Category Archives: flash

Outdoor lighting for photography

Using studio strobes on location

The other day a fashion designer asked me whether I could shoot some outdoor shots of a couple of her latest designs. Sure, why not I thought. Usually I shoot in the studio, so it sounded like fun to try an outdoor photo shoot. I’d wanted to practice outdoor lighting for photography for a while anyway . The first task obviously was to find a good location. Since I don’t have a battery pack for my strobes (yet) it had to be a place where I had access to a power outlet. I remembered a place in town where they recently put up some cool graffiti on the walls. That might be a nice contrasty background. After I explained the management of the place about the photo shoot they were all for it. Luckily a socket was in reach with an extension cord.
outdoor lighting for photography
So we found the place. Next thing was to decide what kind of look we wanted. Since we were going to shoot against a grungy graffiti background I didn’t really want to use a flattering soft light source. A hard light that gives more contrast and lots of shadows felt much more appropriate for this type of background. Hence I packed a strobe and a 21cm reflector, which for the occasion I fitted with a 30 degree grid. You don’t want to light the heck out of the model and the wall. You want the light to be on the model, with just enough exposure on the graffiti to feel the texture and the color. With a grid spot I could do just that. By the way, I was using an Elinchrome strobe of 300Ws, and I had all the power I needed to shoot outdoors.


With the location set and the lighting scenario in mind, we packed all the gear we needed and drove off to the site. And now came the hard part: I got exactly one hour to set up the gear, measure the light and make the shots. The models were waiting outside getting cold and wanted to leave early.  The manager of the place was already looking at his watch before we even got started. Working fast was the message. Ok, so you want a simple lighting setup. You can’t waist time messing around with a bunch of lights and reflectors and whatever have you. I quickly set up the strobe with the grid and started measuring the light. Under these conditions you really start appreciating a light meter.

outdoor lighting for photography

I started with the strobe at full power. It was still daylight and I figured I needed all the flash I could get to overpower the sun. Wrong! My light meter went to f25 and I was blowing out the whole scene. Nice surprise! I knew these Elinchrome strobes are good, I didn’t know they were that good! After some fiddling with the meter and the lights I ended up lowering the output with 3 f-stops, at half the maximum output. That gave me a reading of f11, just where I wanted it. By the way, when shooting in daylight, your modeling lights are useless. So you really need to have a light meter to check where the light is going. Especially when you’re working with a narrow beam of light from a grid spot. I guess you could go for the hit and miss approach with a test subject, but I didn’t have that luxury.

outdoor lighting for photography

Once I had the light at the right output to get a good exposure the rest was easy. The key was to choose a shutter speed that will allow the strobe light to blend in with some ambient light. At 1/125 of a second I got sufficient ambient light mixed in to light the background, but still keep the overall mood pretty dark. Like this the model would really stand out and catch the attention of the viewer. If you want the background lighter, that’s easy, just lower the shutter speed, and keep the strobe at the same output. Setting up and measuring the light took me around 20 minutes. That gave me another 40 minutes to do the actual photo shoot. Plenty of time to get some nice shots. You can see some more images of the session here. All the shots were taken with a Nikon d700, at ISO100 with a 70-300mm lens.

Also posted in Dushanbe, Fashion, modeling, outdoor lighting, photography Tagged , , , , |

How to shoot flowers

A cool way to shoot flowers

red amaryllis speedlight outdoor flower close up photography tungsten white balance cto gel

End of year is flower time. Flowers for New Year, flowers for X-mass, flowers in pots and flowers in boxes. If you like to photograph them it’s a great time. I do.  Great. But how to shoot a picture of a  flower so that it catches the eye? Let’s try a couple of things and find out.

First we need a flower. The nicer the flower the nicer the picture. That’s obvious. I got lucky when guests showed up with a big bunch of deep red Amaryllis flowers. They were big enough to shoot with my 70-300 telezoom lens. Now, what kind of light do we need? Inside the house was too dark to make a nice picture. The sky outside was grey overcast. Better make the photograph outside in this case. Because of the clouds the light was very soft light. That works well for flowers.

red amaryllis speedlight outdoor flower close up photography tungsten white balance cto gel

Now, how about the background? The book sais flowers look nice on black and white backgrounds. But I didn’t have any of those laying around. I had a grey wooden wall outside though. How about a neutral grey then? That will let the green and red pop. So we had a deep red flower, overcast sky and a grey wooden background. I also dialled -1 in the exposure compensation to make the red deeper. The focal length was 200mm and shutter time of 1/2 second. Result: nice photograph, but can we make it more exciting?

Sure, we can.  What if we could turn the grey to blue so that it looks like water? In fact that’s not difficult to do. Just change the white balance setting of the camera to tungsten and everything will turn blue. The texture of the water even look like waves. One slight problem: our red flower will turn blue as well. And that’s not what we want. There’s away to fix that though. We can take an off camera flash and turn it into tungsten light. Simply by taping a CTO gel on it. If our white balance is on tungsten, and we shoot with a tungsten light, we’re back on neutral. Except that our background and will remain nice and blue. By the way, you have to shoot manual at a low shutter speed, so that you catch the day light on our background. And the nicest part is that the flash makes it look that the picture was taken at sunrise, near a lake or so.

Also posted in flower, photography, technique, white balance Tagged , , , |