Playing The Long Game: Outdoor Photography With Telezooms

Portrait Photography Tips From Damian "The BIG Dog" McGillicuddy

In part two, Damian shows you how he refined what he shot previously to make the shot more polished.

| Portraits and People
Portrait Photography Tips From Damian

It's my intention while on our photo journey together that I show you an insight into my world but more importantly in to my "photo-philosophy". I want to show you that although good quality kit, that does what it says it will do is imperative, the latest, biggest and shiniest isn’t going to make you a better photographer!

I also want to show you that in my world, in the main, a piece of kit needs to be versatile, if I’m carrying it (actually I don’t carry anything as my assistants will testify to) it has to be versatile and more than just a "one trick pony"!

Perhaps most importantly I want to show you my philosophy of "stacking the odds", as much as is possible, in my favour is the path I always endeavor to take in my image making.

So lets start our next article by refining what we shot previously and making it that little bit more polished.

Image Concept:

My intention was to add a little more control and a little more finesse to our first image. I want to show you that it doesn't take too much extra work to incrementally "move" an image on.

The image needs to still have that "grungy", sassy, sexy urban edge to it but with the added refinement of greater lighting control and a softer femininity.


Location: Down by the canal, Castlefields, Manchester.
Subject: Nic H
What was in the bag: Nikon D700 fitted with Nikons 85mm f/1.8
2x Nissin Di 866 Speedlights
2x Elinchrom Universal Skyport
The “bare bulb” enhancer from the DMLS Portaflex kit.
The 19 inch DMLS “Classic” beauty dish.
Sekonic L-758D light meter
Camera settings: Image captured in RAW
ISO 200, f/5.6 @ 1/160 sec
RAW file processed through Aperture 3.1.3










So what did I do and why did I do it:

I'm all about control - especially in my image making! I also believe your last capture can always be bettered, so lets evolve our last image and see if we can!

The technical aspect of the camera craft won't vary much. What I want to demonstrate is the refinement in our lighting and posing. These refinements may require you to look hard at your monitor but I promise you the effort you put in will be well rewarded.

My first aim with this image is to "soften" its overall feel - and I don’t mean to murder the image with gaussian blur. So my first thought turns to lighting which, for me,  is the absolute core quality of an image. If I’m looking to soften the image I’m looking to reduce the contrast within the image and to "blur" the line of transition between the highlight and shadow creating a more gradual and therefore less abrupt change in the image's tonality. In this image my dilemma is that I still have a mood to maintain so I can’t go too soft or it will destroy the intent and narrative of the image - answer softer but not too soft.

I swap the modifier on my key light for the classic 19 inch McGillicuddy collapsable beauty dish. The bigger modifier will give a softer light... but why does the beauty dish design liberate the humble speedlight?

The small flash tube in a speedlight by nature gives a crisp, hard, often harsh light. They were originally designed for the press to get light where there wasn’t enough for them to get a picture that would print well in the then, "low tech" reproduction of the newspaper world. The idea that image wise, something was much better than nothing!

Now I love the thought of the portability of these little packets of sunshine and believe they are highly useable, especially if you liberate them from the top of your camera! If you take a quick look at the close up image of the bowl of the dish you can see that the head of the speedlight is "poked" through the back of the dish.


Portrait Photography Tips From Damian

The flash output is then aimed at the suspended “deflector”, the white bit, bottom left of the image, and this in turn bounces the light back into the bowl, growing in size all the time, then back around the sides of the defector and out of the dish and towards the subject. The illumination now enlarged and therefore is softened so it's now highly controllable, malleable light... magic!

You can see from my behind the scenes picture the exact placement of the key light.

Portrait Photography Tips From Damian

You’ll note that it's been pushed further back from the 45 degree angle, although it's still above the subjects eye-line and angled down. The reason being that this will extend the "loop" shadow cast by the nose and join it up to the shadow on the face opposite to the key. This creates a little triangular patch of light on the cheek and the lighting pattern know as “Rembrandt”. This is a very sculptural, defining light that creates great dimensionality, never forget, our aim is to tell a 3D lie in a 2D medium.

The overview image also shows that we have now introduced a second speedlight. In point of fact it is the exact same light we used as the "key" in our last article. In this shot it has been repositioned to serve another duty. Now the light is behind our subject and on the opposite side to the "key" it can be used as a "rim" or "accent" light to stand the shadow side of the subject off the background and add more depth through lighting finesse. Adding this light has also allowed me to increase the shutter speed slightly and further darken down the levels of the ambient illumination adding a little more drama to the wall.

Both lights were triggered with Elinchrom’s Universal skyports. You can see from the behind the scenes image that the Skyport receiver simply plugs into the pc socket of the flash and triggers it once it receives the signal command from the transmitter which sit in the hot shoe of the camera... it's just like witchcraft really!


Portrait Photography Tips From Damian
Portrait Photography Tips From Damian

As the aim is to soften the image I’ve directed Nic to adjust the pose. The secret of a good model for me is the ability for him or her to listen to the direction and adopt it without fuss or question and certainly without interpretation. I control all the elements within one of my images and leave nothing to chance or third party input!

I’ve broken down the harsh aggressive nature to her pose and made it softer, more feminine and a little lighter by removing the strength from her triangular base (feet) and further adding and enhancing sexy “S” shapes. Simple and subtle... but powerfully effective.


Any post production?

Post is exactly the same as the image in my last piece. I'ts enhancement not rescue! Blemishes erased, skin softened, colour tweaked etc.

Portrait Photography Tips From Damian


I said I wanted to show you versatility

I don’t want you to think that a tool is "dead ended". In other words only fit for one use, I want you to understand that there are many ways to skin the preverbal cat! Thats why I feel it worth posting this image.

Portrait Photography Tips From Damian

Theres no explanation needed, it was shot in the exact same way as the image in the last article, just in my studio, using the exact same bare bulb enhancer from the portaflex kit. The light just "pushed" further round to "split" the lighting, the reduction in ambient illumination just increases the contrast... the pose and styling obviously send a different message but essentially it's still the same tools used in a similar vein... just "tweaked" to create different mood and feeling within a different image... it's not rocket science is it?

I’m obviously feeling very generous today! I want to complete this article by talking briefly about another of my photo - philosophy core points. Simplicity is often the key! One thing I notice a lot as a international judge in the work of others (and sometimes my own!) is that it just becomes too complicated in many instances. It is this "gilding of the lilly" that can often ultimately weaken an image. Let me explain: sometimes if something works we should just embrace it, use it and be happy to create. Recently I had the great pleasure of using the Ray Flash speedlight "ring flash" adapter from Flaghead Photographic and boy, this could not be simpler or more effective to use. The unit literally connects to the head of the speedlight, locks on and then positions itself around your lens. It really is that simple! 

Portrait Photography Tips From Damian Portrait Photography Tips From Damian

It's application was equally as simple in its execution! To get this smooth, shadowless, fashion inspired portrait I did nothing more than set my ISO to 400, put my camera into aperture priority, select f/5.6 and shot away. MAXIMUM effect from MINIMUM effort! Of course I like to think that concept, camera craft, styling and composition have a little to do with the outcome of the image but it really couldn’t have been easier to produce from a technical point of view.

Portrait Photography Tips From Damian

I certainly will be exploring the use of this modifier over the next few months and I’d advise anybody wanting a "tres cool" effect to take a serious look at this tool to!

The post was once more the same as the other images shot in this location to keep them as a cohesive collection.


until next time...


You can read the other parts to Damian's guide here:



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nsutcliffe Avatar
nsutcliffe 17 90 United Kingdom
19 Aug 2011 10:33AM
Another excellent article. Thanks.
Damian_McGillicuddy Avatar
Thanks for the positive feedback ;0)
Bickeringbush Avatar
19 Aug 2011 2:39PM
Superb shots, Thanks for sharing
dathersmith Avatar
dathersmith 16 565 12 United Kingdom
19 Aug 2011 3:28PM
A great insight, thanks for letting us in on it.

App1962 Avatar
App1962 12 7 Australia
25 Aug 2011 6:07AM
Is the soft dish DYI or store bought. Great idea for in the field or alley.Thanks for sharing the knowledge
Damian_McGillicuddy Avatar
25 Aug 2011 10:32AM

Quote:Is the soft dish DYI or store bought. Great idea for in the field or alley.Thanks for sharing the knowledge

Hi App1962... so glad you've enjoyed the article.

The dish is store bought, designed by me! Smile

you can view the range here and order from here... We Do ship world wide ;0)

Hope that helps...

All the best

shaunhodge Avatar
2 Nov 2011 11:00PM
great articles, one thing what white balance setting do you use?

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