On Location PhotographySubmitted by Michael on Thu, 2011-02-17 08:34

Fireplace images powered by grilled speedlight

A fireplace is a wonderful thing! Warm and cozy, smelling good, crackling nicely. But does it make for a good element in a beauty photograph? I think it does. But in order to bring across the strong impression that an open fire usually makes in reality, I need

a little helper: my Speedlight. Equipped with a Lee204 gel my little friend provides me with more warm light than a fireplace the size of a car would give me. That’s the sort of “fire power” I need in order let the viewer of the photograph “feel” the heat. Did my speedlight feel the heat? Sure. But I can assure you that neither models nor speedlights were harmed during the filming of this episode. See yourself

Here’s the lighting diagram of the shoot:

The photos from the video:



Here are some unretouched photos. They simply did not make it into our retouching queue:

Model: Emily
Postproduction: Gina Hernandez
Graphic Design: AlexZlatev


I wish you good light!
-- Michael


Wow!!! Awesome photos

Thanks cousin! They are awesome because of the model :-)

Cool! I want to be a model of smokingstrobes too! =)) But I'm a bit chubby that is why I am not suite for this model thing.

The trigger strobe on the flash seemed from the video to be geled as well. Were you concerned about it contributing or was that for some other reason?


Good observation! However, the gel is attached to the top of the flash head only. I put my gels over there as long as I don't need them. When ever I need the gel, I just grab it from there and put it in front of the head. I once posted a video about exactly that topic, handling the Lee204. It is........here:

The lazy way to use CTO gels on your speedlights

Regarding the contribution: No I am not concerned about it. At ISO800 and 1/125s there's no way the trigger would have any visible impact. However, if you are in doubt, then just play safe: attache a gel, turn the trigger head away from your subject. It won't harm and you are on the safe side.

many MANY thanks to Emily... oh yeh, and you too michael :P

Hahaha, yes, she is the sweetest thing in the world. Thank you, Howard!

Another great video, Michael (and Emily!)

I do have one question. When using umbrellas, I see you like to shoot through them. I have only used them bouncing off of them. What is the best way, and should I use them both ways depending on what and how I am shooting? Thanks again for all your videos. I have learned lots from them!

Hi Frank, as for the white umbrellas, there is usually no benefit in using them as bounce umbrellas. This would only result in your lightsource (the fabric of the umbrella) being one extra meter away from your model. Usually you don't want that. Usually you want the lightsource as close to your model as humanly possible. The closer it is, the softer the light.

If you want to use umbrellas for bouncing off, then I would suggest you use the silver reflective ones. You can use them to shield the flash light from straying into your lens. However, I never do that. I don't see the real benefit.

That was just amazing ... Stunning .... Such a Pleasure to watch you work ... your talent just blows me away every time ...!! Gets Better and Better ... Thank you So Much ... !

And Michael ... you do ok as well .... ;-)


Thank you so much for the flowers, Dan!

Wow!!! Awesome photos

Thanks a lot, cousin!

Hello Michael,
I found your site, because I was looking for some shower curtains with Google, to use it as a shoot thru reflector. Google showes me your video "Shower Curtain Softbox".
I´m a "On Location Strobist", and I was flashed by your videos! Wonderfull work, be proud of it. Yesterday I spend the hole day, to watch all of them.
Congrats, I will visit you weekly for the next time.

Best regards (at Emily too)

Hi Lutz!
thank you so much for your compliments! Smart move of you to use shower curtains as a diffusor. It rocks! If you like, share some examples of your work over there by posting a link to your port.

Thank you again!
I hope to try it soon :)

Princess, yes, try it! It's fun! If you like, post a link to your results over here. I am curious.

Thaks for your compliments, cousins! Keep them coming! :)

thanks for this hints. Really nice pictures.
Now I need such awesome location and a beautiful model as Emily :-)

regards Oliver

Hi Oliver,
I fully agree on the part of the model :-)
However, the location is everything but awesome. It's pretty boring. The pretty concentrated light that we use makes the whole scene much more interesting and powerful than you would experience it in reality.

Great work Cousin Michael and Emily. This is a very powerful lesson and the results look so natural. Great concept, great explanation, and great modeling. Thank you so much for your ideas and contribution!

Thank you so much for your kind words, cousin Jeremy! This Thursday we will publish another idea. I am going to replace the program "photography success" by a new program titled "photography ideas". I think that is more interesting for the viewers over here.

Amazing job as always Cousin Michael. Do you prefer to use a flash to trigger vs. radio triggers?

Cousin Kennard

Hi cousin Kennard,

whenever possible I am using a flash as a trigger. I have not found any radio triggers yet that would allow me to control the slaves as good as I can do it with a flash. But I am dying to try out the new Phottix ETTL radio controller. I've seen it at Photokina and this might turn out as the first controller that gives me MORE control over my slaves than I have with a master flash. But I have no idea when they are going to release this thing to the market.

Great site! just found it,your photos are awesome! This is my new favorite site. Thanks for all the information!

Thanks a lot cousin Franco!

> Hey Michael,
> I came across your videos and then your Blog on Photography…………………
> I must say that you are by far one of the most creative photographer I have came across…………………………..
> I have been searching for some answers which I feel are not required
> to be answered anymore after seeing your videos…………….:))
> I want to ask a simple question…… in your Fireplace shoot if you are firing the flash to the fire then wont it go flat ?
> What I mean is that how to mix ambient light with flash has been a tricky one and you have made it so simple…………………… but still I didn’t understand how the flash did not flatten the fire……………….and gave such amazing ambient colors………………..
> Thanks so much and God bless you !!!
> Vipul Amar

Excellent question! It's about exposing for the fire and not exposing for the model.

There are two reasons why the fire is coming over so vibrant:

1. The right brightness
First of all, I am exposing FOR the fire. I choose settings, that record the fire nicely. In this case it as 1/125, f/4, ISO800. From that point on I can be sure the fire will have a nice brightness in the photos. Now I am letting the speedlights light up the model as much as I need, to have her exposed nicely as well. Without speedlight she would be much too dark, but with some speedlights she is more vibrant.
The speedlights DO NOT make the fire brighter, because the fire as such cannot reflect light. OK, a tiny bit of light can be reflected by smoke and by the wood, but mostly a flame will be transparent to light - so the speedlight can shoot right through it.

2. The color
I had my camera on daylight white balance - even though the light from the fire is much warmer. But I feel like recording the scene much too warm is appropriate in this case. Since the fire makes a pretty warm light, I used CTO gels on the speedlights. Without the gels, the light from the speedlights would be much too blue.

Great photos, it looks perfect even without retouch ;)

Thank you. Yes, cousin Emily does not really need retouching. A natural beauty

Can I do the light Setup with cheap Speedlite from Nissin withput TTL?

And can I have results near like this. with a Canon 600D or 60d + Tamron AF 18-200mm 3,5-6,3 XR Di II LD ASL Macro????

Hi cousin Michail,
yes, you can absolutely work with Nissin and Yongnuo speedlights and you will usually get the same results. Don't use their implementation of TTL, just stick with manual setup of the flash power - then it's all working like charm.
Regarding your lens: Yes, the combinations are good. Since the cameras that you mention have a crop factor, the DOF is larger than it is with my camera (Canon 5D). So the DOF that I have at f/11, is something that you might see at f/8. Keep that in mind and don't be surprised that you have more DOF on f/11 than you see in my examples.

Besides that, you won't be able to spot a difference if you compare that photos to the ones that I am shooting with the 5D and an L-series lens.

In cases in which you want a shallow DOF you anyway would use a prime lens, like the 50mm f/1.8. If you use that lens at f/2, then the resulting photos have a very shallow DOF and the quality is great.

thank u for sharing the tutorial, so recomended web dude^^

Thank you for watching, cousin!

Cousin Michael, I spent the past couple hours reading and watching everything on this site. I really love it. Your work is incredible. I really love this set of fireplace images. Your lighting setups are simple while your images are so dramatic. I love your site and your vids and your tips. I like that you take a budget/DIY often also. I really look forward to more. I'm new to off-camera lighting, and you've taught me a lot pretty quickly. Keep up the great work. Thanks!

While I'm here... a question: You never really discuss triggering. I dont see any pocketwizards or radio triggers but I notice that you've always got a flash on your camera body. So I assume you are firing your flashes by means of the built in optical slave? If so - what are you usually doing with your flash on the camera - I'm assuming its manually tuned down very low - because only a couple of times have I heard you mention that you are using that for some fill.

But maybe I'm all wrong and you do have a radio trigger otherwise how are they communicating TTL?

Cousin Joe,

Yes, exactly. I usually use the 580EX on camera as a master. I usually switch the "master unit flash" to "OFF", so that it triggers the slaves, but itself does not contribute to the exposure. It will fire a cascade of preflashes to command the slaves to fire their preflashes. And yes, it will also fire a main flash in order trigger the slaves to fire their main flash. But the main flash of the master is so weak, that it practically does not add to the exposure.

In rare cases, I switch the master flash on so that it fills in from camera. But that's kinda dirty so I usually avoid it.

Sometimes I am using radio triggers. Usually, when shooting outside in bright sunlight. Or on stage at an event.

Thanks so much Cousin Michael, I dont own that model of flash so I wasn't aware of that functionality. I really look forward to much more on this site, I love what you have so far!

That's a mold-breaker. Great tihnking!

dettagli molto bella, dovrebbe avere un sacco di cose che post su di esso

Inspirational....and my god, what an arse.

Yes, she is lovely, isn't she?

Thank you for sharing all these wonderful ideas with us. I love everything you do.

Thanks a lot for your motivating words, John!


Thanks for your compliment, Josue!

This is a very interesting point. Thanks for sharing.

Cousin michael!
impressive video as always.
one suggestion for a future video perhaps? for reference maybe you could have a photo shoot where you introduce one light source at a time. one skeptic of the trade might say a second or third flash maybe excessive. so maybe you could have ever charming cousin emily to hold the same pose and start with maybe just regular sun or house lights then introduce one light element at a time explaining why such is necessary or preferred.

Excellent suggestion, cousin Noble! I guess that will be really helpful. I'll do it like that!

You are soooo awesome!
I loooove your videos and they're helping me so much!
Brilliant ideas and so much genious tips to create outstanding fotos with tiny budget!
Ich wünsch dir von herzen noch viel, viel Erfolg! :)

excellent results! where do i get this color overlay and which exactly color did you use for this shots?

Hard to get my thick German accent? Here's the transcript!

Hey fellow photographer, how is it going? Welcome to our location photography, my name is Michael Zelbel and here is what I have got for you today. You will see how to use one speedlight to turn a rather boring fireplace into a spectacular stage for your model. Now today our location is a warm and cozy fireplace in our living room and the reason why we are here is, it is not because the weather outside in good old Germany is cold and ugly, that is the case but we are here because I heard one other same story from various fellow photographers over and over again. And it goes like this, they post a model in front of a nice open fire and in reality the scene was spectacular but on the photograph, on their results the scene was rather dull, something is missing, it is not so good and what I believe is missing is actually this, think about it if you are next to an open fire, then all of your senses are stimulated. You can feel the heat, you smell the burning wood, you hear the wood crackling, you see the light dancing but pretty much none of that can be transported in the photograph. So to me the solution that I would use is dial up the one and only element that I can transport in my photograph and that is the light that is omitted from the fire. Nothing else is in my photograph, so I will amplify this and make it a whole lot more punchy and stronger and the way I am doing that is a very good example for why my blog is named Smoking Strobes and why it is not named careful speedlight handling or something. So first I am going to make a nice fire I’m using small wood to get tall flames easily and it is mainly powered by burning grill because that is very easy to handle and the fire is not only to grow up my model which will pose very close to it, it is also for grilling my speedlight which is place right next to the fire, they are not so close sided with the fire but it is quite close and it is rooting into the direction of the model and it is our main light, it is in TTL group A and attached to the speedlight is a CTO filter to make the light from the speedlight to warmer. Let us have a look at the diagrams, so you got the fire place over here, right next to the main light in group A and in front of the fire the model and there is also second speedlight in the back of the model, it is roughly 6 feet away and shooting into a back for some delineation and it is going through a shoot through umbrella which well at that distance is not really efficient I could have left it away but that is not to be the important part. The camera is coming from a 45 degree angle over here and it is dialed to ISO800 at f/4 so that it can record the fire, still pretty bright at 1/125s. Yeah the white balance is set to daylight, so it will record the light from the fire pretty warm, which adds to the atmosphere and having looked at the TTL settings; a) is our main light, comes from the right and, b) is the second light from behind the model and the ratio of A to B is 4:1. So A is really the dominant light source in this frame. Okay so the basic technique over here is to amplify the natural light that is given and we amplify it using a speedlight firing from the direction of the natural light source and its technique is not restricted to a fireplace, I mean you can use it to amplify light from a window or from candles or from a computer screen or even from inside a fridge. Lots and lots of applications, so go ahead try them out and let me know the results that you got! So that is it for today, I really hope you found it useful and please let me know your opinion by commenting below and please check back next Thursday for another video and until then I wish you lot of fun with photo shoots and good light!

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