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Q & A with ali hohn

when it comes to rockin' the off camera flash, ali is your girl!
her OCF skills are simply amazing....and her knowledge about OCF
is untouched. ali was kind enough to answer some of our reader questions.
thanks ali!!

be sure to check out her website rock that ocf. it's packed full of all sorts of goodies!
also, ali is offering $35 off her online book (rock that OCF online book)! yay! just use the code: maternallens

and now, on to answer your questions:

How do you decide whether to use OCF or not?
Personally, I love the OCF look in my photos. It's grown to be my style. I love the dramatic lighting you can get from it too. There are some days when I wouldn't use it. I've had days where there's going to be no pretty sunset and it's just gray outside. Sometimes it produces a dramatic look but sometimes it doesn't. I have used it so much I can tend to know if I will like it or not.

If you're using an umbrella with OCF, do you also use a reflector?
You can surely use a reflector. It depends on what kind of lighting you are doing. If you do 'beauty' lighting you can put the umbrella/beauty dish/softbox above your client and then the reflector below bouncing back up into their face or you can have a large reflector off to the side for some fill. When I'm shooting OCF outside, I rarely use a reflector because it's usually just me out there. I don't have an assistant so it can be difficult to hold the reflector and camera.

Do you have general benchmark OCF settings for various types of lighting situations?
I always shoot my ocf in manual settings and when I teach at my workshops I always tell my attendees to remember high high high and low low low. What this means is that if you are in a low lighting situation, you don't need a ton of power on your light because you will basically black out the scene. You can lower your shutter so low or raise your iso but when I learned, I learned that if it's really low lighting, I drop my power on my light, my f-stop to match it and a lower shutter. I very rarely shoot lower then 1/125. Now when, I'm in some place where it's strong light from the sun, then I have high power on my light a high f-stop as in f/18 and a high shutter. Remember, you can't go over 1/200 (canon) and 1/250 (nikon)

Can you recommend any good books, tutorials, or sources for info. so I can figure out how to use my 580EX flash? I'm at a total loss.
When I first started out the best thing for me was to actually read my manual. I didn't have a clue how to change settings, put it in manual and I sure didn't know what the zoom was for. When I was out working with a client for some reason my speedlite kept shutting off but I didn't know it was shutting off. I thought my wires were bad or that my batteries had died. I was so frustrated b/c I still really didn't understand my flash, I went through the manual again and found in the custom functions to shut the auto shut off, off. Make sense? If you aren't using your flash regularly it will have an auto shut off. You need to take that setting off!

I ended up writing an online manual on OCF with speedlites. I have that for sale at www.rockthatocf.com. There are a lot of good resources out there too. The strobist is a good one and many others.

What is your go to, never fail, outdoor ocf lighting set up?
Now, I always use my Alien Bee 1600 and Vagabond with either my beauty dish or softbox. I absolutely love what it produces. I also use Pocket Wizard Plus IIs.

Can you recommend a flash for the Nikon D90?
I'm not a Nikon gal but I know the SB900 is a good one!

In your opinion what are the best triggers to use in an OCF situation and what can be done to increase the flashes recycle time. I miss lots of shots because the flash doesn't recycle fast enough, even with all fresh batteries in all the components.
I love my Pocket Wizards Plus II's but that really won't help the recycle time of a speedlite. That's a totally separate part. Unfortunately, I don't use Speedlites anymore because of that reason. Slow recycle times. I can't get that much power out of it shooting in manual either. I love the Vagabond because it works for hours and you can shoot normally with it. No waiting for it to recycle! If you are wondering what a vagabond is, it's a battery that will power your alien bee lights outside.

I want to get a set up to use indoors by my windows. The window light would make a nice fill light, but would the OCF, with 60" umbrella, make for a nice main light in this situation?
A 60" umbrella would be a good choice. it's going to have a good spread. I personally don't use umbrellas. It's totally up to you of what you like. When I first bought all of my gear I just bought a large softbox 50x50 Westcott and I still use that today.

ditto twice on the 580ex! :)
I would love to know the best set up for indoors. Use one OCF and a reflector? I don't have a remote trigger for my OCFs, so I use my speed as a trigger and bounce it off the ceiling.
Any tips for taking my OCFs... off TTL!!?!? I love control! ;)
I would really invest in a 'studio' light instead of a speedlite. You are dependent on what 4 double a batteries where if you have an alien bee, you can just plug it into a electrical outlet.

I have always done off camera flash in manual mode. I really do think you have more control over your lighting when you shoot it in manual. I think manual is so much easier. You do have to know how to get the correct exposures but once you do it enough you will know your light and your camera really well. I know that if I shoot outside with my AB 1600 at full power, my f-stop is going to be around f/18 or f/20 and if I'm shooting at like half power my f-stop will be f/10 or so. It always depends on how close/far your light is to your client too.

I've used OCF in TTL, but most pros say it's best to use manual settings. I've tried reading the manual on how to set the speed lights on manual, but it's really confusing. Is there a simple formula?
I'm a Canon girl. You press the Mode button till it reaches M. Then to change your power, you hold down the circle button and wait for it to blink, then twist the knob up or down. 1/1 = full power on a speedlte and then 1/2 is half of that power and then the numbers get lower all the way down to I believe 1/16th of power.

Once you understand how the speedlite works it's super simple and then knowing how to match up your f-stops to the power on your lights and the distance between your subject and your light.

thank you so much, ali for sharing!!
if you have any other questions for ali, please put them in the comments.
if we beg her she might do a round 2 :)


  1. Begging! Please do a round 2! That was great information and beautiful photos, too! :)

  2. Your images are a.maz.ing-just purchased the online book. I also have an AB1600 and have been wanting to learn outdoor ocf as well as indoor with my AB400-this is exactly what I've been needing! And PLEASE do a round 2!!

  3. gorgeous photos!
    the 1st one is amazing!

  4. thank you ali! these images are gorgeous. who knew!! certainly not i - you def know your light. would love to see a behind the scenes "set -up" shot. xo

  5. Adrianne2/11/2011

    Amazing, Ali!! This is the first time I feel like I might be able to understand my flash and how to get some solid OCF photos. Bought the book and can't wait to dig into it. Thank you so much!

  6. Thank you! I have purchased the book and LOVE/use everything I have learned. I am hope to upgrade to AB (using speedlites) soon.

  7. Amazing!! I am already playing around with the stuff you talked about and I am seeing better lighting!!! Yay!! Thanks. I am going to check out your materials and website.


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