Varying Ambient Light:Flash Light on shoot

Flash Composite

Working with Gemma Butterworth on shoot, on gypsy/boho fashion theme, the discussion of using off-camera flash cropped up in conversation (Gemma being a very accomplished photographer herself).

We shot on a late summer evening where the light was fairly soft and ideal for a hazy, dreamy, sun drenched look. Using natural light alone we could have happily shot away as the sun dropped to create a number of images.

However, eager to try out some new flash brackets I decided to mix the lighting up a bit which prompted the why/when to use flash. It doesn’t have to be as black & white as creating photos that use don’t use flash and photos which do use flash. Flash and ambient light can be mixed with varying degrees to produce different looks and feel.

The main banner type image at the top shows three images. The image on the far left was shot using ambient light only, the middle image is mainly light by the ambient light and a touch of flash, and the right image is predominantly flash light.  Why do this?  Well it depends on how YOU want the images to look.  There was nothing wrong with the natural light but it could be supplemented to varying degrees with the flash to produce different looking images.

In the course of the photo shoot this also gives the model and me different looks/feel when collating the final image set from the shoot.

I love all three shots for different reasons.  The left image is very hazy and sun drenched, the middle image retains a lot of this haziness but a slight punch of flash adds some catchlights to the eyes and bit more contrast, and the right hand image retains the details in the grass and the harder light is more glossy and dramatic.

The soft, hazy effect in the ambient light only shots are achieved by having the model with her back towards the sun. The light streaming through to the camera creates the bleached out, sun soaked look.

When taking photos on location I tend to always decide what I want to do with the ambient light first. By pulling the ambient light ‘down’ and picking up the rest of the exposure with flash we can end up with the images at the top. We can vary the ratio of ambient light: flash light progressively to achieve the desired look.

More images from the shoot can be seen here. There’s a mixture of ambien light only and images where I have used flash to varying degree. See if you can pick which ones are which.


Femme Fatale with Alicia & Chai – Video Light



Having not used my video light in a while on shoot I decided to arrange two shoots specifically for that purpose.

Using a Femme Fatale theme both shoots were shot at night time in Old Portsmouth. I’d previously scouted out a suitable location that I knew would work.

The video light that I use is a 96 LED, dimmable, unit, which produces hard, contrasty light. Perfect for creating the cinematic drama for our theme. Being small, the light requires specific placement on the models face, or, subtle direction of the model when the light is mounted on a stand.

In either case I am aiming for butterfly styled light under the models nose, or at least, a shadow which does not smear too much off to the side.


If I have an assistant to hold the light (thank you Ryan Kempe for assisting with Chai), then I ask them to try and follow the movement of the models head to maintain this shadow.

The light is inevitably positioned straight on, at an angle of approx 45º, to the face. Shooting at an angle to the model gives a nice interesting shadow across the face…


The light itself is relatively low powered, although can be quite bright on the eye, meaning it is suitable only in low ambient light situations…. As a result I am shooting at wide apertures (f/1.8 – 2.8 territory) and high ISO’s (ISO 1600ish). My shutter speed is largely governed by ensuring a hand holdable speed based on focal length. A vibration reduction lens can help massively here if you are looking to lower the ISO.

Although cool, be careful with that shallow depth of field to maintain a sharp subject! Remember depth of field will decrease with increased focal length or shorter distance to subject.

As video light is continuous, aperture, ISO and shutter speed will all influence the exposure of the light. I don’t meter specifically for the light itself, more choose a range of settings which looks good for the backdrop and then add the light. I know intuitively at which camera settings the light will be correctly exposed or adjust the power or distance of the light to subject as required.

The white balance of the light can be adjusted to match the ambient light, or for effect, as required by adding or removing a magnetic orange filter to the front of the unit. Here, I added the filter to match the warm lights of the street/building/car lights.


For fuller length shots I also occassionally added a blip of rim light using an off-camera flash. For ‘strobe type’ lights, exposure is only affected by aperture, ISO, distance to subject and power (whilst below the max sync speed of the camera). As I am at typically ISO 1600, f/2 ish, then I had to dial my flash power way down to 1/128 power to avoid it being too strong. For effect I gelled the flash with either a red gel….


Or a blue one….


A big thanks to both models on these shoots…Alicia Penney and Chai. Miriam King for providing har/make up for Alicia and Glamragzz for providing body suit and jewellery.

A link to other images can be found on my portfolio.

Creating a Glowing Window Light – Off Camera Flash


As part of my shoot with Chai earlier this year, we decided to try and make use of the interesting glass blocks at the top of the stairs at Shutterworks studio.

The weather outside was pretty gloomy and there wasn’t much light coming through the window.  A few attempts using window light only didn’t yield any satisfactory images.  We were also trying to get a decent shoot angle and pose in the relatively tight space.  They needed some extra oompffh….

An off-camera flash provided this, firing it through a window positioned around the corner of the building aiming it towards the glass blocks.



Prior to this set up we were in the main studio experimenting with some colour gels.  With this in mind I cellotaped a red gel on the front of the flash head, which was zoomed to 105mm to help direct and maximise the light reaching the glass blocks.

The warm radiant light in the image is the a result of the red gel.  Hazzah! There it was, the light we were after!

Given the diffusion of light across the window pane and the thick glass blocks, and with Chai positioned with her back towards the light, I had to crank up my ISO and aperture settings until enough light registered to give a good exposure.  I ended up with 1/100, f/4, ISO 1600.

All that was left to do was for Chai to balance with poise on the ledge!  Not easy at all…

I was very happy with the result.  A mixture of quick thinking and some tenacity to make a great shot from all involved.

Lighting options during a Wedding reception


Marquee’s at wedding receptions usually provide an easy setting to use some nice directional bounce flash. A 360º canopy of white surface can’t get much easier! Heading into the evening reception at a recent wedding, this was exactly how I had anticipated lighting the first dance and evening shots…only to be welcomed by one half of the marquee being black.

To give you an idea here is a shot I took as part of preparing for the main shot above standing underneath the black half of the marquee where the dance floor was. The black canopy stretched above my head and behind me, covering about 1/2 of the marquee in total.  Bouncing flash off this surface  is a big no no.


Faced with this, four options were available for taking the shots:
1. No additional lighting. Cranking up my ISO, opening up my aperture and slowing my shutter speed for ambient light only exposure. With conditions this dark the motion blur would have been awful. NOT an option.

2. Standing underneath the white half of the marquee and bouncing my flash behind me. The light would have been soft and enough would bounce back to the light the couple, although they would be against a pure black backdrop. While this might be ok for a portrait, for a first dance this would look strange and not provide any context to the setting/occasion. Not ideal.

3. Direct on-camera flash. This would enable me to have the marquee and other guests in the background, providing a nice backdrop and context, but the light would have looked flat. The light from the on-camera flash could be softened by attaching a small 8.5″ x 8.5″ soft box (Lastolite Ezybox). I could have made the light more directional by holding the flash in one hand and firing it wirelessly from the camera, but this would have been awkward and required a measure of decent aim with a relatively small light source. Not ideal but probably my second choice in this scenario.

4. Off-camera flash. This would allow me to face the marquee and other guests. Perfect. The light would be directional. Perfect. Using my 54cm x 54cm Lastolite Ezybox with the two baffles inside the light would be soft. Perfect. I could also fire the flash in TTL mode with my Pixel King Pro triggers meaning that I didn’t have to worry about the couple moving away or towards the flash. Perfect. THE BEST option.

Having made my decision all that was left to do was to set up my soft box in the corner of the dance floor, and set my camera exposure based on the brighter background.  Although the background is lighter than the subject, the levels are still fairly low, meaning a ‘high’ ISO and wide aperture would allow me to retain a relatively quick shutter speed to prevent any motion blur.

Camera settings ISO 500, f/3.5, 1/160.

A pop of the flash and the result can be seen!

Keeping Dry using Max Flash Sync Speed


Working with Kirsten-Ria on a recent water based photo shoot relied on quite a few things coming together to get the images we wanted…the tide, a nice sun lit backdrop and, not least, it involved Kirsten being game for wading into the water!

I’d scouted a nice spot up near Southsea Marina, which would provide some relatively still water and a lovely dipping sun to provide some interesting catchlights on the water.

Even approaching sun set time, the sky was clear meaning the power of the sun was still quite strong up until it dropped. I wanted to retain most of the bright shimmering sun light on the water which was my starting exposure for the main image above. Camera equipment and water tend not to mix too well so key for me was being able to light Kirsten from the comfort of the shore line.

This was my starting point….
Kirsten No Flash-1

Settigs: 1/250, ISO 200, f/10. At an aperture of f/10 I’d retained the bright lights of sun reflecting off the water as I wanted. All I needed to do now was light Kirsten.

My key light source was my flash gun, mounted in my Lastolite 24×24″ Ezybox. Whenever I am working in bright light with flash I use a 1/250 shutter speed. Why? Because this is my flashes max sync speed. At this speed the shutters of my camera are juuuust slow enough to expose the entire camera sensor during the firing of my flash. Anything above this speed will mean the camera sensor is never fully exposed as the flash fires, and will result in a visible black band of the shutter moving across the frame. Still, I could use a slower speed than 1/250 (e.g 1/100) BUT with a loss of range of my flash gun.

Below the max sync speed of your flash, shutter speed has no effect on the output of your flash. What does impact the range of your flash are Aperture and ISO. Put simply, the wider your aperture and the higher your ISO, the more you are likely to achieve correct exposure at a greater distance to subject. By using a higher shutter speed I will be forcing the widest aperture and highest ISO I can to achieve the desired ambient exposure (i.e how I wanted the backdrop to look in the image above with no flash).

To achieve the same ambient exposure as shown above I could have also used the following range of settings which would have looked the same….

1/160, f/13, ISO 200
1/125, f/14, ISO 200
1/100, f/16, ISO 200

As my shutter speed lowers I have to increase the aperture to compensate. Meaning….I lose less range out my flash and increasing my chances of having to join Kirsten in the water.

At 1/250, f/10, ISO 200 I have better chance if standing further away from Kirsten and keeping dry!

In reality using a single flash gun, at this aperture and ISO, I was close to being at full flash output to get correct exposure even standing just a meter or so from the water. But a meter or so was enough for me, or rather Miriam King who provided make up and also assisted with the holding of the light! I didn’t bother using my flash meter to establish what power setting I needed my flash at (using manual mode). I knew from experience that my flash would need to be fired at pretty much full power, especially with the baffle of the softbox in place, so with a couple of quick test shots I was able to get the right exposure for Kirsten.

All in all, a very successful shoot….

Vintage Elegance with Jade Hargood

JadeH-9A couple of weeks ago I met up with Jade Hargood in Botley for a vintage styled photoshoot. I have to tip my cap to some excellent styling from Miriam King who provided vintage hair work and make up for the shoot. The 50’s original dresses for the shoot were provided by Nikki Glamragzz.

The main photo at the top was one of many from the shoot that I was proud of.   I love the simple but elegant pose (credit Jade Hargood) and lighting – I think I’ll take some credit from the shoot!

Some technical info regarding this image…..


1/250, f/2.8, ISO 200; Manual flash off camera.

The main light source for our subject was an off-camera flash mounted in a 24 x 24″ softbox. Using the same thought process as described in my shoot with Minty the ambient light was underexposed by a stop or so and the flash light picked up the rest to give some lovely soft, and directional light, on Jade.

Specifically, I wanted a short lighting effect on the models face. Short lighting is defined by illuminating more predominantly the side of the face that is turned away from the camera. This is a classical way of lighting a females face as opposed to more masculine broad lighting. You can see an interesting gradient of light from short to broad side of face in the above picture.  To do this the light box, mounted on top of a light stand was positioned to camera left at an angle approx 90 degrees to my left…..


There were other good shots from the shoot that I intend to blog about at a later date…

Juicing up bland light – Off Camera Flash and Video Light

Minty Blog-2

Working underneath a quite densely canopied area of the beautiful Forest of Bere, the light on our model, Minty Pender, was quite flat and generally low. The light was not ‘bad’ – the light was even and there were no harsh shadows – but I decided it could do with a blip of additional light to juice it up!

I wanted to retain most of the ambient lighting in our surroundings, and not make the image too ‘flashy’ or have Minty in a pool of light, so based my initial exposure to give maybe 1/2 to 1 stop underexposure on our model. This was a case of simply firing off a couple of test shots, and reviewing the image on the back of my camera’s LCD screen, until I was happy with my background. No specific metering was performed for this.

At hand I had my Nikon sb900 flash gun, my Lastolite 24″ x 24″ Ezybox, and my 96 led video light. I opted first to use my flash mounted in the Ezybox and used both baffle diffusion layers to give me soft lighting. With my subject in a static position to my light, manual flash makes perfect sense here in order to ensure consistent subject exposure from frame to frame. This was metered for my specifically chosen aperture and ISO settings.

The image below is with the flash disabled so you can see the effect of the blip of light.

Minty Blog-1

With the sun positioned behind Minty you can also see that the slight hair light and back light on her shoulders is retained in the main image at the top. This image didn’t actually make my ‘final cut’, but I had retained the ambient only shot before the flash was added, which nicely demonstrates the technique used here.

Camera settings for these image at top: ISO 640, f/4.0, 1/160, Manual Off Camera-Flash

With the ambient light levels quite low in the setting we were in, I was sure that the relatively low power of my led video light would also register to enhance the existing light. Unlike flash, the video light is a continuous light source and so you need to expose for what you see. I love this about using the video light.  I can fine tune the light (and indeed must fine tune it with it being a small light source) to exactly how I want before tripping the shutter.

Minty Blog-3

Camera setting for this image: ISO 1000, f/4.0, 1/100

The shoot itself was good fun! Despite an initial bit of searching for a spot with bluebells (!) we stumbled upon this lovely patch of the forest which was perfect for the images. I had also bought this vintage table for Minty to use as her stage, which was lugged to our chosen spot.

A full set of images from the shoot can be found here.

Make up was provided by Miriam King; gorgeous dress by Nikki Glamragzz.

Mixing bright lights and flash!

When mixing flash and ambient lighting we can think of these as two different exposures within the same frame. The ratio of these can vary depending on our lighting scenario or what we want to achieve….

The photo above was from a location shoot with model Luke down at Clarence Pier in Portsmouth. We wanted to use the bright neon lights and pattern of the pier frontage to provide an interesting backdrop. With our subject placed in front of a bright background using some additional flash would allow us to expose ‘correctly’ for the neon lights and Luke in one frame.

Going back to my original point we can think of this particular image as two separate exposures….one for the bright background and one for our subject. The methodology here was to find a set of camera settings where the neon lights were exposed to my taste and then use off-camera flash on Luke, metered for those particular settings, to provide subject lighting.

To demonstrate the point, here is the photo with the flash disabled…..

The camera settings used were based then on this initial exposure, which were ISO 400, f/4, 1/100. Of course, there would be a range of combinations of these which would give the same exposure but these were the settings that I settled on. How then did I arrive at these settings???

The honest answer is I cannot remember specifically! However, they were no doubt based on the line of thought that I wanted a hand holdable shutter speed & sufficient depth of field for our subject and then using an appropriate ISO to give me an exposure that looked ‘good’ when I looked on the back of camera. What I can be certain of though is the method of combining off-camera flash with a background brighter than our subject used to get to the final image.

Metering for the flash light was, in this case, also based on a couple of test shots until I got the flash power set correctly to give an exposure for Luke which I deemed correct. The flash was once again fired within my 24×24″ Lastolite Ezybox.

So in essence we have two ‘separate’ exposures here. One for the background and one for the subject.

I like to think of these as two acetate’s overlaying each other to provide the final image. This is but one lighting scenario we can have. Of course there may be times when the ratio of ambient light and flash is mixed in different amounts, which will no doubt be a subject of mine over the coming blogs!

I was also happy with the B&W version of this image….

An autumnal woodland location shoot….

With the weather in the UK quickly getting darker and wetter as winter draws near, location shoots have to be spur of the moment decisions! And what better way to make use of the change in seasons than with a woodland location shoot full of autumnal colours……

On board for the shoot we had our model Lucy and also Miriam King to provide make up (and occasional lighting assistance as with the feature image above!). The shoot was arranged on Thursday with view to shooting on Saturday, weather permitting. We were aiming for some elegant fashion style images and the chosen bright red dress fit the bill perfectly.

The day itself was pretty overcast and dull, so some off-camera flash, within my favourite modifier (24 x 24″ Lastolite Ezybox), would juice up the lighting to give some punch….

The method of this was similar to as described in a previous post. Lower the ambient light levels to our taste and take up the added slack with the off-camera flash to provide some soft directional light. As I have radio triggers that only permit manual flash, I needed to meter the flash power for my chosen aperture and ISO settings at the distance the light will be from the subject.

These then are the fundamental parameters effecting manual flash exposure…Aperture, ISO, Distance (from flash to subject) and Power.

The idea for this photo was to have Lucy walking through a small woodland clearing to provide a series of naturally moving shots. Crucially then, the flash in the softbox had to remain at the same distance from Lucy that I had pre-metered for whilst in a static position. Not only then did Miriam provide fabulous make up for the model but she was also on hand to walk backwards through some treacherous ground holding my beloved flash and softbox in the air!

Camera settings for the above image:
ISO 640, f4.0, 1/200

Thankfully for Miriam, the shoot also consisted of some more static positions for which I was able to use my light stand to hold up the flash and soft box…..

The available ambient light was dropped even lower to give quite a different feel to the above image, although the principle in the lighting set up remained the same. The tree behind was illuminated slightly to emphasise the twisting branches using a second flash gun, which fired in response to the light emitted from the main light on Lucy. The power for the second flash was set to my taste based on a couple of test shots, but all done very quickly within a minute or two…

Camera settings for the above image:
ISO 640, f4.0, 1/60

Looking at both camera settings for the above pictures, the second image has an increased exposure of approx 1.5 stops. However the ‘background’ is clearly darker in the second image than the first, which shows how much darker it was in this particular area of the woodland compared to the first.

And there we have it! A combination of an impulsive shoot with all fingers crossed for ‘ok’ outdoor weather, a fabulous model and makeup, and the help of some additional controlled lighting.