– Personal Blog of Raleigh photographer Steve Jackle » Personal blog of photographer, father, and technology geek Steve Jackle.

The Making of a Wrightsville Beach Portrait


We made the trip to Wrightsville Beach, NC this weekend to visit with my father and my step-mother Ginger.   Dad and Ginger spent most of their time in Florida  nowadays.  I am thankful that they still come to their place right on the North Carolina beach for a few weeks out of the year.   This visit  provided me an opportunity to share the traditional J. Bavet  Brandy Manhattan with my father and catch up with the latest things in our lives.  Not to mention the awesome steak we had for dinner. I still have not found anyone that cooks a better steak than my father.

If you follow this blog,  you know that my children play an important role in the modeling department as I continue to grow with my photography.  I have followed the foot steps of my father in the photography area. Some of the most treasured possessions I have are the pictures he took when we were children in the  late 1960s and 1970s.   You can see some of these images in the “Then and Now” section of this web site.  Back then everything was film.  My father had a small darkroom in the basement of our home in Racine, Wisconsin.

Much has changed in the photography business with the arrival of the digital era and new more sophisticated  photographic technology.   One thing that has not changed is that photography still relies on your creative and technical understanding of aperture, shutter speed, and  ISO (today’s digital version of film speed).  Photography is still based on understanding light and its impact on your images.  Modern photographic technology provides more tools and options to manipulate these elements when capturing your photographic vision.


My father mentioned that he would like to have some images that used the Atlantic ocean as the backdrop to show his friends back in Florida the sixth story balcony view from his condo.  Soon, the roles were reversed and my dad was the model and I was the photographer.   This gave me an opportunity to play around with balancing the ambient “beach” background light  with  foreground flash light coming from my off camera flash units that bounced off the ceiling of the balcony to softened their light output.

Was it really necessary to use the flash units?  Not necessarily, I could have exposed for the subjects face by setting the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.  Since the subject was backlit, this would “blow out”  the background and we would lose the blues of the ocean and sky  which are important elements of the image.

If I exposed for the background, my father would be a dark figure in the foreground as shown in this test image here. Again this is because he is backlit  in this situation.  


My solution

First, I set my camera to manual mode and selected the appropriate aperture, shutter speed and ISO setting to exposure the beach and water background.  Once I had settings that I liked , the next steps was to set my flashes to light up my father.  I used Pocketwizard miniTT1 and FlexTT5 radio transmitters and receivers to control my flash units from my camera.  The flash units can be set either to a manual mode or  eTTL mode(automatic)  when using these Pocketwizard triggers with my Canon flash units.  The merits of using eTTL versus Manual mode is beyond the scope of this post, but you can find information on these two approaches on the Strobist and Planet Neal websites.  In this case, I chose to adjust my flash units with my Flash Exposure Compensation(FEC) on my camera while my flash units are in eTTL mode.  We were short on time before Dad was going to cook steaks for dinner.

Here are few of the results.

This is test shot we did as I was adjusting the FEC on my camera(almost like using a dimmer switch 🙂 ) to set the light coming from my flash units to properly expose my Father.


Once we got things set about where I wanted them.  Dad went in and changed clothes for this image.  This is one of Dad’s famous gestures when in a conversation.



Thanks again Dad and Ginger for the wonderful weekend. See ya soon!!

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