Bokeh Effects in the Studio


Inspired by some shots by awesome photographers Neil van Niekerk and Scott Chalmers, I wanted to create an interesting foreground bokeh effect when shooting with Alicia for our first shoot together….

Out of focus objects in the foreground or background in a shot can create interesting spots/shapes, the quality or pleasantness of which is described as ‘bokeh’.  Well rounded, smooth, shapes are typically regarded as ‘good bokeh!’

The bokeh itself is rendered by the blades in the lens diaphragm. How many blades in the Nikon 85mm 1.8D lens I used…..9. Count the sides of the bokeh shapes!

Alicia has/had awesome fiery red hair at the time of shoot so some complementary blue/violet bokeh worked a treat. The bokeh was created by shooting through an acrylic sheet sprayed with water.  A coloured gel over a studio strobe pointed straight at the acrylic provided the necessary blip of light to catch the droplets.

We took a lot of great shots during the shoot and we almost gave up on the idea after a few failed attempts.  We figured that earlier efforts were not catching enough light (we originally didn’t have a strobe pointing straight at the acrylic) and also the spray of water was too fine to make decent sized drops.  A quick 5 minute attempt just before we were about to leave got us the shot we wanted.  It was creatively satisfying when we got the ‘ta da!’ moment.

Key light on Alicia was a gridded beauty dish with a diffuser sock on.  The acrlylic in front of the lens itself diffuses the light and softens the image very slightly.

The effect is random, which kind of makes it fun!  I’ll be using the effect more often.  Stay tuned for more shots with Alicia in the future!

Make up was provided by the very talented Eirill Heitkotter.

Camera settings: ISO 200, 1/125, f/9

Camera/Lens: Nikon D700, 85mm 1.8D


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.

Chai Studio Shoot: Colour Gels and Background Shadow


My first shoot of 2015 saw me back in the studio working once again with the fantastic Chai.

Prior to shooting we had discussed doing a swimwear shoot using a black and red colour scheme and I wanted something quite bold and striking from the images.

For a while I’d been very interested in dabbling in colour gels as rim light (to date I had never really had much joy in using them effectively on shots), so used this as an opportunity to inject an extra subtle bit of colour into the pictures.

With a red backdrop I chose to use violet/purple as a rim light, opting for a colour that is adjacent to red on the colour wheel. This should then be complimentary.


The lighting set up can be seen on these behind scene images, taken by Ryan Kempe.

Screenshot 2015-01-07 21.39.57

Screenshot 2015-01-07 21.39.06

The rim light can be seen to camera left. The violet gel is clipped over the barn doors of a gridded light. From memory the rim light was powered 1 stop less than the key light, to try and retain the colour of the gel. Key light was provided by a gridded beauty dish.

I asked Chai to direct her body into the direction of the gelled light and turn her head slightly towards the beauty dish.

Onto the backdrop….

The blind, supported on the boom arm to camera right, provided the interesting shadows for the back drop. A Nikon SB900 flash was fired in SU-4 mode (firing when the sensor picks up the light from the studio lights), positioned approx 3 foot behind the blind. Getting the flash-to-blind distance was key to creating a hard shadow on the red background. The further the flash light from the blind, the harder the shadow.

Visible in the behind scenes shot above is a black board, which was flagging the light from the flash. This was to prevent any light from the flash falling on Chai. This was positioned after initial test shots showed this to be the case.

There wasn’t much post processing done to the image (Chai really does have fantastic skin!), but I did shift the white balance ever so slightly from 4050K to 4414K which seemed to enrich the red and violet colours in the image.

Katie Johnson MUA provided the professional hair and make up styling.

Camera settings ISO 200, 1/100, f/14
Taken at Shutterworks Studio

Chai has a video showreel in production for this shoot so I will be adding a link to the Limelight blog in due course!

4 Light Studio Set Up


With the weather taking a turn towards winter I felt it was about time to venture back indoors to the studio.

Working with Chai, we set about creating some head shots with a certain ‘Cleopatra’ twist largely inspired by the art deco head dress supplied by Glamragzz. My favourite edit from the shoot was the main image at the top of the post.

I felt this shot really hit the nail on the head with what we set out to do; a mysterious intensity provided by Chai coupled with some great wardrobe (Glamraggz) and subtle themed make up by Miriam King.

Camera settings: ISO 200, 1/125, f/16 (pretty standard studio settings).

4 lights were used for the set up:

The main shadow on Chai’s face should tell you a lot about the key light….
It’s relatively hard, classically butterfly in shape, and positioned directly under Chai’s nose….produced from a gridded beauty dish positioned centrally at about a 45º angle from above.

2 gridded strip boxes positioned equally to the left and right provide some shimmer to the fabric wrapped around Chai and a dash of light to her cheekbones.

A final small umbrella, dialled right down in power, was pointed upwards at an angle from the floor to produce some interesting catchlights on the bottom of the eyes.

A lighting diagram is shown below…note that the beauty dish and floor standing small umbrella are overlayed as they were both positioned centrally.


More shots from this shoot are linked to my portfolio here.

Commerical/Beauty shoot with Lucy and Charlotte – two studio set ups


Earlier this month I had an enjoyable photo shoot with Lucy Jade Model and Charlotte King. We wanted to produce some commercial/beauty style images and I had two set ups in mind to give two distinct looks, both involving shooting against some studio lights.

Set up 1 – Glitz and Glossy.

The main image at the top of Charlotte King was from this set up.  Shooting against the two lights provided a bit of glitz and glamour, as well as some rim lighting to Charlotte. A beauty dish was used as the main key light. Setting up firstly involved getting the back lights set up with regards to placement and power that I desired.   Secondly, the key light was metered for the distance to Charlotte, and the aperture & ISO set on my camera.

Charlotte flicked her hair continuously over a period of a minute or two (slowly but steadily so I could trip the shutter in time) until we got the shot we wanted. I love the backlight to Charlotte’s hair and the positioning of the light to the side of her head.

The final photo needed little processing from camera.  I did perform some split toning in Lightroom by adjusting the shadows towards a blue tone, opting for a cooler look for these particular images.

Camera settings: ISO 200, 1/125, f/9.0.

Set up 2 – Washed out and Dreamy.


One light provided background and key light on Lucy. I knew what I wanted to achieve to go with the natural make up and so I set up the lighting in a similar fashion to the high key images I took with Miss Vixxen.

I adjusted the fill light slider in Lightroom to increase the washed out look as I didn’t quite get the effect I desired straight out of camera. Repeating this set up I would have the model stand slightly further away from the back light to reduce light fall off to her camera facing side. A white reflector was used to bounce light back into the models face to increase the fill light on this shoot but I would definitely like to tweak this set up to get the straight out of camera shot to perfection. Even so, I was extremely happy with the final image and love the natural glow the back light has produced across the neck and hand of Lucy; very ethereal. The white balance was adjusted a smidge to give these images a slightly warmer feel.

Camera settings: ISO 200, 1/125, f/4.0.

Make up and hair for all these shots was provided courtesy of the talents of Miriam King.

Studio Light vs Video Light – Hard Light Served Two Ways


For my recent shoot with the fabulous Daria Fairway I wanted to create something sophisticated, simple and elegant using one light….

I wanted a definite shadow in shot and so knew that I wanted a relatively hard light source to achieve this.  I also intended the images to be a series of black & white photographs and wanted the white wall which I was shooting against to appear grey.  I knew that if I had too much light pointed in the direction of the wall it would blow to white and so I had to feather the light slightly away from it.  The light would then run slightly parallel to the wall reducing the spill onto the background.

As described in my shoot with Rebecca positioning the light is key when working with hard light as it is much less forgiving than a larger light source.  I started with a single studio light fitted with a 50º reflector, aiming for nice butterfly style shadowing under the models nose.  Or at least, a nice shadow that neither smears across the face or merges with the mouth.  A studio light is of course static when positioned and so I had to ensure the models face was in a direction that I knew would give a nice lighting pattern.  Daria is a pro at modelling and so most of my concentration in posing her simply related to the position of her head.  My task was easy!  Having the modelling light enabled on the studio light allows you to see where the light will fall on the models face, which helps here.

Here is a black and white image, much more in line with my original vision for the shoot…

Camera settings ISO 200, f/11, 1/125


Also in my kit bag I had my recently acquired led video light and was itching to give it a test drive.  My video light consists of 96 led’s which is a handheld battery powered unit.  Normally these little guys are used by videographers on top of their cameras but are becoming increasingly popular in stills photography.

No bigger than approx 15 x 10 cm it is portable and can be used to isolate light on our subject as opposed to flooding a room or space with light.  Being a small light source the photographer must carefully control how the light is positioned!  The light is dimmable and is a continuous light source as opposed to a pulse of light from a flash unit or studio light.  Therefore you have a fantastic ‘what you see is what you get’ approach to the light.  The led light is daylight balanced by default but mine comes with a magnetic filter which will change the light to a warmer tungsten white balance if required.

The image below was taken with the video light….I was still able to achieve a similar lighting effect to that of the studio light.

Camera settings ISO 1250, f/4, 1/125


As you will see from the settings there is an approximate 5 stop difference compared to the studio light.  ISO 1250 is an acceptable setting to shoot at these days with modern cameras controlling noise so well.  I would quite happily crank this up further still if needed.  A couple of quick test shots got me to my chosen settings.

What really excites me about the led video light is, as mentioned above, being able to isolate the subject with flooding a room with light. I got a glimpse of that potential in the below image.  I love it and cannot wait to take this out on location!


The magnificent dress was supplied by Nikki Glamragzz. I finally opted to put some colour into these images to show of the richness of the dress and give them a slightly vintage feel which seemed fitting for the shots.  The make up and hair styling were provided by Miriam King who also assisted in holding the video light in place!

For those that are interested, more images from the shoot can be seen here

Shooting into the light – High Key


With a few final minutes left at the end of my recent shoot with Miss Vixxen I decided to try a few high key images by shooting into a large studio softbox….and was really happy with the results!

Whilst I always try to have a mental image of how I would like to light a specific shoot before starting, sometimes its good to experiment once you’ve bagged the shots you were aiming to get.  I wasn’t too sure how the image would look but that’s part of the fun.  A typical way of creating a high key image is to have one or more lights lighting up a (generally white) backdrop, with one or more key lights lighting up the subject.  Indeed, this was exactly how I shot the other high-key images earlier on in the shoot…..


The lighting set up for the above picture was arranged like this….


Back to the image at the top…..this was created by having my model stand with her back, and about 2 foot in front of,  the same large octobox used in the second image.  I really like how the light from the large softbox, with Miss Vixxen’s face turned slightly, wraps around her to produce a 3/4 back light effect on the left of her neck/face (camera view point).  It also gives a softer light effect, much less contrasty, than the high key set up in the second image.

You might think that the model would be silhouetted like this, but enough light is reflected back  from the studio walls etc to light her up nicely and also gave some catchlights in her eyes..  In fact, I also used a second strobe pointed at the studio wall, set at its lowest power, to trigger the octobox.  The small blip from the second light aimed at the studio wall will also have added some light going into the direction of the model.  I had to do this as the light on the octobox would not fire using the wireless transmitter and therefore would only work when in cell mode…..

lighting-diagram-1366315537This image was a test shot from the sequence, where you can clearly see the models position in relation to the octobox behind….

High key test-1

Did I meter for this light? No.  In fact camera settings for both of these high key images was nearly identical:

Top image – ISO 200, f8, 1/100

Second image – ISO 200, f8, 1/125

I simply shot and saw what happened!  As much as there is satisfaction in nailing the lighting how you imagined it before the shoot, there is also much pleasure in a serendipitous ‘shoot and see’ approach too!

There we have it, two high key images lit very differently.  One without any light being pointed directly at the model.

I should also tip my cap to the fantastic make up provided for the shoot by Amber Peck – fantastic!

Hard Light – working with a reflector and grid


In complete contrast to my studio shoot with Lucy Isgar, the concept for my recent shoot with Rebecca was to use a hard light source to isolate, very specifically, part of Rebecca’s body.  For hard light, the light source has to be small relative to the subject.  This makes positioning of the light even more critical compared to a large softbox, for example, in order to get flattering shadows across the subject.

For this image a single studio strobe was used fitted with a 18cm silver reflector and 30º grid.  The grid prevents the spread of light by channeling the light in more of a tighter path, dictated by the ‘degree’ of the grid in place.  The grids are also known as Honeycomb’s due to the honeycomb like pattern that they have.

With the studio lights dimmed, you can assess the placement of light using the modelling lamp on the strobes.  The light for the above image was placed high, probably about 3 feet above Rebcecca, to camera right almost at 90º to the right of Rebbecca (camera view point).  This was perfect!  It gave isolation to Rebeccas right hand side (camera view point) and fell dramatically off down her body.  Her hand which is just visible also nicely keeps the eye within the frame of the image.  There is a nice triangle of light on Rebeccas ‘dimmed’ side of her face, which is characteristic of Rembrandt lighting.

lighting-diagram-1362326605The backdrop for the shot was unsurprisingly black, however, the model had to stand sufficient distance from it to avoid any light spilling on to the backdrop.  I wanted pure a black background.  If you wanted you could bounce a bit of fill-light back into the model, using a refelector, to lessen contrast to the image, but this is how I imagined the shot before the shoot.

In another image during the shoot, the light was placed slightly further round front side of  Rebecca, and Rebecca was also stood nearer the backdrop.  This produced a nice pool or spot of light behind her.  The smokey eye make up and wavy hair was provided by Miriam King.


On quite a chilly day, even in the studio, Rebecca was a great model and was very patient when making fine adjustments to the light position!  A nice cup of tea helped though…… 😉


Soft Light – Studio shoot with Lucy


For this studio session with Lucy the aim was to couple some striking make-up with some soft lighting for a series of editorial style images…

Soft lighting is characterised by soft diffuse shadows. To achieve this the light source needs to be large relative to the subject, which wraps around the model. For the key light I used an Elinchrom Rotalux Octa 100cm Softbox mounted on a boom arm positioned nice and close, about 2.5 feet, directly and very slightly right above Lucy. As the light source was directly from above I also used a white reflector, held on Lucy’s lap, to bounce some fill light back up to completely eliminate any shadows.  It is worth clicking on the above picture to view large scale!

The set up looked something like this (studio image taken by Derek at Rivendell Studio)….


The gridded rectangular soft box to the camera left was not used for the image at the top but for one later on in the series.  There was a flagged strobe pointed directly on the white backdrop to produce a high key effect.

Make up was provided by Miriam King, which we liaised about prior to the shoot. Fantastic!!!!

Not every shot is going to come off during a session but it is important as a photographer to notice faults, or ways of improving a shot, during a shoot to avoid a ‘d’oh!’ moment when looking back at the images later on at home – it is too late then!  With such a nice large light source, and being so close to the model, the catchlight in the eyes is also rather large!  Here is a shot (image on left below), where Lucy was directing her stare more towards the light, where the catchlight completely fills the pupil of her eyes….

Recognising this fault I held my hand up and told Lucy to look at it.  Moving my hand slowly until I had the pupils in a good position I was then able to get the image below right.  Click on images to enlarge.  Less zombie like I think you will agree!!

A few other images from the shoot…..