camera settings: 1/50 @ f8 @ 800 ISO … lens zoomed to 35mm;  available light

shooting promotional photos for a band

Anyone who knows me well is probably very aware that my first true love is music. I live my life to a music soundtrack. There’s always music playing. Not the radio, but music of my own choice. I love music … however, my sense of rhythm isn’t all that it should’ve been for me to be a natural muso. But still, I love music. All of which meant that one few non-negotiable rules for my daughter was that she had to take music lessons. So she plays bari sax in the high-school’s Jazz band, and she’s also been taking guitar lessons for a few years now with a guitar teacher, Gerard.

All of which brings us to this photo session – promotional photos of Gerard’s band. That is Gerard (right) and Ed (center : piano) and Joe (left : guitar). I met up this weekend with them in Hoboken. Perfect for the urban feel to the photos. Hanging out with them for a few hours coming up with ideas and places for photos, was great fun. The camaraderie between them will be familiar to anyone who has ever played in a band. You connect. That all too short time I played tenor sax in a rock band back in South Africa circa 1999, just before we emigrated to the USA, was one of the best times in my life. But I digress. It was cool to hang out with these three musicians for the afternoon.

Here are some of my favorite images, with some details  …

Learn more inside…


Jessica, a portrait in Dublin

September 20, 2011

Jessica, a portrait in Dublin

Hovering somewhere between a snapshot and a candid portrait, I really like this photograph. We were hanging out in the Temple Bar area in Dublin, late late in the evening after the recent workshops in Dublin. When it started to rain, we took shelter under the canopy in front of one of the many pubs there. As Jessica took the first drag of the cigarette, I playfully lifted my camera as if to take a shot, and she reacted with this suitable sneer. And I like the result. I even think it is the kind of image that would’ve worked on an album cover by The Smiths or Morrissey. Just one of those timeless vignettes of life. A moment and gesture that draws you in for a second look.

Learn more inside…


the next step – going beyond just posing people

With the recent post on a few guidelines on posing people, I wanted to add the reminder that when photographing people, our final destination isn’t just the posed photograph, but that we should try and capture something about our subject. Something about their personality, or showing some facet of who they are and their lives.

When photographing couples in particular, my accent is on photographing their relationship as well. In addition to the portraits of the couple, I want to show how they interact with each other – playfulness and intimacy. We need to create images which have emotional impact – images that have some resonance with their friends and family when they view them.

Learn more inside…


random found available light as portrait lighting

With the recent trip to California for the workshops, I was also keen to meet up with another favorite model, Bethany. We were allowed to shoot in a night-club on a Sunday afternoon when it was all quiet with no one there. It’s an interesting place to work with a beautiful model, finding interesting spots and then figuring out how I might adapt my flash setup. I had 4 speedlights with me and 2 softboxes and a slew of the new PocketWizards.

The first series of photos of Bethany however, was shot with just the available light there. But first I had to recognize the light as being interesting light for a portrait. I had to “see” it first. As it happened, I only saw that this might be useful light for a portrait when I did a few test shots while Bethany was having her hair and make-up done.

Learn more inside…


portrait session – Steinway pianist

I had the opportunity recently of photographing Robert Wyatt, a pianist affiliated with Steinway, at the Steinway offices in New York. This photo was taken as we were set to leave after the photo session was already done. I was immediately drawn to the symmetry of the architecture and the lavish foyer below. The pose and framing was deliberately centered.

For this lighting setup, I quickly pulled out the Lastolite softbox again, and used it as a single light source. It was all that was needed for a simple portrait here. But earlier on, for the actual photo session with Robert, I used multiple off-camera speedlights and different light modifiers to get portraits with impact …

Learn more inside…


high-key lighting with maternity photo session

Part of what makes wedding photography so rewarding, is keeping contact with clients over the years as life continues past the wedding date. Maternity photo sessions .. babies .. kiddos .. it’s all part of how couples’ lives unfold. If we’re fortunate as photographers, we remain part of it.

So it was with great pleasure that I had a maternity photo session with Renee and David. As usual with a photo session, I like to mix things up in terms of the lighting … all with the intent of getting more diversity in the selection of images …

Learn more inside…


using the PocketWizard AC3 Zone Controller

This portrait of musician, Josh Adams, was a fairly quick set-up. I deliberately chose an area in a large hotel conference room to shoot this. A bit of a challenge to see how quickly I could get a simple but dramatic portrait out of a ‘nothing’ scenario. Here’s the pull-back shot that will show you the area, as well as the placement of the lights:

The light came from three speedlights, all controlled with the PocketWizard FlexTT5 transceivers. They in turn were controlled via an on-camera FlexTT5 (for Nikon), with an AC3 Zone Controller piggy-backing on the TT5. Using the AC3 Controller made it a breeze to control the output (and mode) of each of the three speedlights. I could switch any of them to manual, or to TTL. I could control the TTL units’ Flash Exposure Compensation from the ACR3.  And I could control the manual output, if I had decided to switch the speedlight to manual mode.  All from my camera …

Learn more inside…


updated article: how to bounce flash

The flagship articles on flash photography techniques was (and probably still is) the backbone of this blog. But since I posted the first few pages on flash photography on planetneil back in 2006, my own understanding and technique have steadily improved, as has my writing style.

Part of my list of things-to-do this year then, is to update the older pages. The images especially needed to be updated. Stronger images, and with less of a wedding bias. Although the techniques can be applied to pretty much any field of photography, I think that some people might have been dissuaded from reading further when they saw the site predominantly featured wedding photography. For this reason, I’ve also made an effort in the past year or two to bring a much wider spread to the range of topics here.

And with that, first up for a face-lift is the page on how to bounce flash. While much of the material will be very familiar to regular readers of this blog, hopefully with new images, and adjusted text and links to other articles deeper in the site, it will be a welcome refresher on the topic.


portrait: Janine vN

November 15, 2010

portrait using a gridded softbox

It’s been about a year since I last took a more formal portrait of my daughter Janine. Last year it was her with the steam-punk goggles, when I used a beauty dish (with a sock) as lighting. During a restaurant dinner last night I noticed Janine had ‘LOVE’ scribbled on both her forearms with a felt marker. I asked her about it, and she explained the idea behind ‘To Write Love On Her Arms‘. So I decided to include this tonight in the portrait of her.

Lighting her and the words on her arms was a slight challenge. I wanted a moody portrait, instead of just flooding it with even light from something like bounced flash …

Learn more inside…


tips for posing people / working with a model

So you have a great camera and lens; and someone who is willing to be photographed and willing to work with you; and you have a great idea for a setting or backdrop … but now what? Posing your subject is something that can be quite intimidating to a newer photographer.  The pressure is now on YOU to create magic .. or at least an arresting image. Leaving everything up to the model or your subject to do, or for them to come up with ideas … while you just click the shutter, makes you just an owner of a camera, and not a photographer.

When photographing portraits of people then, at some level you need to be able to pre-visualize what you want.  Or, recognize when you actually have something in front of your camera that makes a good subject.  The point I’m aiming at here, is that if you want to photograph portraits of people, you can’t be passive.  At some level you have to exercise control, whether it is the location or the light, or some element that you add or make a decision about.  You have to be active in creating the portrait.  And this often means directing your subject or posing them.

In my experience, the best models aren’t necessarily the more beautiful women, but rather those who can project some personality. No shyness. I think the best models are actresses at some level. You really have to act a little .. whether expression or body posture.

The photo above is of Jessica who isn’t a professional model. But what she lacks in experience, is made up for in the attitude that she projects. And it works. She was one of the best models I’ve had. Simply because of her personality. The best models have great personalities and are quite comfortable in front of the camera. I think it comes down again to them being able to project ‘something’ towards the eventual viewer. It need not be something dramatic … it can be something as cute as a wrinkle of the nose; a half smile; a small gesture.

Okay, so that’s great if you have a model or subject who is somehow a natural at it, and needs little direction.  What if you have a subject who has little or no experience? Well, this is where YOU have to step in as the photographer. 


Learn more inside…