On-Axis Fill: Run-and-Gun Version

These days when I shoot something my workflow is such that I make time to light it. My assignment pace is a little more sane than the two- to three-a-day pace of my days as a newspaper shooter.

Actually, I have had had five- or even six-assignment days on occasion. But thanks to my therapist, I have learned to repress most of those memories. (Calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean...)

Days like that are a recipe to just say "screw it" and shoot everything available light. Or on-camera bounce flash. But it doesn't have to be that way. And on-camera fill against off-camera flash is one technique that would have been a tremendous help to me as a newspaper shooter on those days from hell.

Keep reading for one way to light when you don't have time to light.

Hey, What's This Flash Bracket Thing on Top of My Camera?

Okay, let's be clear here. I am talking about direct, on-camera flash. And before you jump all over me, think about what on-camera fill flash is designed to do: Tame the shadows.

The problems -- the sameness -- that results from typical "3-D, matrixed-balanced, whizz-bang TTL fill flash" when it is used on-camera for ambient fill is that you are still at the mercy of your available light. The flash is merely there to fix the eye sockets. Or whatever else is going too dark.

But we can take that straight fill concept one step further, and add it to light that we have designed. In this environment, bare, on-camera flash can do some cool things for us.

When I say "on-camera," I am talking about either a shoe flash or a pop-up -- either can do the job. But the key difference is that we can use this flash as a third light source if we have a second flash.

For people who own a pop-up flash camera and a shoe-mount flash, this is a great run-and-gun setup. The on-camera flash gets used the same way a ring light would be used -- while crappy as a main, it is pretty cool as fill.

When I say "third light source," I am including the ambient as one of the first two sources. Which means if you have two shoe-mount flashes (or a single shoe-mount and a pop-up flash) you have a three light setup at your disposal. You just need to design the light so all three sources are working for you in concert.

Let's back up. If you are pushing on-camera fill into directional ambient light, you are doing one of two things: You are either filling angular front light or filling a backlit situation.

With the former, you still have no edge lighting to give you three-dimensional form. With the latter, you are basically key-lighting with direct, on-camera flash. Neither is going to be very interesting, and you will have very little control over your exposure choices, either -- it is either right or wrong.

But when you introduce a second flash (which means a third light source) you get the ability to cross-light and fill at the same time.

Take Me to the River

Let's do a walk-through of the above photo as an example. I was shooting a graduate school project to assess the health of a local stream. The light was what I would formerly consider horrible: Mid-day, high, back-ish overhead sun in a mottled, wooded environment.

If I fill that using only on-camera flash it is gonna look like crap. Well, maybe not crap but certainly not very interesting. No, check that. It'll look like crap.

And if I turn around, stick the sun behind me and fill it on-camera, it looks like every other fill flash photo in the back of every camera brochure in the world.

My goal in this setting is to use the sun as my backlight. Why? Because the exact lighting angle does not matter nearly as much as it would if I used it as a key, and it does not get in peoples' eyes. So no squinting.

Given that I am gonna backlight with sun and key light with off-camera flash, I can choose to set the entire scene at any tone I want. Start at a 250th of a second shutter speed to get a friendly aperture. Then dial that aperture around until I see a nice look for the environment. For me this usually means underexposing the ambient by a stop or so.

Essentially, I am exposing for the highlights, as if I were shooting chrome in the old days. (Back when we had to walk to our assignments, barefoot, in the snow, uphill, both ways.) Except that this time, we are not gonna let the shadows fall off the table into the deep, black abyss.

My back light and full scene established with the manual ambient exposure, I can now think about the key light. Since I am walking around on slippery rocks with a few thou in camera gear dangling from my neck, I am gonna go handheld and light them from the left side. Nothing fancy, and no stands. Camera in right hand, flash in left hand.

I normally shoot manual flash, but I am perfectly willing to use whatever mode works best for me in a given situation. So in this case, I stick the flash on TTL. (WTF? On-camera and TTL?)

Yep. For the flash, anyway.

I am in manual mode on the overall exposure, which means a straight TTL flash will be neutral. If I were underexposing the ambient by one stop in shutter priority (to keep a constant 1/250th of a sec shutter speed) I would juice the TTL flash by one stop to compensate for the overall "-1 stop" exposure compensation. That's just the way the camera settings work.

Now, if I TTL my flash (using, say, an off-camera TTL cord) then any frontal area that is not lit by the flash (or the sun) is gonna be very dark. That includes up under chins and the camera right sides of Charlotte and Chris, my stream diggers du jour.

And the more I saturate that environment the more the flash shadows are gonna drop. This will make the scene look very "flashed" and the overall lighting will look very harsh. But the object here is more legibility, a more natural look and total control of the various tones in the whole photo.

That's where the on-camera fill comes in. By dialing that in fill to, say, minus 2 1/3 stops, I can keep my lighting controlled and see up into my shadows. This gives me total control over three light zones of the photo: Environment/backlight, key-lit areas and fill areas.

Take a look at the lit areas up close in this sectional detail of the photo above. Examples of the fill areas would be the shadow side of Charlotte's face and under Chris's chin. Key light areas would be anything that is lit from camera left.

Environment is controlled by overall exposure. Key is controlled by the relative (+-) TTL setting on the key flash. Fill is controlled by the relative TTL setting on the on-camera flash.

If you look at Chris's neck, you can see both a fill area and a small, very dark, no-flash area that shows you how deep all of the key shadows would be without the on-camera fill. You can also see the no-flash area Charlotte's chin. Imagine all of the key shadows being that dark. That's the difference between on-camera fill and not, when key lighting off camera.

Camera/Flash Settings

Yes, you could do this with manual flash very easily if you are not moving around too much. But this is a good example of when to offload that extra thinking and minute control in exchange for mobility. When you are looking for good footing, you can just find a safe spot, compose and zoom to compose. The camera and flash will get it pretty close. If it misses, adjust the key or fill TTL level to taste.

Two light modifiers are being used here: I have a dome on each flash. This does not affect the light quality (no walls or ceiling to bounce off of) but makes both lights pretty omnidirectional. It helps the on-camera flash put out a signal that the off-camera flash can easily see. At this working distance, I got a 1.000 batting average that way -- no misfires at all.

It does force your flash to put out more of it's power to compensate for the light being eaten by the dome. That will shorten the range in which you can work and/or increase recycle time. But it is offset by the fact that this flash is firing at two and a third stops under TTL, which pretty much negates dome-induced problems.

The key light has a dome and a 1/8 CTO get to warm things up a bit. This is a standard gel for my key light. And the dome means I do not have to concentrate on having good aim with my hand-held key. It lights in all directions.

Pop-up flashes work great as fill for this look, as you can see here, but you'll need to work pretty close to your subject. Also, you'll wanna lose the lens shade as it will throw a shadow from the pop-up (which is so close to the lens axis.) But honestly, if you can get away with a pop-up, the fact that the axis is closer makes it work better for this kind of on-axis fill.

In Nikon-CLS speak, my on-camera flash is the master flash and the handheld flash is the remote. They are both set to fire at TTL setting, with the on-camera fill dialed down 2 1/3 stops. Hopefully, people with other camera brands will interpolate these settings in the comments and post a translation. I no speak de Canon.

Recommended by Lazy Photographers Everywhere

If all of this sounds like a lot of work, it's not. Start at a 250th to get a friendly aperture, dial in the aperture that gives you the best saturated-looking scene. Set your key light at TTL and your on-camera flash at -2 to -3 stops under TTL for this look.

These setting are not set in stone, either. Play around. You can go for a natural look or really amp it. Keep your key light close to straight TTL for some level of "visual anchor" if you want to get weird with it. Drop the ambient a little more. Amp the fill a little more. Better to work against the ambient, too. That is to say, shoot into the light.

You'll get a wide variety of looks, and each will be suitable for different situations. But the important thing is the light-against-light control. And even more so, the ability to light three dimensionally on the run without stands, time or worry.


If you are already using this quickie two-flash technique please hit us in the comments on how you are doing it, and what you are shooting with it.


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Anonymous Adam H said...

You're breaking my heart here .. 5-6 day nightmares? Out in the regional sticks of Australia that's normal -- hell that's a LIGHT day :P

Try 9-10 most days - or I have had a day with 20 separate news jobs :P

We're all going mad - but at least I take the time to make my journos hold "the damn flash thingy" :P

Keep it up :P
Adam H

November 10, 2008 12:34 AM  
Blogger Andrew F. Morrison said...

This looks like a great way to get results very quickly. Would you consider it applicable to the pop-up flash?

November 10, 2008 12:49 AM  
Blogger l'oeil carré said...

what angles where the sb-800s set at? for instance, was the on-axis flash set at 90 degrees, 60, 30 45?
What angle was the remote, keylight set at? These might seem like stupid questions, but i have 2sb-800 and i get nothing but crappy pictures with them, yest i know that they are capable of great things, so I want to know everything about what you did here, apart from what i have already read here, and throughout your blog.

November 10, 2008 1:03 AM  
Anonymous Eddie Barksdale said...

Hey, you mentioned using the pop-up flash in conjunction with an off camera flash. Is this possible with a TTL-cord hooked up to a speedlight, and the pop-up flash up and ready to fire? Will they both actually fire? If so, would this work on a D40 paired with an SB-400 and a TTL-cord, or no because of the lack of controls on the SB-400 or a missing feature on the D40?

Thanks for taking the time to post all this stuff. I'd really like to see more on this run and gun method, since most of the shoots I use flash aren't really the kind where you can take even a minute to setup some lights.

November 10, 2008 1:59 AM  
Blogger dwbell said...

On camera TTL with Omnibounces outside...
...I need to change my trousers.

CANON settings.
Camera in Manual (M) at chosen Aperture and Sgutter speed.
On camera flash set to Master, defaults to Group A.
Off camera flash set to Group B.
"Ratio" set to A:B on master.
Ratio slider moved over to somewhere around 1:4. Not forgetting that the scale reads A:B so A is getting "one" and B is getting "four".

At this range (flash to subject) you can also just set the camera to Av at your chosen aperture for DOF, Exposure Compensation (EC) to -1 and activate High Speed Sync (HSS) on the master flash. But that would be SO McNally, and this is strobist....

Gosh I wish there was a website that covered canon ETTL stuff...... ;-)

Back to lickin' road clean wit' tongue.


November 10, 2008 2:02 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Just used exactly this technique on an assignment this week. But I did use a stand for my key light. It really works a treat. I bounced my off camera flash off the ceiling and then used the on camera with plastic thing on for fill. The shot was indoors but i had to also expose for outside as the assignment was about this new room that had been built for the school chilred, which allowed them to work indoors & outdoors. All inspired from this site. Thank you david. Here's the image

November 10, 2008 4:03 AM  
Blogger Templar Tan said...

I speak Sony.

To translate your on-camera flash vs key flash ratio, in Sony language would be like this :

Flash F58 on camera and flash F42 off camera. The setting would be WL flash ratio on flash F58 at CTRL : RMT = 1:2. This translate to TTL expose for off camera F42 flash and -2 stops for on-camera F58 flash.

November 10, 2008 4:19 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Lol! 6 jobs a busy day??

my papers photo diary sometimes has extra pages stapled in...

the norm is 8-12 jobs a day, and thats 2 photogs with as many jobs each, ...8.30am to 10pm, sometimes with maybe 5-10 mins to set up, shoot, get details, and go. :(

my usual run and gun, is on camera master set up in ratio of 1:2 or 1:4(canon system) with the off cam slave, usually set on a shelf or table, or held by a passer by or grumpy reporter along with me..

but your right, its so worth taking an extra little bit of time to make sure your pics stand out from the crowd, because of your lighting etc, and becasue your getting paid to shoot better pics, than someone else at an event can send in....

nice post.

November 10, 2008 6:58 AM  
Blogger camerark said...

That makes a lot of sense! Instead of flashing a flat fill against the sun's ambient light, add another dimension with the off-camera flash and further break up those shadows a bit with the on-camera flash. I like it!

November 10, 2008 7:12 AM  
Anonymous Allen Thomsen said...

I shoot canon and use this technique with the 580exII flash's and am loving the results. I can see that I need the cto gells thanks for taking the time to keep this blog going your work is AWESOME!

November 10, 2008 8:16 AM  
Anonymous Leon Godwin said...

I recently employed this technique while covering a climbing competition in Alabama...Kept the 580 on my 40D for on-axis fill, usually set to ETTL at -2 EV or so, and used a cheap Quantary flash on a stand to add the off-camera light, in whatever configuration I could get it in and make a decent picture (the comp was in the woods, lots of patchy dappled light from the sun, and lots of boulders and trees in the way). This technique really helps with the run and gun approach (shot over 800 pics that day for a 135 pic slide show that evening), as you don't have to think too hard about where the light needs to go for lighting the climbers' faces. Here's the results:


Thanks David, for all that you do in the service of working photogs!

November 10, 2008 8:55 AM  
Anonymous Jamie Karutz said...

Thanks, I use this technique often because I get professional-looking results with a minimum amount of equipment. Who needs PW's when you have on-axis fill?

November 10, 2008 11:28 AM  
Blogger Jakob said...

Nice post. I don´t quite know if it'll work with canon pop-up flash - and another hand held firing at the same time. Perhaps with a PC-cord for the hand held flash? Maybe someone else knows of this is possible.

Working 8.30am to 10pm!!! Are you guys insane - working many hours just lower your efficiency and the quality of your work all together - at least that's what I tell my boss when leaving work at 4 pm ;-)

November 10, 2008 12:33 PM  
Anonymous David said...

I shoot Olympus and in my instruction manual it states, "In RC mode, the built in flash is used to control the wireless flash. The built in flash cannot be used for flash shooting in this mode" I guess my question is does Nikon or other manufacturers also work this way? or is this just a limitation of Oly?? Thanks....

November 10, 2008 1:37 PM  
Blogger lornecameron said...

David. You say you use a diffusion dome on your pop-up flash. Is this a home-made thing or a camera specific number? Any links?

I like the technique - takes some of the thinking out of things. But say I wanted to kick a little extra rim on from one side with one of my SB-28 + PW, can you connect a PW to the camera by cable and have it sync OK alongside the CLS?

November 10, 2008 1:47 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

I shoot Olympus and my instruction manual states, "In RC mode, the built in flash is used to control the wireless flash. The built in flash cannot be used for flash shooting in this mode" I guess my question is does Nikon and other manufactures also have this limitation? or is it just Oly?? or am I missing something??

November 10, 2008 1:52 PM  
Blogger Stormin said...

Wish I'd had this post BEFORe we went to Hawaii two weeks ago to shoot a wedding and some models on teh beach... We took 5 strobes and ended up using only one each.


These could have really popped with some additional key/highlight/edge lighting for separation.

Thanks for yet another informative read!

November 10, 2008 1:56 PM  
Anonymous Don said...

canon 40d, 2 ebay triggers, 430ex, some older manual flash (non-canon). any way i can i accomplish that using this setup?

November 10, 2008 2:57 PM  
Anonymous Mark Westman said...

I really liked this article... funny, when I went from Film to nothing for several years, to digital...i felt like a grade school photo 101 geek.

But just recently I starting using one off camera, and the on camera master as fill, to balance the light for sunrise bikini shot... trying to figure out how the "pro"s do it.

I'm freakin' hooked now, and am utilitizing this techique a lot... backlit subjects, metered for saturation of background, filled. D200 2 SB800's w/included diffuser boxes, CLS, eff if I know the settings...I'll look up the raw if you want.

The photo attached was the very first frame.

Here's the pic link:


PS... I've been LURKING for a year or so... i just LOVE you guys!

November 10, 2008 3:04 PM  
Anonymous Kurt said...

In these situations, using a cto gel on one of the flashes, what is your white balance set to?
Thanks for the inspiration-

November 10, 2008 3:29 PM  
Blogger David said...

Seems to be more than a few Q's on this one. I tried to write this one a little fat, detail-wise, but I do want to make sure people come away with a good understanding of the technique.

Rather thank answering some of the Q's that have popped up in the comments, I will pull together a QnA post and hit a few of the questions there later this week.

Also, I have a job I just shot for USA Today where I used this technique in manual mode, too. Might be a good way to do an OA and talk about this from a manual flash perspective.


November 10, 2008 3:37 PM  
Blogger Bryan Mitchell said...

I shoot this way quite a bit because of being in a hurry. Mostly in manual though. I'm not a huge TTL fan for off camera strobes. I also like to shoot this way at very low power just for a little "pop" yet keep the natural light look for my newspaper work.

November 10, 2008 4:08 PM  
Blogger Eirik -Halvorsen Photography said...

"Camera in Manual (M) at chosen Aperture and Sgutter speed.
On camera flash set to Master, defaults to Group A.
Off camera flash set to Group B.
"Ratio" set to A:B on master.
Ratio slider moved over to somewhere around 1:4. Not forgetting that the scale reads A:B so A is getting "one" and B is getting "four".

At this range (flash to subject) you can also just set the camera to Av at your chosen aperture for DOF, Exposure Compensation (EC) to -1 and activate High Speed Sync (HSS) on the master flash...."

Oh god im glad i turned to Nikon that day in the camerastore when I bought my first camera....

November 10, 2008 4:10 PM  
Anonymous Madelien said...

I'm not convinced. You show us examples of this technique in nature, but in reality, most instances would rather bring us in a situation where there is always some sort of hard shadow from the on-camera flash that spoils the mood. Not to mention the fact that the catchlight in the eye is always less attractive when there's straight flash involved.

November 10, 2008 5:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey David,

I read this post today, and this is my approach sometimes when I don't want to carry around a bunch of gear. Just my G9 and an SB-800 will get you off cam lighting!

Here's a few examples from this summer/fall:


Hope the info on the pics helps!


November 10, 2008 5:48 PM  
Blogger David said...


I just used this technique on an assignment that I am writing up for an upcoming O-A.

If that doesn't convince you, I may be forced to refund your subscription fee!


November 10, 2008 5:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Considering this technique utilizes the off camera flash as the key it's a shame that Canon doesn't allow the 430ex to master the 580ex. It's pointless to have such a powerful strobe on camera when all I am doing with it is a bit of fill. Sure wish I could utilize my 430 and 580 more effectively (and have less weight on camera).


November 10, 2008 7:06 PM  
Blogger t-jack said...

Hm, what about different temperature of external flash and built in flash? Built in one is overcharged to get enough power, so it's light is even a few thousand K cooler than daylight/flashlight. If you try to do the same using built-in flash, areas lighten by it (in this case filled shadows) would look cool, or even blue...

November 10, 2008 10:37 PM  
Blogger dwbell said...

@MKruter -

"Considering this technique utilizes the off camera flash as the key it's a shame that Canon doesn't allow the 430ex to master the 580ex. It's pointless to have such a powerful strobe on camera when all I am doing with it is a bit of fill. Sure wish I could utilize my 430 and 580 more effectively (and have less weight on camera)."

I think you're getting stuck in the details of GNs here. At the distance you need to be to have a 430 in your outstretched hand and suitably off axis you're not going to be far enough away to challenge the 430EX power-wise. Then there's second hand 580's, Sigma units.......the "problem" if it exists is very solvable and not really worth getting hung up over.

Kind regards,

November 11, 2008 1:44 AM  
Blogger migueldc said...

Dave said: "I shoot Olympus and my instruction manual states, "In RC mode, the built in flash is used to control the wireless flash. The built in flash cannot be used for flash shooting in this mode [...]""

My Nikon camera does not have this limitation. The popup flash can control a remote flash and light up the scene at the "same" time.

November 11, 2008 2:01 AM  
Anonymous Mr.Eliot said...

@Olympus Dave: Yes, with the Nikons you can not only trigger but also fill flash with the popup flash.

@Eddie Barksdale: If you use a TTL Cord that normally fits onto your hotshoe the popup flash will be blocked.

@Kurt: I suppose David has set the white balance to daylight as in most cases. If he would have compensated for the warming gel, the flash would be neutral again (so no extra warmth) and the ambient and second flash would be cooled down.

Thanks David for sharing your knowledge - most of what I know about using flash I've learned from you!! :-)

November 11, 2008 3:22 AM  
Anonymous PatB said...

Another great article David. I really like the on-axis fill flash and use it in my studio.

In your set up here using TTL, the user may not be limited to 1/250s and could go for a really wide aperture like f/2.8 and let the high synch speed take care of the rest.

Of course in your scene you might not want to go that wide but it does add new possibilities :-)

November 11, 2008 5:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've used Nikon D700 with built-in and external flash.

* P/A-mode for D700
* TTL -1 EV for built-in
* +2/3 for external.

And I use the FUNC-button as FV lock (which is a great function, by the way.)

Yea yea, I know. It's too automatic, and everything should be manual. But when you're NOT photographing feature, but a news photo, you HAVE to be fast.

November 11, 2008 7:08 AM  
Anonymous Tim Knight said...


How do you think it would have looked with a circular polarizer? Thinking it may have tamed the reflections on the rocks in the left upper third. I know this has nothing to do with lighting but was wondering what effect a CP would have on lighting if I wanted to reduce water-caused reflections? (I do tons of work in and around water i.e. fishing and canoeing).


November 11, 2008 11:33 AM  
Blogger Philippe and Patti said...

For run and gun, I appreciate the idea of using the dome on the manually held off camera flash, since you can't tell 100% where it it aiming, held at arms length.

Manual, strobe on a rope is cool too if camera has external pc jack, so the direct fill is available.

Great stuff, as usual, good mental exercises 8)

November 11, 2008 11:47 AM  
Blogger Franko515 said...

If you are a Canon shooter and want to use this technique Chuck Gardner has all the info you need at this link


Planet Neil is also a great resource


Whats great for Canon shooters is that the on camera flash is meant to be used as fill ;^)

I have been using this as an option since getting my 580EX IIs, between E-TTL and pocketwizards (for full manual control) I have plenty options. Now all I need is radio poppers and I'll have all the bases covered.

Thanks for covering this David :^)

November 11, 2008 4:49 PM  
Anonymous Chris G. said...

I do this with my Rebel XTi by using the pop-up flash to trigger a visual-sensor attached to the off-camera flash. The sensor I bought was about $50 bucks and unfortunately misfires fairly often, but it's better than nothing. I have also used the pop-up flash to trigger a studio flash head (I know) with a built-in visual sensor. Both methods produce great results - sort of a poor-man's ringflash look.

My weak-point is adjusting the exposure to balance with ambient, but I continue to experiment and learn...

Chris G.

November 11, 2008 5:42 PM  
Blogger Gavin ・ ギャビン said...

I'm sure that Canon would tell you that's what the ST-E2 transmitter is for. It's *very* light. Of course you give up any camera mounted fill. I'm sure the 430 EX series can't be a master for business reasons more than anything else. They want to push the more expensive units.

BTW - I can confirm that canon's pop-up flash is completely disabled if anything is mounted in the hot shoe. That includes other flashes, the TTL Sync cord, etc. That said, if you mounted something there that had no electrical contacts the camera would not know of it's presence.

November 11, 2008 7:04 PM  
Blogger jphphotography said...

Hi David, I just wanted to share a template for you and other to help describe shot setups. I've seen these used before but was never able to find a place to download a template. I made this using Google Sketchup and I figured other people could benefit from it.

The project file can be downloaded here http://rapidshare.com/files/162910758/Complete_Studio_low_poly_model.skp
Feel free to modify it to suit your needs.

Here is a picture of what I'm talking about http://www.flickr.com/photos/jphphotography/3022880229/

Thanks for all the great blog articles, you've really opened up a new aspect of photography to me.

James Hildebrandt

November 11, 2008 7:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is this technique called "Run-and-Gun" ?

November 12, 2008 12:19 AM  
Anonymous kurt said...

since you're taking q&a, I've got one more- if forced to shoot ttl and not manual, what light metering do you use? spot? center-weighted, etc? I'm guessing spot off a face...

November 12, 2008 12:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I shot a portrait using on-axis fill. Ambient was an incandescent above and behind. You can see it as a highlight in the hair. There is also slight ambient from a window camera right. On-axis is SB25 1/4 power no gel, key is SB25 1/4 power 1/4 CTO camera left in a small softbox. I have three pics (below); one with all lights, one with only key, and one with only on-axis fill. You can see the added fill on the background wall paper.

Photo Links
All Stobes: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bugtrumpet/2979483076/

Key Only: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bugtrumpet/2978642245/

On Axis Fill Only: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bugtrumpet/2979475784/

November 12, 2008 12:57 AM  
Blogger ggfergu said...

I use the on-axis fill all the time in my wedding photography. It works in just about any situation.

I can shoot groups with 1 umbrella this way and not have major effects from fall-off.

This is also ideal for receptions where I cross-light the dance floor, shoot perpendicular to my main lights, and use on-camera to fill. This gives a much more '3D' feel to photos that you simply can't get with the 'miner's helmet light' alone.

November 12, 2008 11:56 AM  
Blogger xlphotog said...

Sorry, Bro, I can get 'Sculpting With Light" cheaper through Amazon.

Love your sight. I'm bored so I am going to try making pvc frames for all the rip stop nylon I have that wasn't doing me any good in the back of my closet.


November 13, 2008 4:24 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...


Great post. I have been dialing in for ambient with manual, then TTL'ing the SB800. Seems to be more consisten than letting A or S-priority do its thing at -1, then +1'ing the SB800.

I also seem to be getting inconsistent results with my on-board set to fill (usually at -1 to -1.7), so leave that off.

My SB800 is on my tripod, similar to your strobe on a rope, but triggering it CLS mode instead of SC17. I like the tripod vs the monopod since I have a free-standing light (albeit only 5 feet high) if I need one.

Can't wait to see the Q&A post.

November 13, 2008 4:57 PM  
Anonymous Brad Walters said...

That's a worthwhile technique in a pinch. Anything is better that direct flash.

November 13, 2008 9:12 PM  
Anonymous Jammy Straub said...

I've been using on axis fill for a lot of my work recently.

This image was shot using an SB-800 in a XS softbox of camera to left with an SB-800 on camera triggering and filling the shadows. I love the strange modeling effect it creates.


November 14, 2008 12:45 PM  
Anonymous Brian Williams said...


Thanks so much for all you do! I attempted using the on-axis fill yesterday during a family portrait session and posted some pics as well as setup pics at my blog:


November 18, 2008 10:24 AM  
Blogger Chill said...

I got my D90 in early September with a SB600. I tried using the one flash by itself in TTL mode and didn't like the face shadows, so I tried -1 to -2 TTL on the on cam flash and -boom- fine pix. Hard flash, ceiling bounce, wall bounce, thru umbrella, I could do anything I want with the off-cam flash, and the camera did all the work. Almost like cheating.

November 18, 2008 10:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Oly Dave:

Yes, Oly in RC mode only use the popup to communicate with off-camera flash.

However, if you switch the flash (Oly FL-36 or FL-50 flash) to SL-mode (slave)it will fire along with the popup. The popup will act like fill and not as a comlink. Now the popup you can dial in full-1/4-1/16 or 1/64 to balance what you need.

Since this is run and gun with the flash at arms lenght there's no need for RC anyway.

You have two flavours in SLmode. Auto or manual. In auto you can set your aperture. Manual gives u GN. Auto will be easier to dial in compared to the f-stop you use on camera.

Only one caveat. If there are other flashes present then the slaved flash will also go off.

Hope this helps.

November 22, 2008 3:08 PM  
Anonymous Jamie said...

I used this technique for the first time last night, and I was pretty happy with the results. It was easy to do, and despite what some have been saying, the Canon strobes are easy to set up for this technique. Undoubtedly I need a little more practice at it to fine tune my technique, but I'm glad to have it in my armoury now, I'll def be using it some more.


setup details are in the description on the flickr page...

November 25, 2008 7:28 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Simply fantastic!!. cant wait to try this!

November 30, 2008 4:57 AM  
Blogger whiterabbit said...

someone asked for a canon flash tutorial, this one is decent:

December 04, 2008 5:13 PM  
Blogger whiterabbit said...

shot I did after reading this post

December 05, 2008 3:04 PM  
Blogger BobtheNailer said...

I do most shots with a Pentax k10d and a 360 accessory flash. But in trying to explain your work to my brother who has a Canon PowerShot SX100IS with manual settings I came up with this. Tell me what you think. He reads the ambient then drops it by 2 stops. He has an accessory flash with a digital slave setting that he can dial down, camera right about 45. Use the on camera flash at minus 1 to 1.5 to trigger. I figure its a start for him before he gets a DSLR or a G10. Dave, what do you think.

December 27, 2008 11:38 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

I think I've found a way to do this on Canon systems with one off camera flash and the pop-up flash.
The cybersync transmitter (and I think the gadget infinity too) can be connected to the camera through the PC sync. The transmitter comes with a PC-miniphone cable to do this. I bet the the PW's work the same way but I have no way of knowing.
My cybersync transmitter goes off and triggers the receivers if I connect it through the PC-Sync on my 30D and fire the camera. In manual mode I pop up the flash and it fires too. I believe the pop-up flash power can be changed by changing the EC in manual. All we loose is the TTL of the off camera flash... I did not play with it yet just confirmed that both flashes fire this way.

December 31, 2008 3:39 PM  
Anonymous Kristina Marshall said...

Thanks for the great easy lighting tips! I'm getting ready to head into senior season and often times I find myself out shoot at the worst times of the day (even though I try to avoid them like the plague!) This will be an easy, fast, very effective way to get great lighting.

Thanks again!

April 24, 2009 3:28 PM  
Blogger John & Jenny Morgan said...

Thanks for the helpful information, not only in this post but throughout the site. Can you direct me to the Q&A post you mentioned? I have a similar question to one that was posted. Thank you!

March 03, 2011 5:24 PM  
Blogger brian said...

Could someone help me out? I shoot a Nikon D-40 and
just got a pair of used SB-800s. My D-40 has no commander ability, so I'm using a hot shoe mounted SB-800 as a TTL commander and the other off camera unit as a TTL remote. My question is, can I control the flash output level of the remote from the camera mounted commander? Likewise with zoom? If so, how?

March 31, 2012 2:39 AM  

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