Exploring the Ringlight

As a way to share different lighting styles I am learning, I wanted to start a new category called “How I got the shot”. My goal is to share how I lit the shot, with diagrams so you can recreate the image if you like it! As always if you have questions or need 1 on 1 help please feel free to reach out in the comments or via email!

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Getting Started with Off Camera Flash (OCF)

Recently a reader of the blog sent me a question. He wanted to know what I recommend to get started with getting the flash off of the camera. Are you asking yourself the same question? Read on to learn more!

Here is the reader’s question:

I have a question you can help me with.  As you know I am on a budget and need to get some off camera flash.  I am looking for most likely one flash on a stand/modifier and soft box.

One thing for certain is I want to have the part that goes on my camera hot shoe to trigger the flash.

I do know I want a stand that has a shock absorber in it.

Ideally what size and brand do I want for a soft box?

For all 3 areas (flash, softbox, and stand) I will offer a good, better, and best for readers that are thinking about ordering there first off camera flash.

Ok, so this is a multi part question. Let’s start with the flash.

If I were starting over again I would look for a flash system that offers 3 things.

  1. Scalable. As you can see above, the user is just starting out and wants to have a single flash. Looking back I would look at a system that is easily scalable to more flashes or other technology like strobes.
  2. Simple. Starting out I tried to understand TTL and HSS and all of the other acronyms that come with lighting and I was quickly overwhelmed. I turned all of that stuff off and went all manual. Slowly I learned different technologies and added them to my repertoire. So if I was starting over I would find a flash that has these technologies but not use them right away.
  3. Affordable. There is definitely a difference between cheap and affordable. When you are looking at off camera flashes I can tell you that you get what you pay for. If I was starting again I would not spend the hundreds of $’s on name brand hardware especially something like a speedlight that has the potential to fall off of a stand.

Drumroll please……

Although I am currently testing out the Profoto ecosystem, If I were starting out today I would choose the Godox system for the 3 reasons mentioned above as well as the ability to have rechargeable batteries and the ability to re-program the firmware to be able to be used on any system (Nikon, Canon, Sony, Panasonic, Fuji, and Olympus)


Flash + Trigger:

All of the flashes I mention below are in the Godox line of products. It is worth noting as you are shopping you need to purchase the correct version of the light for your camera.

Option A

The first option uses the “master” mode on the flash to control the power and trigger the other light. This is a great start for most people as you have 2 high powered lights to start with and you have full ttl, hss, and radio triggering all built in.

Flash: Godox V860II x 2

Cost: $400 for 2 flashes (Using 1 as a trigger and 1 as a slave)

Option B:

This is a more traditional trigger and flash system utilizing the V860ii flash and the X1T trigger. This system allows you to have full TTL, HSS as well as radio triggering.

Trigger: X1T

Flash: V860II

Total Cost: $249

Option C:

This option is the same as above except you dont have access to TTL. This is an all manual flash that you control the power from the trigger.

Trigger: X1T

Flash: V850ii (No TTL)

Cost $195 in the kit

You can find all 3 kits here: https://kit.com/tjhouston



When it comes to stands I feel you need to determine what is important to you. I own and use all 3 stands below for different reasons. If I know it is gonna be windy I bring a long a Cstand because they are sturdy. If I know I will be walking a lot and I don’t want to have to carry a lot of weight I bring a long the nano stand and if I need a general purpose stand that I can use for everything I go for the promaster.

You can find all of these stands here:


Option A:

If I were to start again I would invest in a Cstand. Some think they are large but they actually fold down to a manageable size. These stands are the most sturdy stand you can get and they are also the ones that are used in large productions and on movie sets.

Cost: $139

Option B:

Promaster LS-2 Light Stand. I have used these stands for several years. From rivers to back alleys these stands really “Stand Up” and take a beating. Sorry I couldn’t help myself 

Cost: $39.95

Option C:

If someone is looking for a compact light stand to hold their flash I would suggest the Manfrotto Nano Stands. These stands are ultra compact and fold down smaller than your tripod. They don’t hold a lot of weight but will hold the bare necessities if needed.

Cost: $57.00



Much like stands, softboxes are definitely a specialized tool based on how you want to control the light. The 3 that I list here are all 3 that I use in my kit and all create beautifully shaped light.

Option A:

My very first modifier I purchased was a Westcott Rapid box about 5 years ago and it still works great. Westcott makes well built products that stand the test of time.

Westcott Rapid Box

Cost: $169

Option B:

These foldable softboxes make for great little light shapers that fold down flat. This is great for travel as you can pack them super small and they can fit into your carryon!

Foldable Softbox w/ Bracket

Cost: $46.99

Option C:

I keep one of these umbrellas in all of my vehicles because I know I can create great lighting super easy. The brolly umbrella gives you nice diffused light in a small package.

Fotodiox Brolly Umbrella

Cost: $21.85

No matter what combination that you choose from above, I promise you will not be dissapointed. If you have a specific need and would like suggestions please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at tj at tjhouston.com!

Here are the 3 kits that I put together for you in rank of Good, Better, and Best.




Exploring Hollywood Lighting

My friend and mentor James Schmelzer is known for his hard lit images that echo the early Hollywood days especially the work of George Hurrell. Today I picked up a Cucoloris (Cookie) and worked on getting that signature Hollywood look. Below I share what I learned as well as the tools I used to create the images below! 

If you haven’t seen James Schmelzer’s work be sure to check out his instagram over at https://www.instagram.com/jamesschmelzerworkshops/

To get you in the mindset, first here is the inspiration board that I was building off of for the shoot today: https://pin.it/uh24tdvk5gcgg3

As you can see from the photos these photos utilized what we would call “hard light” modifiers. Grids, Snoots, Barn Doors, and Flags are your best friend when it comes to this type of lighting. 


My goal for the background is to have light and shadows just to break up the otherwise plain background. To accomplish this I setup the Cucoloris (https://amzn.to/2GRJ1hF) with my B1 pointing through. 

 As you can see, there is some spill onto the background with this setup so I changed the grid to the 10 degree to focus the light more.
As you can see, there is some spill onto the background with this setup so I changed the grid to the 10 degree to focus the light more.

Key Light

For my key light I knew that I needed it to be very focused and not spill onto the background. As you can see from the image above, the light is very focused into a tight circle and it is very directional. I accomplished this by using the 20 degree grid on my 2nd B1. 

You can find a link to the grids here for Profoto: https://amzn.to/2qob1Pw

Also I have these grids that also work quite well: https://amzn.to/2qq0mTR

Here is a pull back using the gridded B1 as the key light, notice the harshness as well as the control that you have by using the grids. (Sorry for the iPhone quality) 

What I learned.

The nose shadow is KEY.

The nose shadow is what determines the look of the overall photo. I noticed during the shoot I was constantly having the model change just her face in order to keep the shadow exactly how I wanted it. In my head I was looking for butterfly, loop, and Rembrandt to give me different looks to pick from in post. 

Light spill is really hard to control

One thing I found while doing this exercise was how hard it is to control light spill from the flash head. I found myself using flags in order to keep light off of certain parts of the scene. Do yourself a favor and have some flags or cardboard handy to help block the light from spilling all over the scene. 

Using the cookie to light as the Key light creates a really cool look

I really liked the look that the cookie was creating on the background so I decided to use it as a key light in order to light just the face. Overall this created a unique look that I really enjoyed. 

In camera black and white is your friend

While I was shooting these images I had my camera set to both raw and jpg and I had my camera set to black and white mode. Doing both raw and jpg allows you to have a raw file that you can work with in post as well as a black and white jpg exactly how you see it on screen. There was just something about seeing the black and white, well lit image, in the viewfinder while I was shooting that got me super excited. Also having the black and white allows you to show your model exactly the look you are going for. 

Post Processing

For these images I used On1 Photo Raw to create a unique film look both in color and in black and white. Here are the 2 On1 presets I created to get a color film look as well as black and white. 



Black and White

Gallery of my faves

Overall this was a fun exercise. I really enjoyed the looks I was getting right out of camera. For this shoot I used the Panasonic Lumix Gx8 and the Leica 12-60. 

Check out George Hurrell’s Hollywood, a book full of inspiration from the man himself: https://amzn.to/2vbnSd4

For all of the gear used in this shoot check out the full kit

If you give this a try, leave your images in the comments below! 


Friday Inspiration: 5 ways to get your creative juices flowing at the local mall

For years I struggled to find sources of inspiration for my shoots. I would constantly study posing cards and search Instagram but I never really pushed myself to try anything out of the ordinary. As I was walking around the mall last week it hit me. The mall or any shopping area is a GREAT place to get your inspiration in high gear! 

1. Watch the light

One thing I noticed as I was patiently waiting for my wife to come out of the store was all of the different lighting patterns, shadows, highlights and how they changed. If you look at the image below you can see how light is coming through the glass panels at the top and reflecting off of the building. You can see some of the stores on fall under brighter areas where some are in the shade. Ask yourself, if you were shooting here where would your subject be? Where is the best light? Where is the worst light? Doing exercises when you are out and about help to train your brain to start to see the light and when you are working with a client or model you will be able to quickly identify where to place them! 

2. People Watching

Taking the above exercise a step further, watch how people interact with each other, watch how they walk, watch their expressions. Just like the above exercise will help you with lighting, this exercise will help you to know how humans naturally interact with one another as well as their environment. Another great activity is to study their facial features. Do they have a long nose? How would you light it to hide the nose and make it look smaller? Do they have nice cheek bones that you could use a beauty setup with? Being able to quickly identify features will help you in studio to identify how to light a person. 

3. Find inspiration in the advertisements

The two images below show two really different types of shoots that I would love to do. One is very high fashion and the other is very edgy sports. I plan to use these two images to put together a styled shoot where I can create similar work for my portfolio. They key for finding images like these two is to find things outside of your comfort zone. Once you are outside of your comfort zone that is where the magic happens! 


4. Identify what the target demographic is by studying the ads

I challenge you to go into a store that you normally wouldn’t go into. For example maybe you are not a very active person and never shop at Under Armor. Go into under armor and figure out what are the ads trying to convey? Who is their target demographic? Being able to identify this will help you identify how you will sell to certain clients.

Example: Maybe you want to focus on high end headshots in your business. As you are identifying your target demographic, find out where they shop and then go there. What do you see? What are the ads conveying? What location are they shooting in? What props are in the photos? Doing this exercise is like having a highly paid marketing team working for you and doing the work for you! 

5. Figure out how images are lit 

The below image is the whole reason that I decided to write this article. I sat in front of this window for a solid 10 minutes studying the image. I found myself studying the lighting and figuring out how the photographer created this dynamic image and how I could re-create this. 

How was this image lit? What modifiers did they use? Was it natural light or was it artificial? 


Here is a video where I share the points that I made in the post above!


Hopefully this sparked your creativity a little bit and I challenge you to go out there and be inspired by the environment around you. Please share some photos of what you find in your local shopping area in the comments below! 


Godox Triggers For Panasonic Explained

You may be taken back by the sheer amount of triggers that are available in the Godox line of lighting products. In this article I try to unravel the differences between each trigger in hopes that you can find the trigger that works for you.




There is really 2 differentiators when it comes to purchasing a trigger in the Godox lineup, capability and price. If you are someone who won’t fully utilize TTL or are not a fan of high speed sync then you can get by with cheaper options. In this article I want to go over the differences between the different triggers in hopes that you can find the one you need for your Panasonic camera.

TTL & HSS Options



Godox Xpro-O – $69

The top of the line trigger as of writing is the Xpro-O. The O in the model numbers denote that it will work on Olympus or other M43 systems. The letter designation also is a dead giveaway for things like TTL and High Speed Sync as those standards are not universal and differ from system to system.


TCM is an AWESOME technology for TTL shooters. Anytime you use TTL, the flash sends out a pulse and the power fluctuates up and down based on the metering. TTL is a great technology with 1 issue, every time you take a photo there is potential for change because it always meters and re-meters the scene in order to get proper exposure. TCM takes your TTL settings and converts them to a manual value so you will retain consistency between shots.

TCM Workflow

To fully utilize TCM I recommend zooming all the way into the subject filling the frame with the subjects face and take a shot. Click the TCM button and zoom back out. By doing this you are guaranteeing that the flash level will always produce a perfectly exposed face in your image.


  • TCM (TTL – Convert – Manual)
  • Better ergonomics
  • Easier to change settings and functions
  • High-speed Sync (up to 1/8000)
  • Control flash power remotely without having to lower your lights
  • Compatibility across the entire GODOX lineup of products


  • You can no longer place a flash on the top of the unit

Who is this trigger for?

I see this trigger being the perfect fit for the portrait photographer that does not use any on camera flash. The photographer that wants to fully utilize TTL but also wants the ability to lock the TTL into a manual mode to improve consistency.

Note this unit uses AA Batteries, I recommend the Eneloop batteries from Panasonic



Godox X1T-O – $46

The X1T line up of triggers has been on the market for about 2 years now. This trigger was Godox’s first exploration of using TTL with different brands of cameras and lights. The X1T can pear with the X1R which is a receiver in order to use your existing speed lights and trigger them within the Godox ecosystem. Think of it as a bridge between your new toys and your old gear.


  • TTL capable trigger for off camera flash
  • Highspeed Sync (up to 1/8000)
  • Compatibility across the entire GODOX lineup of products
  • Ability to use a flash on top of your camera
  • Control flash power remotely without having to lower your lights


  • No TCM ability
  • Horrible controls
  • Many functions are hidden deep in confusing menus

Who is this trigger for?

This trigger is for the budget conscious buyer that wants to use HSS and TTL and also wants to have the ability to have an on camera flash.

Note this unit uses AA Batteries, I recommend the Eneloop batteries from Panasonic


Manual Options

For all of you manual shooters out there or beginners just getting started, this section is dedicated to you. Manual triggers are great because they tend to be very straight forward and not a lot of bells and whistles. Manual triggers are also tend to have better dependability as they do not have to compute as much data.



Godox XT32-N – $46

As you may have noticed the above model number does not have an O like the other one and that is because the XT32 never came out with an Olympus / M43 version. That being said this is still a great remote for people who want remote power control without having to touch their light.



  • Large display to change power settings
  • Ability to control multiple groups of lights


  • No TTL Support
  • No HSS


Note this unit uses AA Batteries, I recommend the Eneloop batteries from Panasonic


Godox XT-16 – $40

The XT16 is one of the older triggers in the Godox lineup. The XT16 allows you to have basic triggering and power control in a small form factor. This system is very manual in that it still uses dip switches to differentiate the channel identifier. The XT16 will trigger using 2.4GHZ and utilizes the small Godox 16 receivers that plug into the side of Godox flashes.

Note this unit uses AA Batteries, I recommend the Eneloop batteries from Panasonic



  • Simple
  • Dependable
  • Inexpensive


  • No TTL
  • Group wheel is easy to bump / change
  • No flash can be used on the camera hot shoe

Who is this trigger for?

This trigger is for someone that has older Godox gear that is still kicking! This kit is also for people who want a simple trigger that is dependable that doesn’t take much to setup and get it going.



Godox FT16 –  $17

Note about transmitting frequency. If for some reason you have older flashes that used the FT16 and clipped into your flash, you can upgrade to the newer 2.4ghz option by purchasing these receivers.


Master Flash Options

Another option when it comes to triggering your off camera flash is a technology called master / commander. You utilize the flash on the top of your camera to control the other flashes that you have in your system.

Master / Commander is a good solution for wedding photographers that want a flash on camera for those candid shots. This configuration is also good for people just starting out as you can buy two very capable flashes for under $130 and trigger one off camera.

Note: The three flashes below are my 3 favorites in the Godox line. They also offer a AA battery powered TTL flash as well as a lithium ion powered non TTL that are not listed here but have the same functionality. 


Godox V860II-O – $179

The V860II is the flagship flash in the Godox lineup. This powerful flash runs on a lithium ion battery and has a guide number of 60. This flash can sync up to 1/8000th and it can run in master and commander mode. The V860 has built it remote triggering built in which also allows for hands free power control.


  • Rechargable lithium ion battery
  • TTL
  • Master / Commander
  • Remote Triggering


  • More expensive then the Non-TTL version

Who is this Flash for?

This setup is for someone who wants to retain the flash on top of the camera and control the rest of the lights in their setup. This setup is also for someone who can afford to pick up 3-4 of these lights and may also already have some Godox gear.



Godox TT350-O – $85

If I am traveling, chances are I have the TT350 with me. The TT350 packs a ton of features in a small package. This flash can act as a master and commander, has full TTL, and can also do HSS! This flash has a little more then half of the power of the V860II weighing in at a GN of 36 and runs on 2 AA batteries.


  • Light weight
  • Small form factor
  • Same features as it’s older brother the V860II
  • Runs on 2 AA


  • Not as powerful as a full size flash
  • Changing the groups is not the most straight forward
  • Sometimes the menu can get a bit confusing

Note this unit uses AA Batteries, I recommend the Eneloop batteries from Panasonic

Who is this Flash for?

This flash is for everyone in my opinion. The size and price of this flash make it a necessity for any M43 shooter.



Godox TT600 – $65

Last but not least, the TT600. The TT600 is the workhorse flash that keeps going. I love the simplicity of this flash. You have power control wheel and a few other buttons and you are set to go. This flash will work in master and commander mode to remotely control your other Godox hear. The TT600 can be connected to an external battery pack which will shorten your recycle time and ensure your flash will make it through the entire event.


  • Runs on AA batteries which can be purchased at any gas station in America
  • Ability to connect external battery back
  • Simple interface
  • Powerful flash


  • No TTL

Who is this Flash for?

This flash is for the budget conscience buyer that wants to keep a flash on camera at all times but wants to get started with off camera flash.

Note this unit uses AA Batteries, I recommend the Eneloop batteries from Panasonic

Wirelessly tether your Sony to your Mac, PC, or even Linux for Free!

Recently I have been on a search to wirelessly tether my Sony Mirrorless cameras to my Mac and PC. As I was searching I stumbled upon a feature rich software that allows you full control and live view from your computer without being physically tethered by a cable. I tested it during a session last night and it worked like a charm. I created a quick tutorial below to take you through the steps to get it working in your studio!

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