Category Archives: Technique

Ok, I’m well aware of the fact that I just dated myself by using that title for this post. For those of you too young to remember that cartoon, simply “Ricochet” will suffice instead! What I’m really talking about here is finding and using direct sun light which has been bounced off a window, or other reflective surface to your advantage. Usually when you encounter this scenario, it will produce a very narrow band of bright light. You can either use that bright spot to light your subjects directly, or you can use it to backlight them. Either way, I think it can produce great results which should really serve to highlight your subjects nicely. The great thing about using this band of light directly is that you can expose for that bright spot (usually their faces) so that everything around your subject gets a little darker.

In this example the sun was reflecting off of two windows. Those two windows were relatively close to this orange wall, so the “bands” of bright light were somewhat defined and it becomes fairly obvious the light is coming from the window reflection.

In this next shot the sun was also reflecting off of a window, or it might have even been several windows. The main difference between this shot and the one above though is that in this photograph the window(s) were much further away, and the reflection was coming from a different angle, so they aren’t clearly defined as “window reflections”. The street and background were dark colored to begin with so they sort of just “melt” away when you expose for that bright spot on her face. You can see how this just naturally brings all the attention onto my subjects.

Now here is an example of using that bright sunlit window reflection as a backlight. I still tried to expose for those bright highlights and let everything else darken up a bit. By the way, I usually find that if you post process these types of window reflection shots a little warmer (yellow) than normal, they look nicer, but that could just be me though!

Here is the last example of using the bright spot to light your subjects directly and exposing for those bright highlighted areas.

So, the next time you’re out and about and you see the sun ricocheting off a window, go find where it’s hitting and place your subjects carefully, expose for the brightness, and Bing Bing Bing, you come back with gold!

Don’t be shy now, chime in with comments or questions. Also, if you think this might be useful for someone else you know, please send them a link to it:

  • Melissa Papaj - As always, you are so good. I am friends with Kaycee through both Facebook and and I am always so jealous that she gets to go and shoot with you. You rock!

  • IRIS CHEUNG - Thanks Todd, your post opened my eyes! I’ve never approached light this way. Thanks so much for the inspiration!

  • Justinelement - this is what they need to be teaching us at school. lol – great stuff todd

  • Kay English - Thanks so much Todd for posting this! :) I thought it was pure genius when you did it at Alex’s wedding. I never thought of using that light for rim lighting too. So you spot meter on the highlights? Please do a workshop! I will so be there :)

  • Justinelement - lol. i’d like to agree with kay, its these times i wish i lived in new york.

  • Kay English - Love your new blog layout!!

  • Todd - aaawww shucks, thanks Melissa!
    No problem Iris, glad to help.
    Thanks Justin, maybe I will open a photography school then! ;)
    You’re welcome Kay. Yeah you could spot meter on the bright part or just get close and chimp your way to the right exposure too. ;) I have started taking on some one on one mentoring sessions with a couple of photographers. I’m not 100% sure I like the format of a workshop and the divided attention, but we’ll see. Glad you like the new layout too! :)

  • rachel d - Todd! Thanks for sharing these tips! Im going to go out and practice, pratice, practice!….as soon as the weather lets up again. =)
    btw, have you done a post on the “harsh”, mid-day lighting? Thanks again! You are an inspiration! =)

  • Chris Rioux - Todd! Wow! SO INSPIRATIONAL!! Makes me want to be shooting a wedding RIGHT NOW! haha Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Todd Laffler - Hey Rachel, no problemo! I haven’t done a post about harsh mid-day lighting yet, but probably because I try to avoid it at all costs! I’ll have to dig through the archives and see if I have anything that fits that bill.
    Howdy Chris! So glad you enjoyed that. I hope to see you sometime this year before the next Mystic!

  • Amy Bennett - Thank you Todd! On my way out to do an engagement shoot and I am going to definitely look for some light! Your work is so inspiring! I will be following you…;-)

  • norman yu - todd thanks so much for this post. it answers a lot of what I thought you might be doing. So inspiring that I just shot a wedding for 10 hours and I’m here on the couch stalking your page! lol

  • harvey - great tips i admire you job, amazing pictures, greetings from medellin, colombia

Ok, so this one isn’t about anything specific really, other than encouraging you to think fast on your feet, or perhaps even “MacGyvering” something on the spot if need be. The end result is about getting the job done, and doing it the best you can with what you have! I’m going to use a scenario from this past weekend’s wedding (which I am in the process of blogging) as an example of both my thought process and how thinking fast can sometimes mean the difference between just getting the shot and creating a WOW image.

Here’s the set up: towards the end of the night the guests at this particular wedding were led outside for a firework display. Now, I knew this ahead of time, but to be perfectly honest with you, I wasn’t overly prepared for it. As most wedding days go, the pace is fast, sometimes frantic, so when they announced the firework display I grabbed my 35mm 1.4 and a flash on my 5D Mark II and hoped I could work something out. My initial plan was to try and shoot this using only ambient, either with the couple silhouetted in front of the fireworks, or perhaps the fireworks would be somewhat close enough to throw some light on them, or maybe I could ask the couple to stand near some outdoor lighting. I wasn’t sure exactly where this would go down, what would be near me, how close the fireworks would be etc., so wasn’t sure how I was going to pull this off exactly. A little scary, and a little exciting at the same time! When the fireworks began I knew right away that all of those aforementioned ideas were not going to work. The fireworks were too far away to use any of its light to help me light the couple who were standing in total darkness. There also was no outdoor lighting I could utilize to shed some light on the couple. I had to think fast as I knew the fireworks were only going to happen for a few minutes at best.

So now I know that I am going to have to provide my own light to this shot via flash. Here is where I need to interject the fact that I was working this wedding alone, so had no 2nd shooter to help me and no assistant either. So having someone hold an off camera flash/play with the settings for me etc. wasn’t an option. I could have set up an off camera flash on a light stand and kept running back and forth to change the power output (I’m using pocket wizards, not radio poppers), and then also hope that no guests tripped over it in the dark. My options pretty much exhausted I had to do what I didn’t really want to do, which was fire my on camera flash at the couple directly. (See first photo) ICK!!!!! Yes, it looks horrible, but in the end it does get the job done, albeit in an ugly way. But wait a minute, there WAS a better way! As the fireworks were a little more than half way done I realized that the couple was standing about 8 feet or so away from the outside of the venue’s white tent. AHA! That’s when I thought, hey, I bounce off white walls inside, why not outside too!? I quickly pointed my on camera flash away from the couple and towards the white tent. From here it was just a matter of adjusting the power output from my flash to get the right exposure. Now I have a MUCH softer and directional light source. (see second photo)

This first photo (see image below) was taken towards the beginning of the fireworks display, when I knew that I had to supply my own light source. This is essentially a test shot, trying to get the right exposure for the fireworks and the right amount of flash to light the couple. This is on camera direct flash, before I realized that I should bounce my flash off the nearby white tent. At this point I am not caring about getting a good firework in the shot, or composing the couple in a nice way, this is strictly testing to get good settings. So, you have to still use your imagination a little to envision a nice pop of fireworks over their heads and them composed nicer in the frame, maybe from a lower camera angle etc. Regardless of all that, I still would have wound up with an ugly direct flash look, which to me is painful to look at, but hey, sometimes it’s any port in a storm ya know!? Let’s move on to the second photo, my grand finale as it were!

And here is the second photo, taken about 2 minutes after the first test shot. By this time, I have figured out I should be bouncing off the white tent, I have dialed a good background/firework exposure, found a good flash output setting, and composed the couple from a low camera angle and waited for the grand finale, complete with the bride’s “fist pump” of approval! Check and mark! Notice how soft and directional the lighting is now, all coming from on camera flash, just bounced indirectly.

For those interested in shot settings in the second photo, it was shot using a 35mm 1.4, ISO 1250, f/1.8 at 1/40 sec. and I don’t remember exactly what my flash settings were, but I’m guessing it was around 1/16th power, maybe less.

So there you go, think fast, and come back with the best possible shot you can make with what you have to work with! So, hopefully that was somewhat helpful to you photographers out there. Don’t be shy now, chime in with comments or questions. Also, if you think this might be useful for someone else you know, please send them a link to it:

  • Alice - Great demonstration; and good encouraging words. We have to remember to always keep pushing. Thanks!

  • Melissa - hey Todd, thanks for that! i really love that you are posting these photographer tidbits. very cool! the final shot is great and i love hearing your thought process. thanks again!!

  • KrisD Mauga - Awesome- you rocked it!!!! I know those moments when you feel like what am I gonna do? Somehow in the hectic moment it works out (hopefully). I’ll be filing this moment in “what if moments” for sure!

  • knot - still an awesome tips!! keep it up. i love your work

  • Jeremiah Klein - Thought I’d return the favor and look at your blog. Wow, you got the lighting skills done homie. I look forward to blog stalking you daily.

  • Onada - Thanks for sharing this! That second shot is amazing!

  • iSavor - Thanks for sharing. You stayed the course! another one for the ingenuity of photographers! I have one question. Where is this invisible tent? (ie. behind? left? I’m assuming right?) Hmm… Thanks again.

  • Naqib/Qippy - Wow! I found this post really useful,especially when caught up in such a scenario…excellent !

  • Lisa - Love the moment! Nicely captured. I’ve been enjoying your blog this evening. Wonderful shots! Thanks for sharing them.

  • Joanne - You are so inspiring.. Just amazing!

  • Ellen LeRoy - Teach us more, oh Great One! Seriously, I love hearing how the minds of talented photographers work, so thanks for sharing. I really enjoy your composition and how you use the foreground for framing your subjects so impeccably. On your website, when you are rim-lighting your couples with an off-camera flash (a technique you use frequently with couples faces looking at each other and close), do you have the flash on the ground pointed up, or is it generally an assistant holding the flash. Also, are you using a snoot with that flash to get it so directly on the faces?

  • Kristopher Gerner - This is awesome, I love it!

  • Kevin - Thanks for sharing this Todd!!!

  • Vince Njuguna - I had a similar problem on a wedding I shot earlier. I wish I had read this before.

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