Back On The Beach

I was born by the sea, I live by the sea and I really enjoy shooting portraits by the sea. This example was of a young teacher who has moved his family to the coast to get a better way of life and he had given an interview to the paper about the way he lives – cycling to work, spending time with his family and generally making the most of the beaches in his area. My brief was simple – shoot a nice portrait on the beach!

Most people assume that photographers like brilliant sunshine. I guess that most people only take pictures on nice sunny days because that’s their holidays and the scenery often looks better with brilliant blue skies and high contrast landscapes. People never look their best in direct sunlight – they squint and have heavy and horrible shadows around their eyes and faces. There are enough technique pieces on this web site about overpowering daylight for you to know how much trouble I go to to get rid of those nasty shadows. My subject for this portrait was disappointed when I arrived on an overcast and rather damp afternoon in June. I spent time assuring him that I was happy with the light and that we would end up with a better image and more interesting because of it. (more…)


About Angles

I have to shoot a lot of portraits during interviews and there have been several technique examples on this web site about the techniques and decisions that need to be made when doing that kind of work. This one isn’t about lighting set-ups or pre-planning – this is simply about seeing an angle and making the most out of it. This gentleman is Ed Balls: Member of Parliament and Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families in Gordon Brown’s Government. The reporter had a short time to ask him questions from our readers and to conduct an interview around his responses. I had to shoot with my back to a glass wall and against the light. I set up a Lumedyne with a simple shoot through umbrella almost directly opposite the Secretary of State and behind the reporter. I had limited space in which to move and shoot.

This wasn’t the first time that I’d shot him. It wasn’t even the first time that week. We had met a few days previously at an event with Henry Winkler (yeah, The Fonz!) where Henry read from his new book to some kids and Ed acted as his straight man. Great fun. Anyway, back to the interview… (more…)


Door Light

I was inspired to share the “how” for this picture because of a comment from a colleague who said that I had been “lucky to find such a nice pool of light”. I was amused, annoyed and complimented all at the the same time because I created this light and he obviously thought that it looked as if it was a natural effect. Much of the best lighting looks as if it were not lit… so how was this one achieved?

I had been asked by the picture editor to get a good range of portraits of this man who is the Vice President of a company that handles examination papers. The logo was needed in some frames and this plate screwed to a wall in a corridor was the only one on offer. The layout was like this…

The brown lines that you can see on the layout are fire doors – big heavy wooden doors with three small square glass panels in each one. The Lumedyne flash unit with a Pocket Wizard receiver on was placed outside the door and the door was closed. The subject was lit entirely by the hard, un-modified flash coming through those three glass panels. Lining up exactly where the light will fall is very easy – if the subject can see the flash head, then it can see them. After that it is just a question of shooting a couple of frames and judging on the camera’s LCD screen where the light is falling and then raising, lowering or moving the flash accordingly. (more…)


Hiding the Flash in the Frame

The great thing about creative flash is that you can play around and pretty much make it up as you go along. Learning from each set up as you go isn’t just a useful side effect it is the whole point. Just recently I have been hiding the flash in the picture a lot. This basically means that the light souce isn’t off to the side of the frame – it’s strategically hideen somewhere right there. I use doors and walls, poles and posts and even other people to mask the location of the flash, but it is there. This portrait of a teacher who does a lot of walking in the hills near his Dorset home is a useful case study. We had already shot quite a few really nice images of him using flash to overpower the daylight (see technique example here) and one of him walking without flash that you can see below: (more…)


Two Set Ups At The Same Time

It has been a while since I added any new technique pages to the site so here is one that I have been meaning to do for quite a while. The idea here is to have two seperate lighting set-ups for one interview portrait without having to constantly move around the room adjusting lights. This interview was with a senior businerssman who chairs a body that decides how much teachers’ pay rises will be each year. The reporter wasn’t all that comfortable with me shooting through the interview but it was what the picture editor wanted, so that’s what I did. This job required a bit of quick thinking so that I could get two different set-ups in place.

The picture on the left was lit using a single Lumedyne head at 50 joules bounced off of a wall almost in front of the subject. The image on the right was lit by a single Canon 550ex flash gun with a Honl Photo snoot attached aimed directly at the subjects face and set further away from the camera.

Both flash units were fitted with Pocket Wizard receivers set on different channles from each other. The idea here is that by simply switching between channles on the transmitters I could switch between two very different lighting styles without moving. (more…)


Afternoon Flash

If there is one thing I’d like visitors to this site to take away with them, it’s that they can have quite a lot of influence over light as well as composition. As a professional editorial photographer I have little or no say about the subject matter. This portrait of a young Army officer recently returned from active service was very much intended as a supporting image to those that he had by or of himself in Afghanistan. Never one to accept the supporting role, I wanted my portrait shot in an English barracks to still be the big lead image.

By the time I had driven to the location, got through security and decided where to shoot the picture it was well into the afternoon on a winter day. If the sun is in the right place and you have the right conditions this can be a wonderful time to shoot this kind of picture.

I couldn’t show anything that might give too much away and so we decided that the front of an Army truck with a Military ambulance in the background was pretty safe. My subject wasn’t actually in shadow in this picture but the angle of the sun was throwing my shadow across some of his body. Decided to use my custom Lumedyne head with a 200 joule Signature series pack. No light modifier (no umbrella or soft box) other than a bit of frost filter (thin white paper type material) over the reflector. I placed the flash about three metres from my subject and turned the power up to full. The flash was about sixty degrees from the access of the lens and ten dgerees above his eye line. (more…)


After Dark 2

Following on swiftly from the previous after dark example, this portrait has a very similar story behind it. This school teacher is part of a scheme to get people to leave the world of business and go into school management and become head teachers after a few years of teaching. She had worked in the advertising and promotions field and so the picture editor wanted her pictures to show this in some way. One of the assistant picture editors and I dreamed up this idea and at 7.00pm on a winter evening, once all of the lights are on we met up and shot these portraits.

London’s Piccadilly Circus is a bit of a mini Times Square. It is a major road junction right in the heart of the capital and so shooting pictures here presentss it’s own problems. Once again I was blessed with very light winds and so I could use my Chimera 24″ x 36″ soft box on a Lumedyne (I used the custom creation shown here).

The fastest way to judge the exposure on the lit advertising was to shoot a couple of test frames. I quickly worked out that 1/60th at f5.6 was about right on 200 ISO and so I got my flash into position about 1.5 metres from the subject with the centre of the box pretty much level with her eye line. (more…)


Power Portrait

Important people often need to be photographed in a way that makes them look powerful. Some of them even like to be seen looking down at you, which is madness when you consider that 99% of people looking down get two chins! This portrait of the Chief Executive of a government agency was made at their offices in London where I had to wait whilst another photographer shot him first. My picture editor had agreed that we would get access to a flat roof area outside if the weather was good so that we could take advantages of the most famous backdrop that I know: Big Ben.

In true PR person style they had failed to get the key. The weather was superb and whilst we waited for the first photographer and then the key search the sky went from brilliant blue to really dull grey. Plan two. The offices have some brightly painted walls, plenty of glass partitions and quite a lot of space and so I decided to go with this corridor where the far wall is a bright red and the nearer one is sky blue.

Most of my work involves balancing flash with available light in some form. This shot avoids any complications with ambient light by using high powered Lumedyne flash and a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second indoors. (more…)


After Dark 1

It’s been well over a year since I last posted a new technique page. Life just got in the way! Anyway, they’re back and this photograph was taken as a portrait of a woman who had made a huge career change from a high flying public service to becoming a secondary school teacher. When it was taken she was still studying and hadn’t got a job in a settled school yet and so the situation and the deadline meant that we had to shoot at a certain time of day (an hour after dark) outside the school.

My middle name ought to be “get the safe shot first” and after meeting her and realising that the rapidly falling temperature meant a quick shoot outdoors I did just that. With the flash lit image “in the can” I decided that I wanted to use the unusual sky with clouds and the eerie orange colours of London street lights.

I had a Lumedyne kit with me and there was only a slight breeze which enabled me to use a 24″ x 36″ soft box. The Lumedyne Signature series packs can be turned right down to only 6 joules (6 w/s) and so balancing the flash with the almost non-existent daylight wasn’t going to be a problem. My biggest problem was getting my subject into the “shade” away from any of the street lights so that she could be lit by flash alone. (more…)


Why We Use Lights

When I was searching for an opening image for a recent “dg28 live” seminar I only had to look back a few days to find this example of exactly WHY WE USE LIGHTS.

Early Autumn on a Friday evening in the UK isn’t often a time when the best opportunities to shoot great pictures present themselves. This one, was a real exception. The subject of the portrait runs an educational organisation that serves a coastal area near where I was born. I should know the area like the back of my hand but I don’t and when my subject suggested that we went up on top of the Isle of Portland (not an island at all, just a peninsula!) I thought that it would make a decent enough backdrop but that the view might be obscured by mist. The two pictures below were taken with different lenses but they were taken within a few seconds of each other and show just how much of a difference a bit of flash can make.

We drove up to the highest point and sure enough, the view was spoiled by some low cloud and mist but the sky through the slight mist had real potential. To get any decent contrast into the scene I knew that I’d have to use quite a bit of light and so I carried my Lumedyne kit from the car to the vantage point that we were going to use. I’m very glad that I did. (more…)