April 26, 2011

off-camera flash – change the light by changing your own position

Ulorin Vex was one of the two models that we used in the recent workshops in San Francisco. Having seen Ulorin Vex’s personal site and portfolio on Model Mayhem, I jumped at the chance of working with her again with a photo session the day after the workshops. Working with a model as professional and striking-looking as Ulorin, was an experience.

The photographs shown in this article was from a sequence we did in the passage outside my hotel room. The lighting was surprisingly simple, but I had to improvise with the limited space we had.

Interestingly enough, the two photos shown above had exactly the same lighting. And this brings us to a key concept with light. This idea is true whether you use available light or off-camera flash … or even when you control the direction of your bounce flash.

With those two photos, Ulorin remained in the same spot. But she did change her pose towards the camera as I moved. Why the light is so dramatically different, is that *I* changed my position … and that in turn, changed the direction of light entirely.

It seems obvious stated like that, but I think this idea is something that really is brought home again when two images can look so different. And all that changed was the photographer’s position.

I loved the way the light glared off the wall-paper here, creating an effect that looks somewhat like ring-flash. For these images, I tried to position myself so that the glare spot was directly behind her, giving that kind of halo.

Using the shadowed area behind her as negative space in this composition. I like the balance of it.

Here is the lighting set-up that I used. A single speedlight bounced into the exit stairwell on that floor. Since I had no room to set up the light or especially a softbox, I had to find this spot and prop the door open with my camera bag. I bounced my flash into the left of that area, behind the wall and out of Ulorin’s line-of-sight. I wanted to make the light streaming through that doorway as diffuse as possible, and minimize the chance of hot-spots.

The speedlight was controlled via a PocketWizard FlexTT5 on which the flash was mounted. The output of this flash could be controlled as manual flash via the FlexTT5 and AC3 ZoneController on the camera. Very simple.

camera settings:
Apertures were either f4.0 or f5.0 @ 400 ISO @ shutter speeds around 1/80
I kept the flash to the same output, but had to change my aperture, depending on my position. The aperture for the ‘direct flash’ shots was f5 and the other images were all shot at f4.0



Hopefully this article will inspire the idea that you don’t need complex lighting to get striking results. The setting or place where you photograph can be quite simple. In this case, the place was the hotel corridor right outside my hotel room. The lighting needs to complement the idea behind the photographs. Then you just need an exceptional model …


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{ 36 comments. } Add a Comment

1 RON LEMISH April 26, 2011 at 5:37 am

Amazing photos . You are de man !!!
I notice that the flash head of the sb 900 in the area just off the hotel hallway is pointed to the LEFT Any reason why it was not directed against the wall directly opposite to your stunning model?
I am still getting used to my 2 Flex TT5 units. Hope your Vegas video of the pocket wizard units are out soon.


2 Neil vN April 26, 2011 at 6:30 am

Hi there Ron. The positioning of the flash is described in the text.

Neil vN


3 Gregory April 26, 2011 at 6:53 am

Greetings Neil,

Simply beautiful photographs and Stunning model. Great team work.

Blessings, Gregory


4 Teck April 26, 2011 at 8:05 am

Hi Neil, with the colored background and model proximity to it, was color cast a concern ? Thank you for sharing with us again.


5 Neil vN April 26, 2011 at 12:24 pm

There is a color cast, but fortunately it complements the image. A green wall would’ve been a problem. So as it is, I just did a slight global correction in WB to the RAW files. Nothing more.

Neil vN


6 DTK April 26, 2011 at 12:57 pm

I really like the nice rhythm to the shadows and light, especially the final fuller length image. The color and texture is just stunning.


7 p.dui April 26, 2011 at 1:25 pm

I just want to congratulate you on an excellent set of pictures. This model is STRIKING. Most importantly I want to thank you for writing a detailed and informative article on your process. It was really helpful!


8 Scott April 26, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Wow. These are eye-popping! How underexposed was the ambient lighting?
Thanks for another rivetting read.


9 Neil vN April 26, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Quite under-exposed.


10 Jerry April 26, 2011 at 3:40 pm

You make it look so simple… because ultimately it can be. I’m not to the “simple” point yet, but I hope to be getting there. And, yes, the girl was beautiful, but this would have been flattering light on anyone. I can just easily see a Bride at a Motel 6 looking like she’s getting married at The Four Season’s just by using a hallway exit door to make a giant window/softbox. Great job! Great inspiration! Thanks. Do you remember the manual power that you set the speedlight?


11 Neil vN April 26, 2011 at 3:47 pm

I don’t recall the power setting. Probably around 1/4 power somewhere.

Neil vN


12 Hy le April 26, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Stunning Neil


13 Alberto April 26, 2011 at 4:22 pm

So much RED! I really like how vibrant they came out. They pop! and the models skin is not affected by the red light bouncing around. Really nice!


14 RON LEMISH April 26, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Oops Next time at 5:30 in the morning I will open both eyes and read the complete text before embarassing myself. Thanks for the reply


15 michaelJ April 26, 2011 at 6:11 pm

Like the stairwell idea – love the way you look for simple answers to problems, very inventive

Ulorin’s one of my favourite models, would love to shoot her one day


16 Neil vN April 26, 2011 at 8:30 pm

Ulorin just posted on her journal about the shoot,
(and her experience as the model in the workshops)


Neil vN


17 karohemd April 26, 2011 at 8:44 pm

Great stuff and Ulorin is so much fun to work with.
I once used one of those folding screens as a giant barndoor, with the speedlight on a tripod and the screen folded around it, only leaving a 10cm gap in the front for the light to spill out.


18 Pat Reynolds April 27, 2011 at 2:00 am

That first image is one of the most stunning portraits you have ever put up for us to see Neil! I just love the idea of using the one color throughout the entire image, for clothing and even the model’s hair – the red is exciting. Even the cream, color on the lower wall picks up on the tonal range in her skin and adds to the flow and drama of the composition.
You must be so pleased with these images – they are really inspiring!


19 Sašo April 27, 2011 at 4:31 am

Great images Neil! I wonder, if the ambient light (that light seen on the last image) had any afffect here and caused any problems, since I see you did not gelled your flash?


20 Neil vN April 27, 2011 at 4:37 am

Sašo … nope. You’re seeing what I’m seeing there.

Neil vN


21 Fred Hoegeman April 27, 2011 at 9:41 am

A stair-well soft-box . . . or is it a snooted stair-well?




22 Hanssel April 27, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Wow Neil, I’m speechless great pics like always and a great idea placing the flash into the stairwell, thank you for sharing.


23 Eduardo B. April 28, 2011 at 12:52 am

I’m loving this fashion posts. Also loving the post with your guests.

Thanks for your work!


24 Alex-D April 28, 2011 at 7:12 am

Awesome and absolutly stunning.Its crazy to see how simple the lighting is.
Thanks once again


25 Brenda Lindfors April 28, 2011 at 8:48 am

Beautiful images. Great captures and a great model. Love your explanation of how you created these…and it is interesting to see the difference your positioning made re: the light.


26 Aniversari April 28, 2011 at 10:29 am

I must remember “I don’t need complex lighting to get striking results”, but my mind is seeing now Red and Sexy. And thinking I’m not a bull, I clicked ulorin-vex.livejournal…
Fantastic work!


27 Marvin April 28, 2011 at 10:44 am

Love it! Fantastic as usual! I can’t add to what has already been said! thanks so much for your posts!


28 forkboy1965 May 1, 2011 at 9:26 pm

She’s so incredible she should be illegal in most states.


29 James July 23, 2011 at 9:08 am

WOW! Absolutely amazing! As others have said I’m always inspired by your ability to take your surroundings and use them to create beautiful (speed)light altering devices. Can you tell me if you used a light meter here to get the correct exposure or did you ‘trail ‘n error’ adjusting the manual exposure until you got the effect you liked?


30 Neil vN July 25, 2011 at 6:26 pm

Nope, no lightmeter. I had one in the hotel room, but didn’t want to go dashing about. So I guesstimated, and adjusted from looking at the back of the camera’s preview. I know that the more rigorously fundamentalist strobists would grind their teeth at this idea, but it works, and ultimately, it is the result that counts.

Neil vN


31 Eduardo B July 25, 2011 at 7:36 pm

Hi Neil, How did you process this image?

Wonderful pictures.



32 Neil vN July 25, 2011 at 7:59 pm
33 Eduardo B July 25, 2011 at 11:20 pm

I’m asking because I thought it could be the same as here:”Ulorin Vex – Monaco foyer (photo session 4)”.


34 Mark Lovett October 6, 2011 at 6:37 pm

You set the bar high on these shots Neil.

I think this is your best work to date. Just stunning! And with one speedlight yet!!

For the shadow killers out there among us, I do think the shadows on the wall add tremendously to the appeal.


35 Steve Powell September 12, 2014 at 12:36 pm

the color of her hair, the clothes, the wall – luck or “the devil’s in the details”? :)

very cool images and clever lighting!


36 Neil vN September 12, 2014 at 12:41 pm

Partially luck – an amazing model with a bright red outfit. Red wallpaper in the hotel hallway outside my room.

The rest … not luck!


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