Val, ready for her close-up.

Here are a couple of fun winter portraits of the wonderful Val.

The idea behind these portraits was to get a really blurry background while using a single strobe in a bright snowy landscape. There a couple of problems to address when shooting in that situation:

1.) Noon on a clear day is about the worst time of day to shoot. The light is harsh, contrasty and the shadows are unflattering. The solution was to use lighting to fill in the shadows.

Dodging a snowball (that she threw)2.) With all of the snow on the ground and the intensity of the sun, it was extremely bright. This meant that even at minimal ISO, I was going to have to use either fast shutter speeds or a small aperture. The problem is that most SLRs will not sync much faster than 1/250th of a second with a non-TTL strobe. This meant a small aperture, leading to my next problem…

3.) To achieve a shallow depth of field, one needs to use a large, bright aperture, which, in that light, required a shutter speed faster than 1/250th.

A possible solution would be to use TTL flash (speedlight) capable of syncing faster than 1/250th. However, a speedlight wouldn’t be nearly powerful enough to combat the bright sun and snow, therefore I was forced to use a more powerful, non-TTL strobe (1100w/s Elinchrom Ranger AS).

Wanting a shallow depth of field, the final solution was to use a telephoto lens at a very close distance with a heavy neutral density filter to darken things up. The neutral density filter cut enough light to achieve a larger aperture and combing that, the close focusing distance and the telephoto lens, I was able to open up my aperture and get a blurry background.

The sun was positioned behind Val to provide a nice hair/kicker. I used a 39” octobank placed to camera right in front of and above her, aimed down. The snow on the ground provided a nice under fill.

A few more…

Nice smile, nice light.

She actually hates the snow :) 



Nikon D3, 80-200mm 2.8 @ 200mm and minimum focusing distance(headshots only). ND-8 filter so I could shoot at a larger aperture. The background is not fake. 1/200th @ f/7.1 (it was really bright)

Elinchrom Ranger RX with 39" Rotalux Octobank to camera right, snow and sun for fill and kicker.


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  1. Keith
    on February 2nd, 2011

    Hey Dan,
    Great photos and specs on how you achieved them. Not sure if you’ve looked into the new Pocketwizards (MiniTT1 and Flex5s)? I’ve had great success syncing at speeds much greater than 1/250th with my non TTL strobes. Keep up the great work.

  2. Dan Newton
    on February 3rd, 2011


    Thanks for the comment. I am familiar with the Pocketwizards and their hyper-sync technology, in fact I sell them, however, I shoot Nikon (the Nikon versions only recently began shipping). I plan on getting them someday, however, either way, I needed way more than just the 1-stop that hyper-sync would’ve gotten me, therefore, I’d still be using an ND.

  3. Tom
    on February 3rd, 2011

    Dan, Love the detail in the first frame. Great bokah too. Nice Job

  4. The Hot Girl
    on March 11th, 2011

    Wow!!! Where in the world did you get such a hot model??? 🙂

    Fave shot: Ducking from the snow.