photo session – Modern Gypsies – something about a violin

For the last in the series of photo sessions with the Modern Gypsies on this day, we ended up here … launching two girls in costume, onto the East River inside a giant ball. It really did make sense. And you may ask yourself, how did we get here?  Letting the days go by … No, really, how did we get here?

For this still un-named part of the Modern Gypsies’ act, Michael Saab, envisioned something intriguing.  The two violinists would enter a party or event, both playing violin while walking inside this giant ball.  The violins would actually be miked up.

Photographing this proved challenging.  Two girls in costume inside a giant ball while playing violin, just seemed too mundane to photograph as is.  So Michael came up with the idea of launching them inside the ball, onto the East River, whereupon they would then play their violins for the photographs.  The idea, while intriguing, just seemed too dangerous .. so we opted for a few portraits of Emily and Irene … and then do the photos of them sans violins inside the ball out on the water.

Shot with the 70-200mm f2.8 using off-camera flash in a softbox.

This bendy photograph was obviously taken with a fish-eye.  I didn’t quite like the effect …

… so I settled on more dynamic portraits using the 14-24mm lens around the 20 to 24mm range.

Finally the time had come to take this to the water.  Michael sealed the girls inside the ball.  (There’s enough air in there for at least 10 minutes.)  The ball was inflated with a leaf-blower.

And there you have it. Something quite spectacular and unique.
(I cloned out the handles and safety rope in Photoshop for this photograph and the one at the top.  I also removed the hot-spot from the off-camera flash for these two images.)

From left to right:
Emily, Michael Saab, myself, Jessica-with-the-tood,  Irene.

A few technical details about the photographs:

For this photograph, I was shooting with wireless TTL flash.  The on-camera Master speedlight had its output disabled, just controlling the Slaved speedlight.  Jessica was holding up the softbox to my left. The softbox was the Lastolite Ezybox setup again.

settings: 1/250 @ f5.6 @ 100 ISO .. the lens was the 24-70mm f2.8 … off-camera TTL flash.

For this next image, I had the Slaved flash set to full manual output, since I wanted the most out of the speedlight to match the super-bright background. The softbox was held up to my right-hand side.

settings:  1/250 @ f7.1 @ 100 ISO .. the lens was the 70-200mm f2.8 since I wanted the compression in perspective against the Manhattan skyline.

Just in case you’re wondering – for the images where Jessica was helping to launch the ball, I held up the softbox on the monopod with my left hand, while shooting with my right-hand.

More articles on off-camera flash …

Equipment used during this photo session:
Nikon D3;  Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 AF-S (B&H);
Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 AF-S (B&H); Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S II (B&H);
Nikon SB-900 (B&H);  Nikon SD-9 battery pack (B&H)
Lastolite EZYBOX 24×24 softbox (B&H)

13 Comments, Add Your Own

  1. 2Matt Heath says

    Very good, striking portraits. A question if I may, I assume the off camera flash was acting as the key/main light here and the ambient was knocked back a touch? Did it take much FEC on the flash?

    Many thanks


  2. 3Neil vN says

    Matt, I don’t think it is entirely useful to break this down into a more classical analysis of lighting, such as key / main / fill etc.

    In this scenario, the two girls would be under-exposed to some extent compared to my chosen exposure for the scene / background. So I just used TTL flash to expose correctly for them. (As an aside, I pulled down the overall exposure by 1/3 stop in post-processing of the RAW file.

    Neil vN

  3. 4Steve says


    When you shoot TTL off-camera trigged from on-camera master, do you have problems with miss-firing, etc? Reading forums would lead me to believe that the wireless TTL built into canon and nikon speedlites is practically useless anywhere other than very controlled situations. Does the system’s limitations affect how you have to place the softbox (always in front of the camera, etc)? Seeings as you use it out in the wild quite often, I was wondering about your success rate, as I’m considering picking up an ST-E2 or another 580exII. I currently have a cybersync setup which only allows for manual off-camera flash, which can be a huge pain in the ass. I tend to change poses and backgrounds quite a bit during a shoot, so rebalancing everything distracts me from engaging with the subject entirely too often.


  4. 5Neil vN says

    Steve … I do get mis-fires at times due to the line-of-sight limitation. Also, very bright light also seems to cause mis-fires. And of course, there is the work-around that you have to be at least slightly behind the softbox, or have the Slave flash turned in the hot-shoe of the softbox to face the Master speedlight.

    I do prefer an on-camera speedlight to be the Master, since I can turn the flash-head towards the Slave. I think the Canon ST-E2 and Nikon SU-800 are too immobile for this, facing forward. I do own and really like these wireless transmitters, especially for their simplicity – but on location, an on-camera speedlight just works better I think.

    Neil vN

  5. 6 says

    In the last image, you said that you went into manual flash. Did you need your light meter for this (treating it like a studio photo), or did you have some other way to get the exposure to where you wanted?


  6. 7Neil vN says

    Stephen … there was no time to meter here. So I set full output on my flash; went to my lowest ISO .. and maximum flash sync speed. Then I just had to find the appropriate aperture for the distance that the flash and softbox was set up at. I found the aperture with one or two test shots, looking at my camera’s preview.

    But there is less guess work here than you might think. From experience, I more or less know what settings I am going to get for certain settings. Since this is manual flash … *this* distance at *this* power setting, will invariably give me *this* aperture at *this* ISO. It’s all inter-locked with manual flash. It becomes predictable.

    Neil vN

  7. 9Neil vN says

    Arnold, I haven’t done any testing to see/ Definitely no pixel-level comparison.

    So I normally don’t go lower than 200 ISO, but if I need a wider aperture, I have no hesitation in dropping to 100 IS / Low 1.

    Neil vN

  8. 11Nigel says

    Hi Neil

    Great set of images.

    Do you have the exposure values for shots 3 and 4 in partucular with the low sun full in the frame, and was the flash ttl or manual full power here? I done something very similar myself a few evenings ago at sunset, and with the full setting sun in the frame it simply wasn’t possible for the speedlight to match the exposure required to hold sky detail. Even two speedlights on full manual power were barely a match. My only option was framing the sun behind the subject.



  9. 12Neil vN says

    Nigel, the EXIF data says: 1/250 @ f6.3 @ 100 ISO … which is so close to the last shot that it would’ve been the same setup and way of shooting. Also see my comment #7 here.

    Neil vN

  10. 13Corby Chapin says

    Another great set. As soon as I read the line about setting the girls adrift in the ball, all I could think of was Wayne Coyne from the Flaming Lips crowd surfing in a zorb a few years back when he’d make his entrance at shows. Youtube clips, although of sketchy quality, clearly show that you probably saved a life or two by not setting the girls in the water!

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