before-hand. Fast and efficient. Then, at 30 minute intervals, the next person would join us.

Here is a close-up shot of one of those setups:

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photo session: urban ballerina – Viktoria

Late afternoon in New York, with the sun-light glinting off the glass buildings – dramatic light for a ballerina in an urban setting. However, the sunlight that was reflecting off the buildings wasn’t consistent, and did not necessarily fall in a place where we could use it. So I created my own with an off-camera speedlight just out of the frame – but positioned so that it intentionally flared, and also gave beautiful rim-light on Viktoria.

The pull-back shot shows how the speedlight was set up, and my own position, low down on the ground, to get that perspective.

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wedding photography – adapting photography lighting during the wedding day

When I posted the photographs of a recent wedding in an album on FB, there were a lot of questions regarding my lighting. The answer is an easy one – I change it up as needed, throughout the day. Whatever is needed to give me the best results the fastest. It’s rarely just one thing. So with Alesha and Patrick’s wedding, I used on-camera flash, off-camera flash (with a soft box), Profoto on-location lighting kit, and of course, if it worked, then I just used the available light. The one only lighting option that I regularly use at weddings, that I didn’t use on this day - video light.

The image at the top, of Alesha just as she finished her prep, was shot with just the fluorescent lights in the room. The color versions look good too, but I really liked the simplicity of B&W here.

Let’s step through a few images, and discuss what I used in terms of lighting, and the how and why …

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gelling your flash for the warm light at sunset

Since the light from a speedlight is relatively quite cold, (ie, blue-ish), it can create an unpleasant color cast when you use flash with existing warm ambient light. A typical problem situation would be the Incandescent environment that we often find ourselves in at night. But there are other times when the WB from our speedlights (typically around 5400K) is just too cold (blue) compared to the light we have at sunset. (The Daylight WB preset relates to color of daylight during the middle of the day.) Then we need to do something with our flash to help match those warm hues at sunset. Gelling is the answer.

With this photo session of Lauren and Chris, we were at this breath-taking vantage point overlooking Manhattan. The sun was starting to set and taking on those very warm tones that look so gorgeous. Blue-tinted flash would’ve spoiled this. Since they were in a shaded spot, I had to use additional lighting here. I had to try and make it appear as if they were bathed in the same warm light.

I normally keep 1/2 CTS gel taped to my lens hood, so that I have ready access to gels. The 1/2 CTS is measured for 3700K which would’ve been too warm in this instance. So instead of covering the entire face of the flash-head with the gel, I only partially covered it, by turning the gel sideways. In other words, taping it down vertically instead of horizontally over the flash head … and this was just enough to have the same warm light on the couple, as there was on the city. A much better balance.

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improving a photograph by finessing it in post-processing  (models: Yulia & Anelisa)

While I’m a strong supporter of the idea to get it right in camera (as far as possible), there are times when massaging a photograph in Photoshop, can greatly improve it. And ultimately, it really is the final image that counts.

As a kind of companion piece to the photo of Anelisa jumping, here is a photo taken in the same area with the same kind of strong daylight. In using off-camera lighting here, the look of the photograph is inherently different. When I posted this image on Facebook as a teaser, someone guessed that it took “very expensive reflectors and an army of assistants”. Perhaps that was meant as a tongue-in-cheek comment, since my lighting is quite straight-forward. Or perhaps it does look like an image that could pop out of a Fashion magazine. I’m biased of course .

In deciphering how the photograph came about, let’s look at the straight-out-of-the-camera image …

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photo session – Modern Gypsies – golden birds

Another series from the recent publicity photo session with the Modern Gypsies, with two of the girls in costume, as golden birds. With costumes this detailed and complex, I wanted a simpler background. One that didn’t intrude, and somehow complemented the subjects. Classic architecture!

Here are the behind-the-scenes images to how we came to some killer photographs for them …

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online video class: off-camera flash photography

The second video tutorial series in conjunction with Craftsy, is on the topic of: Off-Camera Flash Photography.  Craftsy is a company that produces professional looking online video tutorials, and with their help, we created what is a kind of online workshop. The first class is Portraits with On-Camera Speedlight, and has received great feedback from those who enrolled. This follow-up class is about using Off-Camera Flash and is now available.

The fee for the Off-Camera Flash Photography class is $59.99 but as the instructor, I’m able to offer a 10% discount for everyone who follows Tangents.

The online classroom has a platform where anyone who is subscribed can ask questions. So it is an interactive method, and not just a static video-only class. There is also no time limit on this, so you can watch it anywhere, any time.

Off-Camera Flash Photography
Portraits with an On-Camera Speedlight

Wedding Photography
Wedding Photography


off-camera flash with a small softbox

Most of the images shot as part of the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG lens review, were with available light only. But for one sequence, I used off-camera flash. I didn’t intend carrying a lot of equipment, so I stripped it down to the minimum. That meant forgoing my usual softbox, the Lastolite Ezybox (24″x24″) (B&H). Instead, I opted for the much smaller  Lastolite 8.6″ Ezybox (B&H). And instead of a light-stand, Nicole’s friend, Andrew helped out on the day by holding the softbox and slave speedlight.

In getting to the final image, the thought-process was similar to that described in this article: off-camera flash for that extra bit of drama – (model: Olena)

So let’s run through the sequence of images …

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