The Last Frame; Off Camera Flash 101 is out!

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Finally I have had the chance to get my book out. Please take the time to head over and have a look and view the preview

This is the book I wanted when I started using off camera flashes. It gives the basic tools to open up the creative aspects of the flash but gives you a bird eyes whilst I do a basic portrait session with a subject. If this is an aera of interest or you have already got your speedlights and are stuck, this is the book for you!

What you will see is the journey of finding different exposures that work and how to overcome the basic problems to find your first proper exposure using off camera flash. Why does the shutter control the ambient light? How does the aperture affect the flash power? This will be the helping hand you need to give that little bit of direction that will be the start of the most creative photography journey.


Shooting the R33

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Those that follow my stuff know that I predominantly work with models and the like with a few motorcycle images thrown in from time to time. Truth is I love motor-sport and automotive photography but often don’t get the chance to shoot it. Its always fun when I get the chance to shoot with my studio and lighting techniques and I get to hang around a car or a bike.

I have worked with Brooke some time ago it was brought to my attention that she had purchased a 1996 R33 Skyline. Now those that are into cars will know how difficult it can be to get unique cars to shoot. I jumped on the chance to work with her to shoot both herself and the car.

My primary goal for the day was “Shoot a car in full sun without making it look like I had used studio lights”

When we turned up, Brooke went of with the make up artist and left me with the keys to her car. I had scouted this location earlier and knew where i wanted the car to sit. The most important image in my head was the front 3/4 shot. The type you see in magazines or video games. (Anyone play Real Racing 3?) In the past I have used two side lights (with softboxes) and a speed light in the grill. I setup the image in the same way but elected to go bare with the 2 flash heads and put them up much higher. The reason for this is that I want to A/ get more power out of the heads as the sun was bright, B/ Try to eliminate any reflections on the car that would come with a large soft box and C/ by having the lights so high, the angle of incidence of the lights will not reflect back into the camera.


This is the car sitting out there with the correct exposure of the background and elements light by the sun.

I placed the lights and turned on the AB1600 that is closest to me

I turned it on and balanced the fill, bearing in mind this is also where I was going to introduce my model later on. (I was going to switch this one out for a softbox.) Once I was happy with that exposure I turned on the back light and adjusted as such.

Once this was done I did not worry about filling the grill in with the speed light as the suns angle was just right in lighting the front for me.

Both lights are full power into the 7″ reflector. I was using the vagabond battery pack and I chewed through a full charge in about 100 frames. After that I went looking for some shade to bring the power down.

This is the image I was after.

One of the hardest issues when shooting cars is to have the space to work with. I found a large open space that worked really well. The 3/4 image was shot on the D7000 at about 98mm and I was probably 60m away laying on the ground. The difficulty in my area is finding urban sprawl that you can access and have the room to move.

At the end of the day I was quite happy in that I feel i met my brief. I feel that I was able to light the car in the 3/4 shot to make the image look like their is no obvious use of strobes. Especially considering it was a silver car. Next project! Anybody own a McLaren MP4-12C?


And a final note, the model in question is actually the owner of the car and don’t get in her way. Brooke Terrell, check her out here

Off-Camera flash 101 “You only get wet once”

I thought about taking some bad shots to illustrate why on camera flash sucks, but lets be honest you have all seen this, flat light on the face, no shadows, redyes. Even witht the technology of modern flash’s they will expose the image correctly but it does not mean the image will be aesthetically pleasing. When the light is close to the axis of the camera itself you will always get a better shot. This is an exercise I will leave up to you and you can even do it with the pop up flash if you camera has one. Pop it up and shoot somebody straight on to the camera (Auto is fine). Even if it is exposed propely, the image it self will be a bit blah, no shadows to highlight features. Now get some white card or paper, put it in front of the pop up at 45 degrees so that the light is reflected up to the ceiling instead of straight up at the person. Shoot it again. Now compared to the last image which looks better? Which looks more natural. Where was the light coming from? Was it on the axis or from the ceiling?

Just to reiterate, this is about the mechanics, not the theory, yet. This will get you shooting faster, I believe that if you can start to see results your learning will improve faster. The out come of these articles will give you a taste and let you get out and experience it for yourself. I have read a few guides that go through all the theory first trying to explain it and then you shoot. You will have the penny dropping moment, but you need to have some practical experience first.

Now before we go one make sure that you know how to or have done the following, switch it to manual, can adjust the shutter, aperture and iso. AND that you have turned off auto iso. This is continually the source of bother for students at my workshops.

For the lens I have chosen, it is the nikon 50mm f1.8D. This is the cheapest lens nikon make and is the same for most manufacturers. If you do not own this lens go out right now and buy it. Its ok, I’ll wait… (yeah I know, we did that joke already…)

This is lens that will help unlock the creativity in your photography. Especially if you have been using the kit lens, not there is anything wrong with that lens but it will open up (

A flash. The key here is to have a flash that can be adjusted manually. There are units coming out of china for less the $40 these days. Whilst not perfect they are a start. I would recommend using one that has at least 1/2 stop increments or 1/3. I will be shooting with a Nikon SB-600 for this but I have some Yongnuo’s in my bag that where cheap.

A light stand
You can get away with a cheap stand HOWEVER, make sure you weigh them down, especially outside. I have had 2 high power strobes break on me from falling, once i upgraded to good stands it was much better. A basic stand will be fine for indoor use and the purpose of this article.

A bracket
DON’T waste you time on a funky little ball head. Get a B bracket. They can cost as little as $8. buy 2 even. You will lose one.

A reflective umbrella
If you only ever had one modifier this would be it. You can pick them up for next to nothing however you will get what you pay for. If you just experimenting then the cheaps ones are ok, but expect to replace them every few months. Purchasing a convertible umbrella may be a good idea and is where i started.

A set of triggers, some systems, such as nikon and canon will allow their speedlites to talk to their cameras via the pop-up flash. Otherwise you can pickup a basic set from ebay for about $30. (Max sync speed) Pocket Wizards are the industry standards but are expensive. You basicilly need to have a way to remote trigger and move around. For the sake of the price these days don’t even bother with a cable. You will just break something.

RF-602 or the 603

How to assemble it.

First get your flash and constult the manual on how to set it to manual power. Set it for 1/4 power and give it a test flash.

Next get your flash and your triggers, put them together as per manufacturers instructions. Power up all units and test to make sure your getting a flash.

Move along to your flash stand, set it up and open you umbrella. Place your B bracket on the stand and insert your umbrella into the hole about 1/4 the length of the shaft. Finally place your flash on the bracket securing method. Now the key here is to make sure that the flash head is pointing int the center of the umbrella. If if is not, check you have the bracket and umbrella on the right way (some are angeled) or you may have the flash on back to front.

Finally the last thing you need is a white wall. It does not have to be dead white, just white-ish and even. Preferably with several meetings of space in front of it for you and your model.

Next week 102 “Light it up”


Note: Yes for those that want to be picky. I have not discussed the inverse square law. I will discuss at length soon but those those keen, light falls of from the main source at a given rate, it also spreads at the same rate. Believe me it does.

My Victory

My Victory, originally uploaded by oliverhiggins.

My Victory Single by DMinor

Get it here

AB800 1/4 Power into 20 degree grid

I was straight on to him and the light was about 30 degrees to him. I needed f13 to pull down the ambient. In retrospect I probably could have dropped the ISO but f13 gives me a nice sharp image and there was no rush for recycle times on the light.

I have been trying to shoot with a bit more hard light of late. I find its very easy to get “stuck” doing the same thing. Personally I find it to easy to go back to what i know. Simple solution, know more ūüôā

Location near Gosford, Central Coast NSW Australia


Winter is coming

7453953948_b0c7a773fe_kWinter is coming…

This image was never meant to look anything like this. I had discussed with Sarah about doing some more “environmental portraits”. Basically to just integrate some awesome locations into our shoot. The plan had been to meet at sunrise for a shot with Sarah standing in one of the local lakes posing.

When I arrived I had but minutes to setup as the window of light I wanted was only about 10 minutes. Sarah was late due to a GPS failure which left us standing there in the freezing cold, with the light now too high for the shot I had planned.

We elected to go for a walk and see if anything presented itself. It didn’t. We tried a few locations but it was just too cold to work. I spied a small opening in the scrub that seemed to have some space, a backdrop blocking the sun and the ground cover that looked a bit different. We shot a few frames and then chatted whilst moving to keep warm. I was ready to give up a few frames before this and really did not realize what I had till I got home.

I knew I wanted to use a CTO gel here to get some warmth on the model and give the background a blue tint.

Shooting straight into the sun I had to stop the lens down to f8. Shutter 1/200 and ISO 100. To get effective fill on Sarah I add to go to full power on the flash. Now the key to getting that beautiful quality of light was using the full Color Temperature Orange (CTO) gel on the flash. This turned the color of the light to 3900K (very orange) The white balance was set to 3900K effectively making the flash’s light white, but the remaining sunlight is now blue.

FX body 24-70mm f2.8 @ 36mm f8, 1/125 ISO 100 Manual WB 3900K
Yongnuo YN-565ex @35mm 1/1 Full CTO into 36″ Shoot-thru Umbrella




For this shoot I was approached by the model and fashion stylist. The brief was pretty simple; she had a sparkled gold dress and a spirithood. The original location for this was to be an old abandoned service station. But, those of you who are  living in Australia you will know that we have had the most unreliable of weather for the past few months. On the day of the shoot it was raining, so we went to plan B. This was to use and old railway tunnel that had been converted into a cycleway. I had always wanted to shoot there but the opportunity had yet to present itself.
The one thing i did know about the tunnel was that it had those dirty orange lights. I decided that I would use some CTO gels to try and correct this. I also knew that i wanted to get the trailing off of the lights in the background so using a wide open f stop gave me that effect and also bumped up my shutter speed. Whilst waiting for the model and team i found i was missing some of the vital equipment to use my Alienbees. So i just took down a couple of hotshoe flashes, an umbrella, small softbox and a boom stand.
We went through to the eastern end of the tunnel to start the shoot. The stylist wanted a ‘fashion’ inspired shoot. So we just started by standing her in the tunnel and doing a couple of test exposures. Here I set my ISO to 1600, which when at f2.8 would give me 1/125 exposure on the tunnel and the dirty¬†orange¬†lights on the roof lights. The light setup was on of the most simple i have used for months. It ended up being a single YN565ex with a full CTO Gel on it into a 50cm X 50cm softbox. I had the stylist hold the boom for me and we tried to keep it as high up as¬†possible. From a “settings” point of view, all I did was dailt the flash power up and down, depending on where i put the light relative to the model. Most of the time it was 1/16- 1/4.
SpiritHood--1 SpiritHood--4
Spirithood 1 Spirithood 5
In retrospect I would have liked add another 1/2 CTO gel on her just to get rid of a little more orange from the image. In addition on some of the images where she is looking up I would have liked to have add more fill, maybe a shoot thru umbrella. The biggest issue with these ideas is the location. It is a VERY busy cycleway and setting up lots of lights is not really an option.
Spirithood BTS Spirithood BTS Spirithood BTS Spirithood BTS

Smoky Eyed Punk Shoot

For this shoot I tried something a bit different for the BTS. I setup a second camera which was triggered when I shot. I then put this all together to create a time lapse video.

Strength, Determination, Intuition. [SETUP]

Strength, Determination, Intuition.Strength, Determination, Intuition.Strength, Determination, Intuition.Strength, Determination, Intuition. SETUP by oliverhiggins

AB800 Key into 86″ PLM with front diffuser 1/16 2x AB1600 1/4 into 36×48 soft box with grid subject left and right for rim

All images where shot at f8 1/125 iso 200 @ 200mm

I was lucky enough of late to communicate with Sarah E Stewart whom I have worked with before. Last time we shot it was for the launch of H3O swimwear‘s web site. During this we shot a part of their total collection and whilst being fun, it was a very “work” orientated process.¬†Sarah contacted me recently and asked if I would help her create a fitness centred shoot. The brief she gave me was “fitness, sexy and sweaty”. We had initially planned to shoot this in an urban industrial type environment and whilst being a great idea turned out to be difficult to source a location given the lights I wanted to use. During the week I was lucky to be able to secure us a few hours at a local studio.

I had two ideas that I wanted to try in the context of lighting her. The first was to achieve a true fashion style look in that her whole body was evenly lit, for this ¬†I used the 86″ Parabolic Light Modifier from Paul C Buff. The second being a grungy look inspired by Joel Grimes. We started with the PLM unit angled towards her and at 45 ish degrees and as high is i could get it. There was no cover and it was the silver extreme PLM.¬†This resulted in a drastic falloff of light down her body that for me was more severe then what i had in mind for the context of the image. [Image 1]

I placed the diffuser over the PLM and it gave a much more pleasing result. To get a bit more of a subject separation I turned on the (camera) right rim light [Image 2]. This was a 48×36 softbox with a grid, powered by an Alien Bee AB1600 at 1/4 power.¬†Enter a quick wardrobe change as the next shot involved the sweaty look that we discussed earlier. In order to get the sweaty look we used a mix of 50/50 water and glycerol. We then put this in a spray bottle and sprayed it liberally on her skin which caused the water to bead-up. Her hair was just wetted down with a second spray bottle containing only water. Why did we use this? Mainly because it was not oil. Oil is really messy, ruins clothes and is difficult to clean up. It probably does give more of a sheen to images, but I believe this comes very close. It is easy to clean, does not stain clothes and will actually soften the skin.

We lit this again using the PLM and the right softbox. Note at this point I did not have any light going directly onto the background as i wanted to have it a light shade of gray. So the light you do see on the background is from the PLM falloff. At this point I was happy with the results we had got but i wanted a little more drama in the light. I turned on the camera left softbox and produced the final image [Image 3]. This is where the setup shot at the top of the article was shot. If you look on the image [Image 3] you can clearly see the two rim lights on her stomach and back.

We shot a few setups like this before changing up for the final shot. I had been reading a lot about Joels Grimes style of gritty composites. So i changed up the key light and turned up the rim lights. The key was now 120cm octobox with the AB800 set at 1/4 ish power. Both the rim lights were moved a bit closer. The octobox was quite low and the camera right below it. The rimlights were powered to give as much light on the cheek with out blowing out the exposure and the octobox worked more like a fill light to get the face detail. For this i went to a short lens, 28mm.

Happy with the overall result but I feel that the mistake for this images was that her hair was a bit to messy on the edges. When it came to creating a mask in PS the hair was too out of control to create a clean look. It is interesting to note that the background is actually changed to a darker shade of gray in this last image. The model to background distance has not changed but the light modifier has which has resulted in sharper light fall off so not as much light is hitting it.

Strength, Determination, Intuition.

AB800 Key into 120cm octobox 1/4 2x AB1600 1/4 into 36×48 soft box with grid subject left and right for rim

I hope you enjoyed this little inside view of the shoot. Please subscribe or follow us on twitter and facebook.

To see the entire shoot results please go here