Category Archives: How I did

I give you Speedlight Girl

This shoot really came about because I wanted to do something cool as a sort of tribute to David Hobby aka Strobist and also I wanted to do something different for one of the shoots that would be featured on my soon to be released lighting DVD.

The image seems to be causing quite a stir and also I am getting lots of people asking how it was done so I thought I would share some of the behind the scenes in this post, the full behind the scenes with video footage etc will be on the DVD.

So it all begins like any good shoot with a plan.

When I plan a shoot I spend time really thinking through every aspect of it including things like wardrobe, set, lighting, props etc.

So let’s run through the checklist.


The costume was going to be the centre piece of the shoot and would actually double up for two shoots that I was going to do, Speedlight Girl and a mildly Fetish style pinup.

I found some references online and then handed them to Simone from Eden Wear to work her magic. I must say she exceeded expectations 🙂

As for props, all we really needed was a Tomb Raider style belt holding Speedlight pouches so not much to worry about here.


The set is often something that gets overlooked, left till the end or composited in later but nothing beats having a proper background and not having to deep etch, especially if your model has light hair. Most people really don’t realise how easy it is to create a believable set and to fool a camera.

When I am designing a set I always begin with the background and I have built up quite a library of sites where I can purchase images that are licensed for use in this manner. For this shoot I decided on a moody balcony scene. Now it’s not a train smash if the background is a little pixelated when you blow it up to the size you need for the shoot because we can just blur it a little so we don’t see pixilation and let Depth of Field take care of the rest for us.

OK so we have the background but in real life scenes are not just a background, they include foreground and  more often than not, an image we uses doesn’t include a usable foreground for the model to stand on. This is where we get sneaky and remember that a camera cannot see 3D and we can use this to our advantage buy using something that has an illusion of texture.

If we look at the background image it looks like the ground is a rough concrete texture and the first thing that comes to mind for me is fabric. Yes you read correctly fabric and remember it doesn’t have to have actual texture, it just needs to fool the camera into believing it has texture.

As you can see from the following image, we have the background hung and the fabric stretched out on the floor. There is a little bit if a colour difference, a bump at the transition and a sudden change in texture but that will be easy to fix in post. The most important thing is that it looks believable.


The final piece of the puzzle is lighting. I find that most people tend to come totally unstuck at this stage because really they panic and try over complicating everything. Again I start by going to actual locations or the web and looking at references, in this case comics and illustrations.

I pretty much decided on a 55cm beauty dish as my key light and where as I would normally start here, in this case I worked a little differently. I was using a paper print, not a translight for this shoot so I needed to light my background. At the same time I wanted rim lights to highlight my model which means I would have needed 4 lights unless I got clever.

By clever I mean using the same light to act as a rim light and a background light. A few people said it wouldn’t work because the rim light would need to be too powerful and would blow out the background and I theory they are right except that I was thinking inverse square law 🙂

So what do we know about inverse square law well its means that every time I double the distance between my lights and an object I get ¼ the power I have before. I this case I wanted my clip on the model to be around f/8 and the light on the background to be about f/5.6. This means all I needed to do was ensure that the distance from my light to the centre of the background was 50% great that the distance from the light to the model and because I wanted even lighting on the background, that the lights were approximately 45° to the background.

This is really where you want to use a light meter and low and behold, by adjusting the light so that I got f/8 on the model the background was pretty much f5.6. The lighting I used here was a mono light with a 2m strip box but no grid as I want the light to spill onto the background. So now that I had the basic set-up it was time to work from the front backwards.

Don’t try work with all your lights at the start, but rather turn on one light at a time so that you can see how your lighting is changing.

So starting from the front and working backwards. The front and in this case key light was an Elincrhom Quarda pack with a 55cm beauty dish. It was located above and in front of the model on a boom and adjusted to produce f/8. I could have used all Speedlight’s for this but continually fighting with Speedlights to get enough power really does distract you from just getting down to the job of lighting.

I knew before I even started that I would need bottom fill but I was only going to worry about that once I had moved onto the next set of lights which were the rim and background lights.

If you compare the two images, you can see how much extra light there now is on the face and that’s what I wanted to see before deciding on where and how high to place my fill lights.

So the fills, SB-900’s with bounce umbrellas at ¼ power were placed in front of the model, low down and at about 30° from the camera, still leaving good definition on the face but opening up the shadows under the nose, eyes and chin.

The final shot

So here we have the final shot out of camera.

I opted not to shoot with the Speedlight on to ensure I didn’t have to worry about flare and chose to rather add the light beams in later. A little bit of contrast, smoothing, and touching up the background and we have the final image. The important thing to notice is that most of the ground work for this was done in camera as IMO you can do a lot in Photoshop but great images already have most of what’s needed out of camera.

If you want to see more in-depth behind the scenes look out for my DVD “Its All About Light” that should be out mid January 2012

What in the world are translights?

Country Girl

I get asked this question a lot lately especially by people following my Flickr stream where this term comes regularly. Basically Translights are large rear illuminated translucent prints that are used as background for shots and have been used for many years in the movie industry for shots with static backgrounds.

The idea is that where you have a static background, instead of using a green or blue screen, you use the image you are going to drop in so that you don’t have to deep etch and have minimal touch-up work and we all know what a pain trying to deep etch hair is don’t we.

A question that often pops up about now is, why not just use a normal print? With a normal paper print you have to light it from the front which is not always easy on every set but with a Translight you simply light it from behind and you get the added advantage that it projects colour onto your set much in the same way gels and a real life scene would which doesn’t work that well with front lit images.

Another question that comes up is where do you get Translights? Well you can either get a good print shop to print high res image onto a translucent backlit material for you or if you have your own large format inkjet just print it yourself.

I regularly print mine on my HP Designjet z3200, which produces mind blowing results, but I can only print 36”wide (max width of HP’s backlit material) so I have to join multiple prints together. This means I get a seam where the join is but it’s easy enough to remove later in Photoshop. From a commercial aspect, I find that the cost of the Translights is easily set off against the cost of the retouching time it saves, especially if there are multiple images that require deep etching.

These are some examples of my latest work shot with Translights.

Street Race

Street Race 2

I am going to use the street racer image above as an example for this as it contains all the steps that I would normally follow.

Step 1 – Choose your background

The first step is to decide on a background image and whether you are going to shoot it yourself or use a stock image. In both cases you will need to have a pretty high resolution image but you will more than likely only need to print the section of it that will be behind the model unless you are using ambient Translighting which is a whole other blog post.

In this case I chose to shoot my own image and I shot it in sections using a panoramic head and stitched the individual images using PTGUI so that I could increase the resolution of the final image. These are the individual images and in this case please ignore the difference in exposure as they are part of an HDR set.

The stitched result looks like this.

Next I needed to turn this into a night scene so after quite a lot of Photoshop work, I had my final background image.

The section of this image that would be behind the model was printed in two sections, each 90cm wide by 3m high, on an HP Designjet Z3200 using HP Vivid Colour backlit media. The sections were then joined together and you can often get away with quite a rough join as the model more often than not covers most of the join.

The background lighting is then adjusted to give the desired exposure and then the model is placed in the scene and the lighting that will be used for her is adjusted accordingly.

Finally the image is taken into Photoshop and merged with original background image which restores the background to its full width. Ideally the background should be printed and shot in its entirety but that costs a lot of money and its easy enough to merge the images in Photoshop.

Here are some more shots that used Translight backgrounds

Jewel Africa Shoot

Pix Cover Shoot