March 21, 2011

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:

Here is a comparison photo where I disabled the flash.

For the photograph at the top, I had a speedlight on the floor behind their bed, bouncing straight up to the ceiling. This flooded the room with light … and the reflected light spilling around David and Renee, wrapped around to create soft light from the camera’s point of view.

The curtains and everything behind them were blown out by the flash over-exposing everything there.  That was the intention though … the couple is my subject, not the out-of-focus areas behind them. I wanted that high-key lighting.

The speedlight behind them on the floor was the only additional light that I used here.  The flash was controlled by an on-camera PocketWizard FlexTT5 which controlled the FlexTT5 on the Slaved flash. The slave was controlled as a TTL flash.

TTL flash is fairly unpredictable in how it would behave with a back-lit shot like this. Rim-lighting is best controlled as a manual flash, since the camera can’t really meter for rim-lighting. But with this scenario, where there are large areas that are bright, and large areas of mid to below-mid tone … the TTL flash did very well in giving me correct exposure.

camera settings: 1/250 @ f4 @ 800 ISO

That’s the technical aspect of the photograph. The artistic intent here was to capture a simple portrait of a dad-to-be, showing all the tenderness that exists.  These things – the intent and the implementation – they go hand-in-hand to create a photograph that works. By simplifying my composition to only include David and his baby-daughter-to-be, the connection between them is highlighted. The lighting just supplements this.


equipment used (or alternatives)


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{ 19 comments. } Add a Comment

1 Neil vN March 22, 2011 at 1:02 am

More images from this photo session can be seen on the Facebook album.

And just in case you’re wondering … I used three different cameras with four different lenses during this session:
– Canon 5D mk2 with a Canon 85mm f1.2 II
– Sony A900 with a Sony 85mm f1.4
– Nikon D3 with a Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 and Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 II

The only way to distinguish them, is that I used flash with the Nikon, and available light only with the Canon and Sony. Good luck in trying to see the difference between the Sony / Zeiss lens and the Canon. And no, it’s not a competition.

Neil vN


2 Pasquier March 22, 2011 at 1:31 am

Thanks Neil, very evocative photo and great posting.


3 Pat Reynolds March 22, 2011 at 5:25 am

Really, really like this! I’m not much of a fan of pregnancy photos but this shot is beautiful.


4 jkt March 22, 2011 at 7:41 am

I’d love to see more shots from the session, so that I can shamelessly cop — er, I mean so that I can see how Neil approaches that kind of subjects :).


5 Derek March 22, 2011 at 8:54 am

Thanks for the tip. I would like to see some other photos from this session as well. We’re expecting as well and I have to take some maternity shots which I haven’t done before.


6 Neil vN March 22, 2011 at 9:03 am

Derek .. check my comment #1 … I just added a link to a Facebook album with more images.

Neil vN


7 Kevin D March 22, 2011 at 9:38 am

To get the TTL working off camera, did you need a pc connection or can the Pocket Wizzards communicate ttl wirelessly? I don’t own the PW’s, I could only afford the less expensive Cactus system which I’m pretty sure can’t send the TTL information to the flash. I’d love to be able to use TTL off camera with my Pentax gear. Any suggestions? Great capture by the way. My wife is due in less then 2 weeks. I might try this shot when I get home.


8 Neil vN March 22, 2011 at 11:20 am

Kevin .. the Pocketwizards communicate wirelessly.

I’m not sure how the Cactus system works, so I can’t help you there. However, you have to also think of this … the Legends in photography such as Richard Avedon didn’t have TTL flash.

So, while wireless TTL flash is very handy indeed, it isn’t a necessity. It’s just another layer of technology that we can apply to what we do.

Neil vN


9 Walter R. March 22, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Hi there Neil,

Were you testing the Sony and Canon cameras or have you incorporated them into your arsenal?


10 Neil vN March 22, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Walter … I’m testing out some 85mm lenses, and had the Zeiss 85mm f1.4 on hand. I’ll post more about this shortly.

Neil vN


11 gt March 22, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Just curious, but in order to prevent them from going into silhouette did you do the following steps:

1. expose for the father’s face properly
2. then adjust background flash until it was bright enough?

I only ask because the father’s face looks very underexposed in the photo where you disabled the flash — yet it is much much brighter when the flash is on (even though the flash never directly hits the camera side of his face)…

Thanks for any help!


12 gt March 22, 2011 at 3:35 pm

also do you foresee a D7000 review in your future?


13 Neil vN March 22, 2011 at 8:00 pm

gt … nope, I didn’t go through those steps.

I set what I wanted on my camera … 1/250 @ f4 @ 800 ISO … knowing that it would under-expose the available light. Then I let TTL flash technology take care of the exposure. That’s the beauty of TTL … it will follow your settings. (Within reason of course.)

About the Nikon D7000 .. I have no plans to do a review at this point. It’s tough to match the thoroughness of and to any extent.

Neil vN


14 David March 23, 2011 at 5:33 pm

At first glance, thought he was kissing a ladies bottom. Was thinking “This is new direction for Neil”! :-O :-)

Good job I read the title!



15 Ed Verosky March 28, 2011 at 2:56 pm

I like this. While it might not be someone else’s idea of the “correct” exposure, it is one of several possible appropriate exposures. I think what you’ve done is create a very natural, believable moment — in an image where lighting isn’t obvious or distracting.


16 Adrian March 28, 2011 at 4:28 pm

HI Neil,
When you use flash do you use rear curtain sync or first curtain sync, and do can you possibly do a Blog post on the difference on how it affect TTL and Manual.

It would really help me in clearing up some questions i have on flash photography.



17 Adrian March 28, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Hi Neil,
Another quick question, how does my TTL flash know how much flash or how little flash to emit when it looks at a scene. what kind of impact does the ambient light have on the flash?


18 Neil vN March 28, 2011 at 8:05 pm

Adrian … I was shooting at maximum flash sync speed, therefore the consideration of first vs rear curtain sync, doesn’t even come into play. It’s just not relevant at all at max flash sync speed.

Also, there’s no movement here at all … so even if I had shot at a slow shutter speed, there would’ve been no discernible difference between first and rear curtain sync.

maximum flash sync speed
first curtain vs rear curtain sync

Re: TTL flash metering:
Your camera uses the pre-flash sequence before the main burst of flash to calculate how much flash to emit.

Ambient light does affect TTL flash metering, especially in Nikon’s TTL mode, and Canon’s Evaluative Flash Metering mode. Ambient light is taken into consideration then by the camera’s metering system.

Neil vN


19 Adrian March 29, 2011 at 1:07 am

Thank you so much Neil!


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