multiple off-camera flash – gelling your flash for effect

multiple off-camera flash – gelling your flash for effect  (model: Bethany)

All the light you see in this photo, is from two speedlights. The blue color in the background is because I gelled my one flash. While that might give you the idea that I gelled the background flash with a blue gel, what I actually did, was gel my main flash with two 1/2 CTS gels (vendor). That’s all I had with me, but I wanted those hard cold blue tones to the background.

A single 1/2 CTS gel would take the flash to 3700K. Adding a 2nd gel didn’t take it as far as a full CTS would’ve, but closer to 3350K, going by my settings with the RAW file.

By having my main speedlight (in a softbox) now at a color temperature of around 3350K, meant the background shifted towards blue in comparison. Intended effect achieved!

Now, about the placement of the speedlights, and to explain what the spectacular background actually is ….

Photographing Bethany in the foyer of the night-club where we did these photo sessions, I saw this curved wall lined with small mirror tiles. Just like one giant curved disco glitter ball. All kinds of awesome. But it needed light. This club, outside of hours, was dark!

In this first pull-back shot above, you can see the main light on the left – the Lastolite EZYBOX 24″×24″ softbox (vendor). In the middle you can see the blue hot-spot on the mirrored wall as the other flash lit it up.

This pull-back shot, shows Bethany in relation to the flash providing the background light. The area was too small to do a complete pull-back shot, getting everything in a single frame. This background speedlight had a black foamie thing to flag / block any direct light from hitting Bethany.

Without the blue background, the results were nice … actually pretty good … but not as other-wordly as the final images.

Adding the blue background (via the un-gelled flash), immediately gave it an unusual feel. Something like a modern-day Marie Antoinette in a futuristic night-club.

The statically posed shots we came up with looked really good … but then Bethany suggested some movement to get her jewelry swinging around … so we did a sequence of photographs were Bethany spun around on the spot. Quite a few missed shots as I mis-timed or she blinked … but in the end we got several shots that worked. The image right at the top of this page is a favorite, as well as this next image.

A fabulous model in an unusual setting … all sweetened with some interesting light, and I think we have  some eye-catching results.


technical details & settings

The two speedlights were both fired via two PocketWizard FlexTT5 transceivers (vendor). I had another FlexTT5 transceiver on my camera, on top of which was an SB-900 controlling the output of the two speedlights.

The light on the background was adjusted to taste by looking at the camera’s preview. I’m not even sure it would be possible to use a light-meter to meter for that, since there is so much reflection of light. So it was quicker for me to set a low power setting of around 1/16th full power, and adjust from there. I controlled the output with my on-camera (with TT5) SB-900 speedlight which was the Master controller. (I don’t recall the exact final power setting of the background light though.)

As mentioned earlier, this background light was flagged with a black foamie thing to make sure that there was no direct flash on her from that side.

Both speedlights were set to manual output since it was much simpler controlling the exposure like this. There was no real way to predict what TTL flash would do here with such a reflective background.


camera settings & photo gear (or alternatives) used in this photo session

  • 1/60 @ f6.3 @ 200 ISO … with multiple off-camera speedlights


gelling your flash

Since I frequently gel my flashguns to turn the WB of my flash much warmer (usually for  Incandescent light), I use these gels that I cut up and tape to the top of my speedlight’s head. One of these sheets (which aren’t expensive), will give you a lifetime supply of these filters. For me, these gels are an invaluable part of flash photography.

Tape the gels down on your lens hood when not in use.


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33 Comments, Add Your Own

  1. 1Aniversari says

    Very, very impressive. Your hat is full with magic and tricks. And that 1/60 when the model is moving, you did catch the perfect moment! Bravo!

  2. 2 says

    Hi Neil,

    You mention in the last paragraphy that you “had another FlexTT5 transceiver on my camera, on top of which was an SB-900 controlling the output of the two speedlights”, can you explain why you had the SB900 on the camera controlling the output as opposed to using the pocket wizard zone controller(as you have done recently in other posts), is there an advantage to using one as opposed to the other?


  3. 5 says

    It was pitch-black there. I therefore needed the AF assist of the SB-900 onthe TT5 (on my camera). With the AC3 on top of the TT5, the camera would not have been able to focus at all.

    And yes, the SU-900 would’ve worked too.

    Neil vN

  4. 6sho says

    Hi Neil,
    Did you shoot any of the motion poses at a slower shutter speed? My first impression of looking at the lead image was: “Are the fringey things by her shoulders like that, or is she in motion?” Then I noticed the earrings, which led me to the latter. However, I’m thinking that motion blur with a sharp capture from the flash would get it all in one shot.

    All the best, sho

  5. 7 says

    Bethany was spinning around towards the camera, from a position of having her back to the camera. This set the ear-rings to swing around, and the fringe-y material on her dress also to whip around.

    Even though I shot at only 1/60th of a second shutter speed, there is no motion blur because the flash will freeze the action … and the ambient light at my chosen settings, where negligible. That is why there is no motion blur at 1/60 but the flash caught the movement of her dress and jewelry and froze it in mid-air.

    Neil vN

  6. 8Scott says

    Hi Neil,
    These are fantastic.
    Working on the thought process here for settings on this shoot. The flash was the dominant light source and the ambient light levels look very low in comparision based on the pull back pics above. Meaning that your….
    1. ISO choice was for a high quality noise free final image
    2. Aperture choice was for enough depth of field

    The flash guns power were then manually set based on the above settings.

    3. Shutter speed – In theory, could you have increased this to help with the swinging jewellery shots without any affect on the overall image exposure?

    Scott (on the continued quest for understanding….!)

  7. 10 says

    Hi Neil,
    The first one is definitely something out of a fashion magazine!

    You say you double-gelled your main flash that was inside the softbox and you left your secondary light ungelled. What did you set your camera’s white balance to for these photos?

  8. 11 says

    I set my camera to 3350K which I arrived at by looking at the back of my camera, and guesstimating what I should set the Kelvin rating to be.

    In processing the images, I settled on 3150K for the RAW files. Slightly less warm than the out-of-camera files. But it was pretty close.

    So I would say that using two 1/2 CTS gels, takes your WB to around 3200K. Not quite 2900K that a full CTS would be, but a small step closer than the 3700K of just the single 1/2 CTS gel.

    Neil vN

  9. 12Paulo Leonardo says

    Hello Neil.
    In the last photo accessories hanging on the sleeve of the model, the effect was done with a rotating fan or model itself on?


    Paulo (Brazil – São Paulo)

  10. 14sho says

    Hi Stephen,
    I’d guess that Neil set his camera WB to Tungsten (or fixed the WB in post). The “usual” technique I hear about is full-cut CTO gel on the key light with WB set to Tungsten. This combination will make your subject (lit with the key) at the “correct” WB. Daylight sources (which includes ungelled flash) will appear blue.

    Another technique to try, particularly for sunset pics, is gel your key for fluorescent and set your WB to fluorescent. This will shift your daylight balance (i.e., sunset) to magenta.

    Good luck!

  11. 15 says

    Hi Sho,
    Thanks for your input on this. Fixing WB in post is a given since Neil shoot in RAW. I was curious what his initial WB setting would be.

    It would make sense to set the WB based on the key light (key flash). It looks like if two 1/2 CTS brough it to 3350K and tungsten is near 2900K, I guess the camera would be be set to tungsten.

  12. 19 says

    Great work as usual, Neil! The pull-back shots really helped me put two and two together. The detail and depth on your models created by your light is always spectacular.

  13. 22 says

    Neil, I’ve been interested in the 24×24 softbox, but your links go to the 21×21 version. Is that intentional?

    These posts, plus your book on off-camera flash, are GREAT. I’m really liking the suggestion of using something white plus your histogram display as a light meter. Little tricks like that, plus lots of practice are helping me finally get it. It’s actually not that hard, but it does take practice.

  14. 23Trev says


    They no longer make/stock the 24″ version, 21″ is closest size, next up is 30×30″.

    Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe Kits [from their website]: Available in three sizes featuring the 38cm x 38cm (15″ x 15″), 54cm x 54cm (21″ x 21″) and the NEW 76cm x 76cm (30″ x 30″) EzyBox Hotshoe. The kit includes the EzyBox Hotshoe (with plate), 4 section stand, tilthead bracket, extending handle (24cm – 48cm), padded shoulder bag and circular carry case.


  15. 24Trev says

    Hi Neil,

    Lovely light and photos. :)

    With that Ezybox kit, is the bracket suitable for the SB900 flash with headroom, as I recently saw some comments regarding that, plus do you find the flash mounting on the hotshoe safe, I mean some reviews say it’s ‘friction held’ and not capable of locking.

    I currently have other gear ie: Quantum with the Norman 19″ Octagonal softbox and wanted to get into something more flexible/lighter with SB900s.

    In other words getting the 21×21 Kit straight out of the box be fine or get extra plate like the Westcott Magic Slipper Plate Adapter, having the PocketWizards, hoping to later get the FlexTT5’s/ACR3 [of course the adjustable/tilt bracket and stand I know would have to be purchased].

    Thanks for advice.


  16. 25 says

    I have no problem with a speedlight slipping off the Lastolite Ezybox bracket that comes with the softbox. It feels quite secure.

    I have the Westcott Magic Slipper .. two them. They are what I used before I got the Lastolite softboxes. The ease of set-up, light weight and compact size of the Lastolite won me over. Especially how fast they are to set up.

    Neil vN

  17. 29jkt says

    Hi Neil, the photos look cool. Do you have an estimate about how much time it took you to set up the shot from scratch? I always feel that I’m extremely slow looking for location, trying to frame the shot in an intereseting way, etc etc. Also, how many pictures did you take?

  18. 30 says

    jkt .. it took me about 45 mins from scouting the place and figuring out what I could do there, to finishing up.

    I shot about 60 images in total, including all the test shots.

    Neil vN

  19. 31Martin says

    Hello Neil!Great post from you, as usual! Question: How far was your key light to the BG? Because if it was close to the BG it would have affected the your BG color right?

  20. 32 says

    We were working in a fairly tight area, so the main light was about 10 ft from the nearest part of the background. But I did feather my softbox to minimize the amount of light from it hitting the background.

    Neil vN

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