Personal Work: Fine Art Portrait

As a working photographer it is all too easy to get caught up in working on jobs and forget to nurture the creative side. As much as we love to create for others and complete jobs to the highest standard we are capable of, every job needs professional development from time to time. For us that comes in the form of personal work. Creating for the sake of creating is a great way to remind ourselves why we are in this craft we love so much. It also gives us the opportunity to learn new techniques or play with a new piece of gear.

This shoot came to me one morning last week as I was sipping my coffee and finishing a chapter of my book. I didn’t live in Seoul at that time, I lived in a forest filled with magic and dreams. I decided then and there to make an image of that feeling. Three days later, I had organised to shoot with Jaymie and my good friend Andy.

We met at Olympic Park in Seoul with a rough idea of what we were going to do, a camera, a tripod, a book, a lantern, and a cup of coffee each. From here we set about piecing together the image you see below. Sitting Jaymie on the picnic rug, I began collecting vines and leaves to place all around her. We then decided to tie up her hair using a piece of twine I had with me. Two guys attempting to achieve this must have been quite comical to any onlooker, but in the end Andy brought out his inner hair-stylist.

From here it was a case of lighting Jaymie and the lantern. The lantern is lit by an SB800 powered to 1/128 sitting behind it with a full CTO gel attached. Jaymie is lit by another SB800 at 1/16 power in an SMDV Diffuser 70 to camera right. I have been wanting to try the new Diffuser 70 for a while and learned quite a lot about it from this shoot – review pending! We then took Jaymie out of the frame and tossed leaves and pages all around to be composited into the frame in post.

This shoot gave me the freedom to put together each piece of the puzzle as I saw fit and create the image I had in my mind. It was a great excercise that I think we all need to do more often.

Seoul Fine Art Photographer: Personal Work



Subject Defined Portrait – Seoul Portrait Photographer

For the last four weeks, I have been visiting my family in my home country of Australia. It has been good to see the sunburnt land again, and (touch wood) avoid the bushfires so far. One of the tasks I set myself while I am here is portraits of my family. Not in the traditional sense. I want to evoke each of their personalities in the images I make.

With that in mind, I started my project by photographing my younger brother Matt at his workstation. Matt is a little bit of everything: part musician, part party goer, part electrician – an eclectic human being. I wanted this to come across in the image. This wasn’t going to be a standard Rembrandt lighting setup, and it wasn’t going to be a deadpan look into the camera.

We started simple with a blacked out room (except for his monitors – which we based the exposure on) and a CTO gelled SB800 fired into the back wall to illuminate the room to about 1.5 stops under the exposure I initially wanted. 1.5 stops under? This was my base to build on, same as you would use ambient outdoors. CTO? I wanted the key light to be really cool, but the shadows to be neutral – so I set the camera’s white balance to tungsten. On top of this we threw in my Diffuser 50 with another (non-gelled) SB800 about 10 centimetres out of the frame to camera right. Their respective powers were 1/4 and 1/32 by the time we had balanced it all out.

Now it was time to start shooting. The first few shots were to get us warmed up, so we started with Matt working at the station. Clearly, this was not going to be the final image we were going for.

Flash Portrait of Matt Working

We had filled the room with everything that is Matt, and now we just needed him to be him. “Think about it for a minute, and when you’re ready, give me a little bit of Matt,” I said. This was the result.

Flash Portrait of Matt - Personality

This works for me. It is simple, but it shows everything Matt is – bar one thing that is. Matt has his own way of doing things. His music blurs the lines, and this needed to be expressed. Then it hit me, or rather I hit it.

While swinging the camera down to have a chat with Matt about the possibilities for this image, I accidentally pressed the shutter and made a blurry image. Nobody’s perfect right?

Serendipity played the best role in bringing this image to life. I slowed the shutter to 1/1.6 and closed my aperture down to f/4, then adjusted the flashes accordingly. For the next few frames, I had Matt bring himself out again and I shook or moved the camera in circles for the duration of the shutter – making sure I lined up the frame I wanted just before the shutter closed. This is when the flashes fired – on rear curtain (slow) sync – freezing Matt and his room over the top of the chaos I had just created.

Flash Portrait of Matt - Slow Shutter

As an extra, I decided to try firing the flashes twice during the exposure. This was down with the test button on the Flash Wave III radio triggers and resulted in another portrait that represented Matt to the letter.


Two lessons from this quick session – always be open to serendipity, and never settle for ‘good’.

SMDV Flash Wave III Radio Triggers Review

I have been using SMDV Flash Wave II radio triggers for the longest time, and have been really happy with them. Despite their shortfalls, I really had no reason to invest in new triggers. SMDV is a local company based in Busan, South Korea. This year, I partnered with them for my Flash Light Photography Expeditions workshops in Seoul and Busan, and needed to get used to the new line of triggers as they would be prizes at our workshops. The kind folks at SMDV provided me with a set for testing, but I think they knew I’d end up buying a whole lot more… sneaky. Although not being a revolutionary new product, the Flash Wave IIIs have subtle, yet substantial improvements over the Flash Wave II series. What follows is a personal rundown on my thoughts about these triggers.


The units have been completely redesigned, and a few things really stand out. First is that the size and shape of both the receiver and transmitter have changed. The transmitter is significantly smaller now and the aerial protrudes from the unit, giving it a more omnidirectional broadcast and a little more range. It also sits vertically on the camera now.

The receivers now look like some sort of futuristic warship. They have increased in size to accommodate the change to AA batteries rather than the AAAs used in the Flash Wave IIs. The screw mount has also moved to the middle of the receiver which if you asked me before I got them, would be just asking for trouble when mounting small flashes on lightstands. I was worried the screw mount would simply break out of the receiver, but so far so good. It seems to be fairly sturdy.


Side by side: Flash Wave II (left) and Flash Wave III (right)

Although they look a little more sleek, I believe that the design changes could have all been directed at functionality rather than outward appearance. Things that would make a large difference to me would have been using AAA batteries all around. The receivers would decrease in size, and the transmitter would increase. However, this would be perfect as there would only be one set of batteries to worry about, and they would be available in a pinch at any supermarket on the planet. Not a deal breaker, but it does mean I have to carry yet another type of replacement batteries. The plus side of the new battery design is that the receivers can now use NiMH batteries, although SMDV still recommends using standard alkalines.

There are now on/off switches on both the trigger and the receiver, which is a nice touch. Before we had to switch channels or take the transmitter off the camera to stop firing the flashes, but now simply switching off the transmitter does the trick. The switches are a touch flimsy, but I don’t think they’ll go anywhere any time soon.


There are a few main reasons why I feel the Flash Wave IIIs have it over the Flash Wave IIs.

First is that they trigger on the ground now. So if you have a flash sitting down on the ground, it will reliably fire! Great news. Not being able to place them really low before was frustrating at times.

Next is that the signal makes it inside my Westcott Apollo boxes now. Before, especially at distances more than a few metres, I would have trouble getting the triggers to reliably fire. So, I used to have receivers dangling out of these boxes at every shoot, and countless dead sync cords gave me headache day after day. Being able to mount the flash on the receiver and put it inside the box is a huge improvement for me.

Thirdly, the new method for changing channels is the toggle switches on the top. These are probably the only true design flaw in the units, in my opinion. They are tiny, and my big fat Western fingers just can’t get to them easily, especially when a hotshoe flash is mounted as they get covered by the flash. SMDV provide a small tool to change the switches, but I lost that on my first shoot out with them. I much prefer the old dial switch from the Flash Wave IIs.

Next up is the ability to use the Flash Waves as a remote shutter release. Cool. I guess it would be useful if you did a lot of self portraits, group shots, or maybe shooting children from a tripod, but I can’t foresee myself ever using it.

Finally is the range. Although you’ll never really need them to go 180 metres in practice, what it really means is that they’re more reliable at the distances you do use them.  But, since we were testing them, we decided to test their mettle. I went down to the Han River in Seoul to test the firing range between two bridges over the river.


The first test would be over land, and the second over water. Why? Just to see if it would make a difference. The distance between the two bridges is calculated at 190 metres from a map. Over land, the flash fired each and every time. However, once we moved out over the water, we had trouble getting it to fire even once. Not a common situation to be in, but who knows. This may have been a result of the slight increase in distance between the bridges (about 5 metres), or the water below.


The whole scene at 85mm


A crop on the flash firing at 190 metres


Not working over water

In another test, I was able to place a flash behind a 3-metre-thick concrete pole and still have it fire reliably from about 20 metres away. The Flash Wave IIs wouldn’t do this at all. Great news if you like to hide your flashes all around the place.

All in all, they’re great triggers. They go off every time (big bonus), and they’re available on the cheap compared to other big brands. Head on over to the SMDV website for more info. I’ll finish up with a couple of images I’ve made while testing the new triggers.