July 1, 2013

embracing serendipity during a photo shoot

I love that word – serendipity. A bit of chance favoring you. When a tiny bit of serendipity comes your way during a photo shoot, you have to be open enough to see it and then run with the idea.

This photo was taken during the mini photography workshop in Denver. Our model, Elizabeth, had dropped a box on her foot the previous day. When Elizabeth wriggled her feet into these high-heels for the photos, she bent over to soothe the arch of her foot. And then … those legs happened! There was something in this pose that really worked. So we went along with this a while. (I didn’t quite want to call this blog post “a happy accident”, since there was actually a minor accident involved for Elizabeth!)

This photo was taken with the Fuji X100s (vendor) using only the available light. By exposing for my subject, the background blew out. But I had to help that effect further with a bit of Photoshop work. The image was further enhanced with RadLab.

With her pose like this, the light reflecting off the ground lit up her face. Another happy accident. We tried different poses with that hand … and it never quite fell into a position where *this* was the best pose. In the end, I really like this image, and how it came together.

The original intention here with this part of the on-location flash photography workshop, was to work through the thought-process of balancing the exposure of our foreground and background. This is one of the first test images, where I had the exposure correct for the background. This was shot on my Nikon D4.

Then when Elizabeth bent forward, the camera settings were more or less known for the effect I wanted. In other words, it wasn’t much of a fumble to get the image at the top when the  opportunity arose for a different image than originally intended.

Just for reference here is the original straight-out-of-camera photo, compared to the final edited image:


As mentioned, I wanted a warmer look to the final image and I used a recipe I created in Radlab.


equipment used & camera settings

related articles


a little bit of homework

For the test shown there (shot with the Nikon D4), the camera settings were 1/250 @ f/4 @ 800 ISO. Work through the thought-process how you’d go about using off-ccamera flash to balance the foreground (our subject), and the background.  And once we have our settings, what could we do to blow out the background more?


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{ 11 comments. } Add a Comment

1 Roy Barnes July 1, 2013 at 6:29 am

Just love it Neil…as always. This is a simple shot but inspiring.
Come to Australia any day and I’ll be there. You are the guru as far as I am concerned!


2 claudio July 1, 2013 at 6:44 am

Hi Neil, you re great as usual.
Homework starting at D4 settings 1/250 @ f/4 @ 800 ISO:
To get a balance between BKG and FRG with an off camera flash, supposing I d use TTL, I would start with a +1 on FEC due to the bright background and check what my final image would . I would adjust then accordingly. When happy with my off-camera flash on the subject , I d lower by 2/3 stops (1/60 down…) to blow the background. If I had to use a manual flash though I would use an exposimeter or guessing by the LCD back on camera….I suppose.


3 Jon Lloyd July 2, 2013 at 12:46 am

These little tests really are giving me the impetus to get things sorted in my head before I just faff around trying to balance things out by trial and error, but, to be fair I always have a starting point. Following your “work through” example above I would do this (Ref: Canon 5D MkIII and one 600EX-RT c/w ST-E3-RT Transmitter):

Expose for the background (i.e. ambient) – test shot, check histogram
Flash – Manual, 1/2 Power given that it is daylight and adjust output of flash until the subject (model) is correctly exposed.

That is the rather unscientific method I use because my head hurts otherwise.

Then to blow out the background: Open up the aperture, raise the ISO, (but I would maintain around 1/125th sec). Adjust FEC to suit.

What did I do wrong by doing it this way?

This is actually important for me now as I have a model and a street scene on the 14th June!


4 andrew camarillo July 2, 2013 at 10:18 am

serendipity; it happens and perhaps presents itself a little more to those who make things happen

thank you for all that you share


5 Richard Sandor July 4, 2013 at 7:51 pm

OK, I’ll bite. In camera Manual, I’d meter for the subject by spot metering the dress for -1 or the face for +1 while keeping the shutter speed under the camera’s sync speed. This would allow the b/g to blow out. Then I would cheat! I’d initially keep the flash on the camera and reduce the flash power until the distance shown on the flash lcd equalled the distance from the camera to the subject. Next, I’d place the flash off camera at that distance. Richard


6 Scott July 8, 2013 at 8:07 am

Bright background, or bright light, go to max flash sync speed (1/250) to give you best chance of balancing flash with background. Select f stop to give sufficient/desired subject dof. Use ISO as the remaining control variable to give desired exposure for background. Manual flash – Meter flash for this ISO and f stop at this distance. TTL flash – take shot and assess image. Flash compensation adjusted accordingly. Likely to be increased with strong backlight.
If using manual flash lower shutter speed as easiest way of blowing out ambient without moving flash or changing power.
For TTL use any of aperture, ISO or f stop as flash should follow settings.


7 Sarah July 8, 2013 at 3:23 pm


Just wanted to let you know I extended the 1086NEILVN coupon code!

Let me know if you have any questions!

Totally Rad!


8 Gene July 9, 2013 at 10:23 am

In this case the model is in the same light as the ambient so achieving the correct exposure for the background and adding flash would overexpose the model. So I imagine if the starting exposure is slightly underexposed for the scene, adding ttl flash will correctly expose the model. As you then move to subsequent exposures by decreasing the exposure for the scene by a stop from f4 to f8 the background gets darker but ttl flash seamlessly continues to provide the necessary amount of flash to expose the model correctly for each aperture. Hope I have that down correctly?
I enjoy your posts very much. Thanks for the time and effort you spend. I have learned much.


9 Henry July 11, 2013 at 5:25 am

I would meter the background through the camera at max sync speed till it was properly exposed. Then with the settings locked I would then meter my off-camera flash till the subject was exposed properly. Then I would reduce camera shutter speed till the background was sufficiently blown out.


10 Richard Sandor July 15, 2013 at 6:22 pm

Neil: how long till you typically respond? :-)


11 Neil vN July 15, 2013 at 6:36 pm

I would correct you if you were wrong. ;)


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