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V-Flat Questions….

Aug 24

In Rambling at 2:02am


There were a bunch of really good questions from yesterday’s post, so I’ll do my best here….

Dick Wood says:
on August 23, 2010 at 5:57 am

Great how to. but I have one small question. Where do you aim the speedlights in the V-flats? the ceiling , into the flats, of bounce them off of the back wall?

Dick WoodPS Love the shorts.

Generally I aim them straight into the “V” portion of the boards, and make sure the flash(es) are tucked in there and don’t have a chance to spill hard light to the sides. The v shape collects the light and pushes towards the wall at the shooter’s back. Then, it rushes towards the subject with the power of a thousand suns!

On the shorts front, I borrowed them from Hobby. As you can see, my legs are plus 2 EV.

Pete says:
on August 23, 2010 at 7:40 am
Thanks for another great insight into your work Joe.

I have a question though, doesn’t the photog (or ‘Numnuts’ in this case) cast a shadow over the subject? I guess the whole back wall becomes the light source and so maybe wraps around the camera operator?

It doesn’t, oddly enough. You would think it would, but in my experience, no. Now, it could happen. Here’s the thing. I trot this technique out every once in a while, and I’m sure there are iterations of it that are better, or levels of experimentation with it that I haven’t taken the time to investigate. So, I guess, I should qualify and say, you know, I haven’t had that specific issue. Now, if you’re a photo enthusiast, and you want to shoot your 5 year old twins this way, and your day job is being the right tackle on the offensive line of the New England Patriots, all bets are off.

Mike says:
on August 23, 2010 at 8:06 am
Very cool, but with SB flashes, what kind of ISO and f/stop are you getting? Bouncing the light twice has to really suck up the light. Looks like you’re doing shallow DOF, but still curious how high you need to ramp the ISO to make this work well.

Again, in my experience, ISO 200 with this rig gives you a pretty decent f-stop. That is part of the reason (here’s Joe “Overkill” McNally at work again) I use the four SB units. Dividing the labor taxes them at a lower stress level than using two. Having said that, have done it with two, and jacked my ISO to 400 or 800 and it works fine. The nice thing about doing a TTL thing here, is that you can flick some buttons on the master, and go from you know, f5.6, to f2. Work this setup at min DOF, and it rocks.

Ranger 9 says:
on August 23, 2010 at 8:11 am
Great idea, and impressive that you can get enough light out of it to shoot at ISO200/f4!

But did you really use just the flats and wall bounce for the top photo (mcnallyshow-143, the flying-haired young lady with the whatsit on her head)? Can’t understand how you’d get the hair backlight and the highlight on her temple with this setup. Did you do this with a reflector, or did it need another light, or what?

Good pickup, Ranger 9. This was done ad hoc, spur of the moment. They young lady in question has hair that calls for a studio fan to put on wheels and just walked around with her all day long. So, I tried an experiment. The v-flat lighting was done, and that indeed is the light that governs her face. But there was abundant ambient light in the studio and it got me to thinking, always a dangerous thing. I didn’t want my shutter/f-stop combo to get too close to the level of ambient, ’cause you lose the impact of the lighting rig, so I moved a daylight balance steady source (more on these sources in a future blog) in off her shoulder and behind her, to camera right. It is a soft source, running through a medium soft box. It gave her hair a easygoing jolt of fairly concentrated non-flashed light. We moved in the studio fan, and I dragged my shutter a bit, I think to around 1/15th. The result is her hair takes off in the breeze, and a highlight comes in around her temple. I was courting disaster here, hovering around Ice Planet 255, but we squeaked it through and managed to just hold on to, as Father Bob would call them, the holy highlights.

This just in….Father Bob has gone astray, evidently, from a recent perusal of his blog. He’s evidently left the Franciscan Order, and is now involved in some sort of new age swami shit. (See below.)


Where am I gonna go to confession next year?

AYRTON360 says:
on August 23, 2010 at 9:09 am
I always love to come here to read more about your shots.
I’ve been following your work, since the 80’s when I was hired by you as a second assistant, in Los Angeles, to do a shoot in the desert of some big Parabolic Antennas for a Fortune edition
Thanks a lot

Good to hear from you Ayrton. Surprised you still speak to me after one of the worst jobs ever. Lighting huge parabolics out in the desert in August, with the shape of the dishes collecting the sun. Felt like an ant under a magnifying glass. Then of course, there were the tarantulas.



Brock Lawson says:
on August 23, 2010 at 9:15 am
Where can one purchase that large of a piece of foam core board?

They’re not too tough to get. We order sometimes from Pearl Paint down in NY. Any decent size graphic arts supplier, or set shop, or even grip house should carry them. (These are also a rentable item.)We do 4×8’s black on one side, white on the other. They last a long time, and literally, a smart, cheap investment if you have a home studio.

Alex H says:
on August 23, 2010 at 10:18 am
Joe, long time reader, first time commenter.I just have a couple questions you might help me answer. What power were you shooting the SB-900’s at,or was it all TTL? Do you get a different effect based on the height of the ceiling? Also, are you going to post more on the Flexes you’ve been playing with? Thanks for all of the insight you’ve provided over the years. It’s been invaluable to me!

The ceiling comes into play, for sure, just ’cause there’s such a wash of light you are creating. It’s gonna fly off that puppy, depending on the height. I tend to think of it as a good thing, just a piece of a “poor man’s cove” that continues the bounce effect that Mr. Bensimon used so well. And yeah, absolutely, will be letting fly with some info on the Minis and Flexes, as soon as I can get something I’m happy with.

Matt Hunt says:
on August 23, 2010 at 11:42 am
Thanks for that, dumb question but I am guessing the heads are fairly well zoomed out for this e.g. you’re not at 35mm zoom on the flash heads? From the pictures above it has to go..25-30 feet to actually reach the subject? Or, are they firing at nigh on full power?

Tx, Matt

It’s actually a really good question, and the answer might be a bit surprising. I leave the dome diffusers on, and consequently, the heads zoomed wide, so the effect in there is a bit bare tube-ish. In fact, when I use bigger flash heads in this fashion, I generally don’t put reflector pans on them. I want radiance, not direction. Now–again, I emphasize, this is just me talking. I’m sure there are folks out there using this technique who have gotten it fine tuned to a degree that they zoom their lights into the v-flats for extra punch, and it works real well. This is just me talking, and at this point in my career, after all the flash exposures I’ve made,  I’ve got about six working synapses left.

Al says:
on August 23, 2010 at 12:34 pm
What are the pro’s/cons of using V-flats versus just bouncing off the rear wall? Seems you would lose less light by bouncing once rather than twice.

Done the straight up wall bounce thing occasionally, to be sure, and it works well. It has a bit more punch and clarity, perhaps. The “ping pong” you play with the light in this technique is softer, but you def. lose light, and hence f-stop.

Hope this is helpful, gang….more tk….

dave says:

on August 24, 2010 at 5:33 am

Joe, that was the coolest shot. We were 13 in that class and as the shot came on the screen 13 jaws hit the floor.

You are the best teacher.

Hope to see you next year!

Colin Campbell says:

on August 24, 2010 at 9:23 am

Hi Joe,
Lots of usefull answers as always. If the idea is to get as much light bouncing around as possible (albeit in a controlled manner) why do you use black/white foam boards as opposed to white/white.

Cathie Archbould says:

on August 24, 2010 at 10:22 am

Joe, the Vflat info is interesting for studio work but I’m interested in your joe-113 image.

I shoot a lot of industrial images here in Canada’s north and love the quality of light you managed on these parabolics.
How did you do it?

Thanks, Cathie Archbould, North of 60, Yukon Territory, Canada

Leoraul Torres says:

on August 24, 2010 at 12:20 pm

I think Bounced Light is underrated.

Sean says:

on August 24, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Hey Joe,

Great stuff. The foam core V’s got me thinking, how well would they work as a makeshift background? I’m thinking that if the V’s were opened up to right-angles and placed together (as a U) they could make for a cheap reversible background. Any visible seam could then be easily Photoshop’d.

Have you ever tried setting them up like that? If it works it could be a budget friendly alternative for those of us just starting out.



Ryan says:

on August 24, 2010 at 5:05 pm

You are an inspiration, it is so good to see people with both talent a humility, it is a rare thing indeed these days.

Shaun says:

on August 24, 2010 at 7:49 pm


That picture of the girl with the hair (143) is one of my favorite pictures I have seen from you. I am glad you shared with us how you did it.


Jim says:

on August 24, 2010 at 9:17 pm

Father Bob was trying to recharge his batteries through the giant solar panel between his upper hair line.

Karen says:

on August 24, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Just a hint (from somehow who’s assembled WAY too many v-flats in her life)…

When taping them together, make sure you leave a gap between the boards of equivalent distance to the width of the board. For 1/2 thick foamcore that means you’ll have to either use wider than normal gaffers or you’ll have to do three rows of tape, on in the middle and two one each side to hold that middle piece down!

If you don’t leave a gap, your v-flat will only bend one way (and sometimes you WANT black on the interior, trust me.)

I learned that lesson the hard way, after assembling 10+ v-flats for a shoot… hand to God.

Here’s to cheap light modifiers! Next time, Joe, you should do a post on lighting using only a speedlight and your assistant’s white t-shirt!

Much love…

Andy says:

on August 25, 2010 at 4:58 am


Big thanks for the Q&A. Prof Hobby-esque! The wash of light from the V-flats is great. I am off to hunt some foam board down. Have you used this on a smaller scale before? e.g. small / inanimate objects rather than full length people shots?

Alex Grace says:

on August 25, 2010 at 7:59 am

Thanks, Joe! Can’t wait to use this!
PS: Karen, the t-shirt thing is one of my preferred methods of shooting LOL!

Stephen Milano says:

on August 25, 2010 at 8:36 am

ditto many of the comments–what an inspiration; what insights;etc. thanks for sharing

John Cowie says:

on August 25, 2010 at 9:49 am

Great post and Q&A follow-up Joe. Quick question on the v-flats: are they rigged so only the white side can be on the inside, or double-hinged so the black side can be in as well?

I haven’t figured out that hinging so I can use a single white panel for bounce, so I have separate all-black and all-white v-flats and will “stack” them when needed, but would prefer the thicker result of combining them so they’re less likely to warp.

Matthew Williams says:

on August 25, 2010 at 9:54 am


You posted about the PW flex’s and that you were testing them. Then a few posts later someone brought up when you were going to talk about them and you replied with when you get something you like. . . This doesn’t mean that you are unsatisfied with them thus far does it?

Paul Bohman says:

on August 25, 2010 at 11:22 am

It seems to me you could achieve the same effect by shooting into a reflective umbrella and pointing the reflected light at the wall in the back. Or you could use an Alien Bees Retro Laser reflector or something similar. Most photographers have umbrellas, so it seems this would be an easier and more portable solution than 8×4′ v-flats.

Duncan Spaulding says:

on August 25, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Thanks a ton for the Q&A Joe!

On a completely unrelated note: are you gonna start posting some pics from the new 85mm f/1.4 (I’m assuming it’s hard for you to pass up a good, new, fast prime)?

james says:

on August 26, 2010 at 8:27 am

Don’t dis Bob’s swami stuff. Apparently it gives people power to tilt horizons.

Billy Mitchell says:

on August 26, 2010 at 9:24 am

Foam core board (also known as gator-board)can be found at all frame shops and frame suppliers and at most professional photographic color labs. Also at theatrical supply companies (which is also where you can buy those gels that Joe uses.)

Venura herath says:

on August 26, 2010 at 11:35 am

Cool Pics and instructions Joe.
Yeah V-Flats Rock!
Its the most important thing i at one day workshop @Dobb’s ferry!
Those pics we took that day (Maggi’s) were so awesome. Esp ones we used 20 sec exposure!



Daf says:

on August 29, 2010 at 10:52 am

Ho ho – oh dear – legs at +2Ev – so poor it’s good.
I was embarassed that I laughed 😉

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