directional light with off-camera bounce flash

directional light with off-camera bounce flash (model – Ulorin Vex)

During the same afternoon that I had the opportunity to photograph Ulorin Vex, I took several other sequences of images of her in other costume. Here we worked in the foyer area of the Hotel Monaco in San Francisco. (If only all other hotels had such a diversity of immediately photogenic areas!)  With this image, I wanted a near-symmetrical image, with just Ulorin Vex’s posture slightly breaking the symmetry up. Just enough to make a stunning subject even more eye-catching.

A little more about the train-of-thought to getting to this image …

When I saw that bench in the foyer area, I knew that it would work as a simple backdrop, and that the colors would pop. The pose is mostly Ulorin Vex’s … she is supremely professional and easy to photograph, bringing so much to the photo session. Then all it needed was gentle fine-tuning of the positioning of her hands and legs by telling her how I’d like her to place her hands and feet.

In lighting this, I went for a simplistic set-up again – just bouncing an off-camera flash into the ceiling and away from her. The pull-back shot above will explain this.

The off-camera speedlight was controlled PocketWizard FlexTT5 and the AC3 Controller (vendor), to change easily from manual flash to TTL flash, and control the power of the flash, from my camera. In the end, I shot with full manual power, since bouncing flash this way lost a lot of light.

camera settings: 1/80 @ f3.2 @ 640 ISO

In the larger image of that pull-back shot, you can see that I had gelled my flash. The light in there was predominantly incandescent, so I just used a gel on my flash. In the end, looking at the comparison shot without flash, so little ambient light registers, that it most likely wouldn’t have made much difference.

Yet, the shadows of the diagonal beams do show up in the final image. In the end, I’d gel my flash again if I had to shoot in a similar situation. It just makes more sense to have my flash be close to the color balance of the predominant ambient light source.

For the two images shown here, I took my post-processing a few steps further than I usually do.

Instead of my usual post-processing workflow for retouching portraits, I changed things up a bit:

  • I used Neat Image to smooth the image a bit;
  • then ran a Nik Color Efex filter – Glamor Glow – at reduced opacity;
  • an adjustment layer which I set to a Soft Light blending mode, also at reduced opacity;
  • and what gave this image a grittier but glowing look, was the Gradient Map layer, set to Soft Light blending mode, again at reduced opacity.

And that’s all it took – a fantastic model, a photogenic spot, simple but effective lighting and some Photoshop fairy dust. Simple really.


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photo gear (or equivalents) used with this photo session

13 Comments, Add Your Own

  1. 1Jerry says

    Beautiful images! Was it just coincidence that you used this particular model in a place with so many orange shades? Or did her hair color play a part in your setting up the shoot here? I wonder if the place would have been as beautiful with a woman with different hair color. I mean, I’m sure it would be great, but with this lady the place looks perfect! Her hair doen’t compete with the cross bars behind her, so you don’t need any separation. Great stuff… and beautiful lady!!!

  2. 2 says

    Hotel Monaco wins on decor. I miss that place.

    That bright sunlight coming in from the windows and doors (shown in the pull back shot) barely registers in the ambient photo of Ulorin. Inverse square law of light intensity at work.

  3. 3edy says

    Hello Neil,
    compliments for your post.
    What are the settings of the flash in this case?
    The flash was bounced back up over your left shoulder … is that correct?
    With the camera settings 1 / 80 f3, 2 640 iso is possible that the image is so dark without a flash?
    Neil Last question: the ceiling was white? Why do not bounce the flash high above the shoulder forward rather than backward over his shoulder?
    Always very grateful for your valuable work.
    Edy Trigona Genoa Italy

  4. 4 says

    This was off-camera flash. Not on-camera flash. So I didn’t bounce it over my shoulder.

    The settings … full output, manual flash.

    Yes, the image is that dark without flash at those settings. Would I lie to you?

    The ceiling was white / off-white.

    I bounced the flash into that direction, because that is the direction I wanted the light to come from. Bouncing it up into the ceiling would’ve changed the character of the light entirely.

  5. 5Andreas says

    Hi Neil,

    very nice picture. I just have a quick question. I’m quite impressed about the shadow of her cheek bone. I never achieve such this game of shadowes with an umbrella or bounced flash. Mostly all my subjects are evenly lit. I guess you did not accentuate this by using dodge and burn. So what is the secret?

  6. 6 says

    the secret? directional light.

    By taking the flash off-camera, and bringing the light in from an angle different than the camera’s point of view, you get directional light.

  7. 7Mika says

    Nice shot, Neil! I just love these burning yellows!

    Could you please get a little more specific about the post-processing. What kind of gradient did you use here? Just the default gradient map? Would you give us a before/after, also?

  8. 8 says


    Congrats on your stunning images with this model.

    Where are you getting all these amazing models? I assume you must be paying a lot of dough for them. You always have very beautiful women that you work with Neil and that is a great talent in itself :)

    Whatever happened to your Profoto acute 600R pack? You seem to do 90% of your work now with speed lights. Have you decided that the pack is not necessary for most situations? too bulky and cumbersome, you can’t control the power settings from your camera or do high sync work, so you only pull it out on a rare occasion?

    Also, that’s pretty cool how you got that light effect by shooting an unmodified speed light at full power back into the hallway. I would have never thought of that. Did you consider shooting her direct with a softbox?

    Thanks in advance, and keep up the great work.

  9. 10 says

    This, and the other images of Ulorin Vex were shot the day after the flash photography workshops in San Francisco. The workshops are speedlight oriented, since they are easy to travel with, and a speedlight is equipment which is accessible to every photographer.

    In terms of the amount of light, and the size of the softbox you can use, the Profoto is streets ahead of a speedlight. It just wasn’t an option to travel with on this occasion.

  10. 12 says

    You certainly did a very nice job with the speed lights which makes me further debate in my mind the pros and cons of the speed lights vs a pack and modifiers.

    If I can click my shutter less ( and space the clicks more), and if I dont need alot of power, it sure makes sense to use the speedlights with radio poppers for high speed sync, no dangling cords, and remote control of light power from the camera. It especially makes sense when working with two lights quickly on location.

    Sometimes an off camera speedlight with only a stophen gets great results too, and you’ve shown how you can get nice directional light with a bounced speedlight as well.

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