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.

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.

Gothic Styled Shoot using Video Light


I love using LED video light for photography.

Its continuous light, meaning you have ‘what you see is what you get’ control, and its also a very tight light source, meaning it can look very dramatic and not spill over into unwanted areas of the shot.

The downside is that the power is relatively low, meaning it can only be used in low ambient light scenarios. You also have to be very specific in its placement to produce a flattering light pattern. Its going to produce hard shadows!

It was a perfect light option for a gothic styled editorial evening shoot I had planned in Old Portsmouth. I wanted to have some dramatic lighting mixed in with the candle light used to add some ambience to the shots, and provide some additional background lighting.

When blending additional light with ambient light it helps to match the colour temperature of the two to make the extra light appear seamless.

Although the shoot was performed in ‘daylight’ – it was in fact very dark at this point – the candle light produces a very warm light. As a result the main contributor to the ambient light was the candles. The video light itself is daylight balanced (5600K) but it comes with a very handy magnetic warm filter (3200K). Snapping this onto the front means the colour temperature of the candle light and LED are now much closer.

A link to the LED light can be found here. At between £60-£80 on line these are a bargain addition to a photographers camera bag!

More images from the shoot can be found in my Portfolio section of my web site.

2 great models, Charlotte King and Gemma Butterworth, and hair/make up by Miriam King completed the shoot.

Camera settings for the main above shot ISO 2000, f/4, 1/80 sec.

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!

When the Sunlight is good enough


When meeting Ross for some retro styled fashion shots in central Portsmouth, I bought him to a spot that I thought had a complementary back drop – the red bricked buildings providing a not too modern setting and not too distracting. I like uncluttered backgrounds to my images, with the focus being on our subject.

Additionally, the buildings which flank either side of the street are also tall and I thought would therefore make a shady spot for shooting in. Why was I seeking shade? Well, I was unsure of where the sun would be at the time of our shoot and I knew that if I had a shady spot then I could guarantee some nice light through some off-camera flash. This was how I anticipated lighting the shoot.

The main image at the top however was shot with entirely the available light, not one ounce of flash light. It still though has a certain pop to it, which I like. Looking at the shadow under Ross’s nose and the gradient of shadow of light across his face should tell you everything about the direction of where the light was coming from…

The sun just happened to be coming in from the end of the street, nicely diffused by some occasional drifting clouds. This meant the light was quite soft (even at about 1pm) and coming from a good direction. I asked Ross to look into the direction of the light. Perfect and no need to add anything else! The diagram below will give you an idea of the set up.


Camera settings: ISO 200, f/4.0, 1/400

Later on in the shoot the clouds broke and the sunlight was harder. Too hard for someone to look at without squinting heavily so we moved to one of the walls and had Ross turn his back to the sun putting him in ‘open shade’.


This gave a completely different sun drenched look to the image. Camera settings: ISO 200, f/4.0, 1/320.

Additional lighting can be a necessity when the available light is not good enough, or when we want to achieve a certain effect, but its also important to recognise when no other lighting is required. Sometimes the sun is more than good enough!