Flirting With Flash - Gemma

On Wednesday 14th September 2011, Ben & I presented a short low-light workshop of the Brighton Photographers Meet Up Group on Brighton beach. They are a great group with loads of enthusiasm, fun and a desire to learn.

There is talent in this group as the gallery images show. I'm always pleased to see great images produced during a workshop and the satisfaction gained.

At the end of the evening Ben & I shot a wee demo showing the group how to combine off-camera flash with the ambient low-light. Carina, one of the group organisers very kindly 'persuaded' a friend or a friend, Gemma to help us out.

Flirting with Flash - Gemma
A step-by-step guide to lighting with off-camera flash

 Click on images to view larger
Simple - a glamorous lady, in a stunning dress using the bright lights of Brighton as our backdrop.

Kit used
Canon 5D Mk II, 100 - 400 mm f4.5/5.6 L IS
1 x Canon 580 EX II Speedlite
1 x Frio Cold Shoe
Yong Nuo RF602 Radio Triggers
Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe 54 x 54 cm


1. Too dark.  1/60th, f5.6, 320 ISO, WB daylight. Manual exposure.

2. That's better. More detail coming through. Open the shutter 2 stops more, 1/15th, f5.6, 320 ISO, WB daylight.

 3. Add in the flash, which is a bit over exposed or hot. Flash at 1/8th power. Manual. Sorry Gemma;-)

4. The Big Close Up (BCU). Now, that's better. Flash power reduced by 2/3rd stop to 1/16 + 1/3rd. Working outside with no reflective surfacesclose by shows you the true light from your flash or modifier. Close to your model a very flattering light.

Remember that as you move the light further away the smaller it becomes in relation to your model. As you move the flash further away, the output is effectively reduced and the shadows have a harder edge. Working close means you can use lower power settings and a wider aperture for greater control over how the background looks.

When working with flash and ambient light you are lightinging planes with the shutter controling the ambient light plane and the aperture the flash or foreground plane in this case. I could have closed down the aperture to control the flash but wanted to maintain the look of the background so instead adjusted the flash power output.

5. The Long Shot (LS). Notice how the light is brighter at the top of the image. Remember that this softbox is only 20 inches square. For more even illumination for a full length shot we'd need bigger light or even a second smaller light. The bigger light was not practical as there were a few knots of wind blowing!

6. The Wide Shot (WS) or General View (GV). Here you can see the whole set-up. I try and work with at least an assistant where practical. In this case Ben Potter who is a very able photographer acting as my VAL or Voice Activated Lightstand. VALs have many advantages over conventional light stands:
  • They can carry your bags.
  • They keep an eye on your gear whre not otherwise distracted.
  • They will tell you when you have your lens cap on.
  • They communicate with the talent and abuse them as you're too far away 'cos you've decided that a 100- 400 is the best glass for this shot and you've left the walkie-talkie at the studio - true!
  • They hold the light in a (vaguely) constant position and move when the model moves. Remember we are working manual exposure here so no eTTL or iTTL to compensate for any changes in flash-to-subject distance.
  • With any luck they'll notice things you don't as you're to concerned about keeping the image sharp and in focus.
Key to the GV above:
  1. Voice Activated Lightstand.
  2.  Paint Roller from DIY store, much cheaper than a boom pole made for photographers and just as good. I have a special adaptor that I designed to adapt the pole to the industry standard 5/8th inch/16mm spigot.
  3. Canon 580 EX II Speedlite in Manual mode, with the zoom set to 24mm, held onto Lastolite bracket by a Frio Cold Shoe. The most valuable piece of blue plastic you will ever buy. They prevent your (expensive) Speedlite from falling out of the manufacturers crappy badly designed excuse for a fitting.
  4. Lastolite Ezybox 54 x 54 cm collapsible softbox. More directional and therefore controlable than a translucent shoot-through brolly which would spread the light too much for this shot.
  5. Giottos carbon fibre tripod. Even though I was using the lens Image Stabiliser, the guarantee and sharp image and take the load from my arm I rested my elbow on the tripod head. This is a great tip where you need stability and mobility.
  6. Idiot Photo Bomber - we didn't see this until I started processing the images. Not a lot you can do but tolerate the idiotic sense of fun:-)
 7. The Medium Long Shot (MLS). Notice how the position of the light give soft modelling/shadows to the shot and falls away making the lower part of the frame darker leading your eye to, and placing emphasis on Gemma's face.

 8. The Head Shot (HS). The light here is just off to camera right (stage left), top in front of Gemma giving wonderful soft light with just the right amount of flattering modelling.

 9. A shot from earlier in the session. Light to camera left (stage right). As I moved closer to Gemma the out of focus background became more pronounced. Even though I chose to use zoom glass for these shots, I will leave the zoom (generally) at one focal length and move away or closer as if I'm using a prime lens. Here the focal length was close to 400 mm on full frame and about 6.5 metres away, or 21 feet if you prefer;-)

I will be leading a variety of independent lighting workshops over the next few months. What this space or follow me on Twitter or facebook for updates.

All the products mentioned here are available from The Flash Centre. Contact Simon Burfoot by email to place your order.


  1. Hi Ian, I was searching for methods to mount the Frio Coldshoe to the Lastolite Ezybox bracket, how did you mount the Frio coldshoe to your bracket?

    1. Hi Anonymous,

      I use a ¼" 20 tpi UNC ½" bolt or machine screw. If you're in the US these should be easily available. If in UK or Europe, contact me as I have stock.


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