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.

Sometimes it rains


I had planned to do a swimsuit shoot today. First one for me this summer(turned out to be the only one). Well it turned out to be the most miserable day here, it rained non stop and the wind sounded like it was going to shake everything to pieces. I had the time cleared so I still elected to meet with my model. We were lucky enough that her parents house was available so we shot there. As usual I started with the 60×90 softbox and put her out on the deck. Shots were ok but nothing to write home about. I tried various versions of this and some indoor shots. Nothing was really working for the level i expected. Whilst she was getting ready I wandered around the house again, as i had done earlier that morning, but the light had now changed. One thing about overcast sky is the giant sofbox they can create. I found a beautiful window light and brought her up to it. Now in this image you will see 2 light sources, both are natural. The one that is light HER left is from a wide window about 2m from her. The second is behind me so about 6m in front of her. (Behind me which is a very large window) Give or take this makes about a stop or so difference between the 2. I metered for that main light (fyi my meter was reading 2/3 stop over). Shot using the 85mm(f1.8) @ f2, 1/160 at ISO 400. FX body.

Sometimes it rains...Sometimes it rains...Sometimes it rains...Sometimes it rains...

Sometimes it rains, a set on Flickr.

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 🙂

Location near Gosford, Central Coast NSW Australia


Where the Wild Roses Grow

Where the Wild Roses Grow

This image presented number problems it was mid-morning sun has become quite a strong. Normally I would use the Sunny 16 rule, turn the flash to full power and a get beautiful blue sky. This gives the look of a studio outdoors. Well this not what Sarah wanted. She was aiming to get the look of golden sun which you would normally get the very early morning or late afternoon. We were not getting at this time that at this time day, especially given the angle and complete lack of cloud cover. To get the golden look that she wanted I changed the white balance to very warm 7600K. This gave the grass a beautiful golden wheat field look. By placing her in the shadow of the light I was able to drop the light power and take the aperture to f5.6 to give me a shallow depth of field. This also saved a significant amount of battery power, which gave me quicker recycle times.

As a result we got a pale sky which is almost completely blown out. The grass in front and behind her is also in the full sunlight and is very close to being over exposed as well. Due toher being in the shade and the compression of the 200mm lens the entire exposure of Sarah is from the light modifer. If you look in the setup shot above you can see that she is in the shade of the light modifer.

The model for this shoot was Sarah Stewart , a wonderful Central Coast model whom I have worked with quite a number of times. She is always a lot of fun to work with and very easy going. I could reccommned her highly enough. The shoot itself was styled and planned by Sarah and will also feature in my soon to be released behind the scens book.

BTS to come soon 🙂

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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


Spirithood in Fernleigh track tunnel

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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.
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