off-camera flash

Automotive Photography in the Welsh hills by Neil Alexander

The other week, with the prospect of some decent weather I headed off to Snowdonia for a spot of car photography. This was a location that I had scouted previously and in fact isn't even on a map and was perfect for a 4x4 such as the Range Rover Sport. Sun up was due around 8 AM so I left the house about 5 AM to make sure I was there in plenty of time for civil twilight.

Range Rover Sport in the Welsh hills at dawn

It was cold, very cold and it was a long icy drive from the main road up towards a quarry in the middle of Snowdonia National Park. Even though I was there with 30 minutes plus to spare, the colour in the clouds still caught me by surprise. I made several bracketed ambient light exposures in a frantic dash whilst the sky turned a lovely orangey pink. Once I had a few frames in the bag and had time to compose my thoughts, I pulled out all the strobes and began lighting the car. Here's a behind-the-scenes iPhone shot.

For the top ambient lit shot, I used my fantastic new Singh Ray warming polariser and a Lee .9 Soft graduated ND filter, and then merged two exposures in LREnfuse inside Lightroom.

The bottom shot required quite a bit more effort. By this time, as you can see, the sun was well and truly up over the hills and very bright. I had to use two Elinchrom Quadras to the left of the car on full power and two SB900s strapped together to the front of the car also on full power in SU4 mode to overpower the bright light of the sun.

BTS Shot of an automotive shoot. Before the eagle-eyes point out that the lights are all wrong - the car had just been moved before taking this iPhone snap!

4x4 off road in the Snowdonia National Parkat dawn

Quick and easy location portraits by Neil Alexander

Recently I was asked to shoot some portraits for a construction company at their offices up in North Manchester for their new look website. This was a rare occasion in that I’d been unable to do my usual pre-site visit to see what the location would be like. So on the day, I headed up there laden with everything including the kitchen sink in the worst rainstorms I’ve seen for some time. The combination of not having seen the offices and the torrential rain was beginning to make me nervous. It meant that no matter how awkward the office was to shoot in, there was absolutely no chance of shooting outside instead. Guess what I found on arrival? Small windowless rooms and long narrow corridors. It was going to be extremely problematic to shoot in. I had no choice but to make it work, somehow.


It came down to using a dark long narrow corridor shaped like a T, no windows, fluorescent lighting and without a great deal of room to manoeuvre. At one end I threw up a white seamless and put a Lastolite Ezybox on a stand. There was very little room to position the light and not get it in the frame. In fact the corner of the soft box is in the top corner of every frame. As the subjects varied from a tad shorter than me to way way over my head, I made a conscious decision to tripod my camera and crop the softbox out  after the fact. 

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Quick location portrait set up shot

I dialled in an exposure just sufficient to get a completely black frame, and then incrementally added flash until I had the light I was looking for. The Ezybox wasn’t quite enough on its own though. As a result of the only position I could put it, I was getting too much fall off on the far side of the subjects' faces and bodies. I set up another Quadra on the other side and directed this at the white wall so that it would bounce back and provide a little fill. Worked a treat.

It was all going fine until somebody mentioned a group shot……

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Jaguar XK-R by Neil Alexander

Immediately after returning from Skye, I was scheduled to shoot a very rare Performance Blue customised Jaguar XK-R for Jaguar World magazine. The brief was fairly straight forward - get some wide images of the car from the front, rear and sides; the interior & under the bonnet; and if time permitted, some motion shots.  

Jaguar XK-R by Neil Alexander

I used a pair of Quadras for all my lighting. Where two lights weren't enough, then I shot multiple frames with the lights in different positions and composited them in Photoshop. The image below is a prime example. There are two lights, camera left and right but I also wanted a little separation at the back of the car. So I moved one of the lights to the rear of the car and made another frame with this light only. Then it was simply a case of layering and masking in post.  

Jaguar XK-R by Neil Alexander

Over the last few months, I've been experimenting with various different car rig setups. Aluminium I've discovered is simply too heavy. Carbon Fibre is the only way to go. So I've borrowed my brother-in-law's 8 metre carbon fibre fishing pole. I don't need the whole length. In fact fully extended, it's far too springy but with just two or three of the thicker sections assembled I can get 2 or 3 metres from the car and with a degree of rigidity sufficient for a 1/4 sec exposure. I'm nowhere near the 6 second exposures that GF Williams can get with his Car Camera Rigs but my current set up has cost me significantly less (read £0) compared to the £2k for the cheapest that CCR do. The problem is bounce. Even with the lightest body and lens combo I own, the combined weight with the clamps and ballhead to hold the camera creates a significant amount of bounce. So a more rigid pole is definitely in order in the not too distant future.  

The other problem doing these shots is learning to use your camera upside down. In order to get a nice low angle, you have to hang it upside down from the end of the pole. No matter how many times I do this, I still find myself struggling to find dials and buttons, and then turn them the wrong way. Might just try sitting with the camera in front of the TV in the evenings and see if I can master it the wrong way round...... 

Jaguar XK-R by Neil Alexander

Jaguar XK-R by Neil Alexander