off-camera flash – adding dimension with back-lighting (model: Lea)

multiple off-camera flash – adding some pop with back-lighting

Lea is a model I’ve worked with on previous occasions. With her striking looks and easy demeanor, she is just a pleasure to photograph. We spent some time this afternoon in down-town Manhattan, looking for interesting spots as backdrops. Jessica, (my infamous assistant with an attitude), spotted this dramatic gate and interesting glass front. It seemed like the perfect place to start the photo session, but it needed something extra to give the photos some drama.

The final image is shown here at the top, but let’s look at how we got there …

Available light only: 1/125 @ f6.3 @ 200 ISO

I posed Lea so that her gaze was upwards. This meant that the available light was falling more evenly on her face, largely avoiding shadows under her eyebrows.

It looks interesting, but needs something more to give it some snap. The next step was to add soft light from the front (via a speedlight in a softbox), and some back-lighting via a direct flash on a light-stand behind her. (The pull-back shot will show the positioning.)

The flash behind her also lit up the framework of the gate, and I like how this creates more of a grid pattern behind her.  The concave glass elements in the wall behind her also picked up the reflection of the flash in the gate, so those high-lights also help giving the image more sparkle. An accidental benefit. I’ll take it!

Here is the placement of the lights.

I had Jessica stand right behind me with the softbox, since any position to my side had the softbox appear as a reflection in the glass. So the light on Lea (our model), is quite even.

The SB-900 (pointed out by the red arrow) was fired with a PocketWizard FlexTT5 transceiver (B&H). The speedlight was unmodified, pointed directly at Lea from behind. It was mounted on the light-weight Manfrotto 1051BAC light-stand. I didn’t even edit it out in the top photograph, since I don’t think the light-stand’s legs are that obvious in the image unless pointed out.

The (main) flash in the softbox was set to TTL and had the FEC dialed down to -1EV. The flash behind Lea was set to manual (via the PocketWizard AC3 zone controller), and was set to around 1/16th full power.

Both the flashes were controlled by my on-camera PocketWizard FlexTT5 transceiver (B&H)

With the final sequence of images (of which the photo at the top was my favorite), I dropped much to my knees and shot upwards, and was able to get the sun flaring into the image. More drama to the light! I love it. The image was processed with my usual method for retouching portraits, although Lea’s flawless skin needed no retouching. I did push the contrast and saturation more than usual, for some extra punch to the image.

With the final image, I do believe the back-lighting added that extra depth to the image, helping to separate her from the scene.

Equipment used with this photo session:

Nikon D3;  Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 AF-S (B&H)
Nikon SB-910 Speedlight controlled by PocketWizard FlexTT5 & AC3 Controller
or alternately, the Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite controlled by Canon ST-E3 Transmitter
Lastolite EZYBOX Softbox Kit (24″x24″) (B&H)
Manfrotto 1051BAC light-stand (B&H)

16 Comments, Add Your Own

  1. 2 says

    Hello Neil- thank you for sharing this! Really nice set up- and the final results are great! I like how the light behind the model creates highlighted edge, creating more dimention and seperating Lea from the gate.

  2. 4edy says

    splendid lesson once again.
    You are my muse … listen to your photography lessons make me feel very big.
    I read your site every day … the first thing and the last of the day.
    Bravissimo and congratulations for your work
    Edy Trigona Genoa Italy

  3. 5Robert says


    Great images sometimes happen by accident. But normally they have to be planned out and well crafted for truly outstanding results. I like the added degree of separation that was created by the back-light.


  4. 6 says

    Hi Neil,
    Beautiful, informative and full of photo-wisdom (? :) post as always. Your blog is one of the best out there.
    What I am struggling with is the fit and I wanted to find out how you managed to fit FlexTT5 with SB900 with Lastolite adapter in 24×24″?
    Thank you in advance and please keep them coming :)

  5. 7John Grant says

    Hi Neil,

    I would also like to know the answer to what Michael has posted above as I tired the same system in my local UK shop and could not get the Flex to sit correctly/comfortably on the adapter, that is another reason why I am holding off with the purchase the Nikon PW system in conjunction with the Lastolite 24×24


  6. 8Geoff Captain says

    I am able to get my SB900/FlexTT5/Lastolite 24×24 to work… barely. I wouldn’t exactly run around with it, but it does hold. The issue I have is the end of the flash sits further outside the softbox than I’d care, but I’ll live with it for now.

    I’ll see if I can set it up and post an image.

  7. 9 says

    Great use of the PW system! You’re right: I never noticed the lightstand legs in the image.
    When I first saw the image, and its title, I thought that bright flare of light at the top of the frame was your backlight, and I wondered why you hadn’t cropped it out!

  8. 10Geoff Captain says

    Micheal & John, here are some very quick snaps of the system mounted relatively safely.

  9. 11 says

    hi Geoff, thank you for these images.
    I also played with this setup and here is how I solved the problem:
    1. First off I ensured I am NOT using SB900 side of the plastic cold shoe on Mark II. it helps to secure FlexTT5 better.
    2. I installed FlexTT5 backwards so the antenna faces me and not the bracket.
    3. Finally I secured my SB900 on FlexTT5. It sits backwards as well and it head is turned 180 to fit inside the bracket.
    4. I extended Mark II to the maximum and turned the knob to ensure solid connection.
    The result is I have SB900 sitting roughly in the middle of the bracket and that’s a good sign.
    It sounds more complicated than it is but I think if you’ve invested into this wonderful equipment it might save you time and money on the research. Let me know if it makes no sense to you I can send you images of my setup.
    One more thing – In my search and while waiting for the Master Neil to respond – I came across this adapter and am seriously considering giving it a shot. What do you think? .

  10. 12Michael says

    Apparently, based on the reply from Lastolite, the newly redesigned MarkII bracket will accommodate Pocket Wizard FlexTT5. The bad news you need to order the whole bracket and not just the part that was changed and it will set you back $70. Here is the link:

    Lastolite Ezybox Hot Shoe Mark II Bracket

  11. 13 says

    The old Lastolite Mark II adapter had a shorter “lollipop” part, which has since been updated to accomodate the new PocketWizards.

    You can order just the lollipop part, but you have to order through the Lastolite distributor. In the U.S., that is Manfrotto Distribution in New Jersey.

    The lollipop part should be LA24190.

  12. 15Carl says

    So pleased i found this thread, i can confirm that Lastolite do make an extended lollipop for the ezybox hotshoe range with a flex TT5 fitted and it should now come as standard with them.
    However if you’ve been unlucky like myself and sold an older one thats been left on the shelf awhile don’t panic. The part number is 24190 as mentioned in the previous post and after a quick call to Lastolite sales here in the UK they are sending me one out for FREE, yes for free! So a big up for customer support at Lastolite UK, Stephen for getting the ball rolling and no funky mods required by me :O)

  13. 16Agung says

    Hi Neil, just some thoughts, I usually put the additional flash on the floor with omnibounce diffuser so the light would spread, great shot though.

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