Barnet Workshops » Sharing Experience, Information, Inspiration

Sometimes, your flash likes to be outside, away from the camera…

We had a great engagement session in San Francisco recently, we worked with a great couple! Carol and Greg love their City and took us to a handful of great places… Including Treasure Island. They like the view of the City from this location.

Because we wanted to be at the beach with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background at sunset, we did the Treasure Island photo much earlier. The light was not cooperating… The solution was to shade the subjects with a translucent panel. As you can see in the “behind the scene” photo, as Mirta is trying to cover them without flying away, there’s sun on their faces. The problem, now that they were in the shade, is that if we expose for their faces, the background would have been totally blown out, and we wanted to see the City scape in the background… The solution for that, was to set up a shoot through umbrella with 2 SB910 speedlights shooting into it (one did not give us enough power). Now we could have the exposure on their faces from the flash units match the exposure for the background.

Of course, we could have achieved the same “exposure” without the umbrella. In fact, the flash units would have been more efficient, but with a much smaller light source, the quality of the light would have been much harsher, not the wrap around quality the shoot thorough umbrella gave us.

In the behind the scene photo below, you can see the set up. It was a bit windy, so the lead bag helped. The white clamp-on diffusers are on the flash units. These cut down on the flash output, but, make the light cover a wider area of the umbrella resulting in a larger, softer light source. One flash was at full power on manual set off by a PocketWizard PLUS III and the other one was on TTL triggered by a Flex TT5. I had another Flex TT5 with an AC3 module on the camera. This allowed me to vary the power output from camera position. As it turned out, I ended up using both SB910’s at full power with the umbrella pretty close to the subjects for the best “quality” of light… Remember, the larger the light source in relation to the subject, the softer the light… The camera was a Nikon D3s with a 70-200 2.8 VRII lens. The ISO was 100, and the exposure was 250th @ f8.

I hope you found this post interesting. Please feel free to leave comments, questions and suggestions for future topics.


  • April 12, 2013 - 8:52 am

    David - I am a new photographer, wanting to learn more about engagement and wedding photography, and I find these posts very helpful. Its great how you show the exact thought process the photographer goes through. This site is becoming my favorite photography site!ReplyCancel

  • April 12, 2013 - 9:04 am

    David - In the second picture, the brides face has some shadow on it, I was wondering would it have been a good idea to have a second umbrella in front of the couple, or on the other side of the couple, to help solve that?ReplyCancel

    • April 12, 2013 - 9:23 am

      admin - Thank you for your comments David! I’m glad you enjoy the posts. I’m trying to do them more often… Regarding that second image; we did lots of photos in that area, the ones with the couple looking towards the camera and towards the light worked best. In that image the bride is still getting some light from the umbrella bouncing off the groom’s face. A second umbrella would have resulted in the light being a bit flat. Also, when doing an engagement session in different locations, it’s not always practical to set up lots of lighting, there’s so much gear you can bring and it slows you down… Thanks again for your comments… Keep in touch!ReplyCancel

  • April 13, 2013 - 12:10 pm

    Carly Street - That’s a really interesting lighting setup & makes the subjects’ skin look so pretty & soft. Shooting w/ overhead sun has always been a fear of mine & I don’t like the look of a blown out background, so this is a really great alternative. Thanks for sharing 🙂ReplyCancel

    • April 13, 2013 - 5:17 pm

      admin - Thanks for your note Carly! I know what you mean about shooting in sunlight. There are many factors that can help or hinder here… If your subject is wearing white or a very light color, that could be a problem. If you have enough power (in your flash) you can overcome most problems, of course, this is not always possible, especially if you don’t have a power outlet near by… The larger your light source, (in relation to your subject), the softer the light will be… Shooting outside also brings on another set of issues… How do you keep a large soft box or umbrella from moving around at the beach… Lots of weight and a heavy duty stand or a couple of assistants… Keep in touch!ReplyCancel

  • April 14, 2013 - 3:38 pm

    Rick Thompson - Another great article, Joe / Mirta. I’ve got to tell you, I’ve learned a lot from you two. Probably “THE” most important Technical items that you showed me was the Overhead Scrim and the light that came through, possibly coupled with a soft flash.

    This single thing has just opened up so much for me.

    Thank you for all your teachings, and the learning’s I glean from articles such as these.

    It’s wonderful learning from a master!

    FYI: just purchased three of Canon’s 600 EX-RT flash head and used them this past Saturday; one as a stand upright with a light modifier on the top. Between the modified “Bare Bulb” knockoff and my on camera flash as a master, lit the entire room. Took me some time “Playing” with it to get it to do what I wanted, now I have to become a master to adjust output to each. Neatest thing I did what to reduce output from the other side of the room. [Still learning, still practicing | getting better]ReplyCancel

    • April 14, 2013 - 3:53 pm

      admin - I’m glad you found this post helpful Rick! Looks like you’re headed the right way! It does take some experimenting to get the OCF just right… Keeping the off camera units on manual is key, in my opinion… That way they are consistent. Thanks for your comment! Keep in touch.ReplyCancel

  • December 14, 2014 - 1:08 pm

    Chuck McLaughlin - Great instruction. I started using the same technique this past fall of using one diffuser to soften the sun while shooting an off-camera flash through a second diffuser as the main light. Great minds think alike!ReplyCancel

    • December 14, 2014 - 1:26 pm

      admin - Thanks Chuck! We normally use a Profoto B1 or an Elinchrom Quadra for that kind of light. In this case it was an out of town e-session and we were traveling light. The client really wanted to be photographed in that spot, so we went with it.ReplyCancel

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