Thinking outside the Box – Inside the trees

Environment is one of your greatest tools as a photographer….


Without flash, as above – or with flash as below….if you’re mind is on the right frequency, you should be tuned into how to use that environment to your compositional advantage.

 Southern Style Wedding photographer

Flash – or added light – has the opportunity to transform an average shady building – into a night time scene where a fairy is running between the trees….


This is not a complicated setup – the flash is about 10 meters away from the bricks, elevated on stand into the tree leaves. The Nikon sb-something-or-other shoe flash is popping at 1/4 power, I’ve lowered my camera ISO to darken the ambient as much as possible within the shutter range for flash 1/250th of a second.  

Exposure Explained:

  • Ambient exposure is 1/250th a second @ f2.8 - ISO 200
  • Flash altered reality is 11/250th a second @f4 – ISO 100

By dropping my ISO and increasing my aperture, I darkened the overall exposure of the scene by 2 stops.  That is enough to allow the light to make it’s mark – however strong you make the power settings on your flash unit will determine the contrast in the scene.


When you work with your flash off of your camera – the exposure values don’t change as you move closer to the subject or farther away.  Once you’ve freed yourself – take every advantage to work the envionment fully.

Listen to your shadows!

The shadows set the mood of your image.


Aiming your flash unit through the tree leaves gives you interesting and naturalized shadow shapes in your image.  So even though you are using an unnatural light source you have given it natural elements that help with the design and composition of your photo.  Draw your inspiration from these natural elements and build yourself a photo that exceed expectations!

rochester_DWF_08.jpg rochester_DWF_09.jpg 

As you’re listening to your shadows and you want to add that vintage golden distressed look buy and download the Golden Touch Texture Set from the create cart:

Golden Touch Texture Set

How well you listen and blend the natural elements and capture their essence defines your success:

Fall Bride

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How to cross light a mountain: Aoraki Mt. Cook New Zealand

his post is in the Thinking Big series combined with a couple other techniques:

Equals how to cross light a mountain!
Aerial overall view
One of the repetitive questions I get from people are – why such a big flash – and why take it all over with you? I suppose it would be like asking someone who works online the whole time why they use a broadband internet connection (, for them the answer is pretty obvious. And it is for me too, it just makes so many more options available.

Quite frankly – this is EXACTLY why!

In my lighting case that I loaded onto the plane in Rochester New York was:

  • 1 Alien Bee 800 Monoblock flash unit
  • 1 Paul C. Buff Vagabond portable power unit and power cord
  • 1 Black Impact Air Cusioned light stand height 230cm (model #SLS-LS8A)
  • 1 Pocketwizard reciever
  • Paul C Buff 11 inch parabolic reflector

Here’s one of the resulting peak moment shots that I try to reach for in my wedding photojournalism. The lighting case was loaded in the helicopter’s coffin gear carrier for the trip up the mountain and across the island. But a large mono-light wasn’t all I had in my arsenal

Of course I want to cover the whole event with variety as well as style so get past the jump and let’s talk details… (more…)

Light Control: turn the sky from white to blue

Before flash:

After Flash:

Small softbox on location

Continuing my explanations from the gear I use - today again the small softbox:

Using a small softbox: neil setup

So I was out on an engagement shoot and had done all the normal stuff and wanted a little something extra…

Using a small softbox: setup testing

But the simple daylight angle was not very flattering and the busy environment of the playground rope piece made for a very messy image – cool – but a little too messy – what could I do quickly to improve the impact of my couple in the space…

Using a small softbox: Neil Shooting

Here I am climbing around searching for the right perspective….

Read on to see the final shot and read about my camera settings making it….

Neil opens his camera bag for you to see

Here’s a video of me emptying my camera bag of it’s contents, just for you to see what I take with me everywhere. The real fun one is the lighting case, but that’s part of the workshop – so I’ll save it for when you attend.

[flashvideo filename=wp-content/uploads/2008/01/480-neils-bag.flv /]

Gear List:

  1. Canon 1D MarkII
  2. Canon 1Ds MarkII
  3. Canon 50mm f1.4
  4. Sigma 24mm f1.8
  5. Canon 90mm TSE f2.8
  6. Canon 135mm f2.8
  7. Sigma 70mm f2.8 Macro
  8. Sigma 15mm f2.8 Fisheye
  9. Mamiya 55mm f2.8 (grown up lensbaby)
  10. Canon 550EX Shoe Flash
  11. Canon 550EX Shoe Flash

Lighting / Accessories

  1. Digital Camera Battery High Voltage Pack
  2. Canon CP-E2
  3. Canon ST-E2
  4. Manfrotto 3350 Baby kit stand
  5. Photoflex XTS Softbox
  6. Photoflex 18″ umbrella
  7. Photoflex Shoe Mount Multi Clamp
  8. Pocketwizard (2)
  9. Sunpack Readylight
  10. LumiQuest Snoot