George Simian: On the street with Portable Lighting Gear

Los Angeles' "Arts District", a large neighborhood of abandoned warehouses and industrial lofts, just East of Downtown, has blossomed into the visual center of the film and graphic-arts world (and is rapidly gentrifying with condos and cafes). Many of its walls are covered with highly creative murals - most put up illegally, before City Hall finally acknowledged their artistic value, and repealed the regulations that criminalized outdoor wall painting!

Just before sunset one day, we took a short walk and shot some test photos for a future workshop in front of a few different murals. It was a very fast, “guerilla-style" shoot - a photographer, a model, an assistant, and the photographer's wife (serving as "behind-the-scenes" photographer). We had very little time and wanted to keep moving, while lighting the model with a strobe to have the attention focused on her (as well as to bring color and shape to the light!). We chose the lightest/smallest pro strobe at hand - the Photoflex TritonFlash™ - which boasts 300 watt-seconds (about six times stronger than a speedlight) but weights only a couple of pounds, including its lithium-ion battery!

Without the strobe, the light on the street at sunset was open shade - flat, from the top, cool in color and low in intensity.

We mounted the TritonFlash to a very handy LiteReach Plus pole. Even with its lithium-ion battery pack and a 5' OctoDome attached, it weighed only a couple of pounds! My assistant simply kept a constant 5-foot distance from the OctoDome to the model - hence, all our exposures were at f/8.

We started with a shutter speed of 1/125th of a second, and as it got darker, gradually dropped to 1/60th, then 1/30th, all at ISO 200 and a custom white balance.

We modified the effect of the available light by first using a blue gel inside the OctoDome (hence, pushing the ambient light to very warm), then switching to an amber gel (hence, making the ambient light very blue).

This handheld, off-camera flash in manual exposure, kept at a constant distance from the subject, gave us a constant aperture setting (and also bypassed the city ordinance requiring a permit for the use of any tripods or light stands!) We balanced the available light for the background by slowing down our shutter speed as necessary. We changed the color of the ambient light by gelling the strobe and custom-white-balancing the camera to the color of the strobe, hence, pushing the background in the opposite color direction.

Simple, fast, and effective. With no more than a few minutes at each mural, we walked around a couple of blocks and got all our shots within the last hour of daylight.

To learn more about the products demonstrated in this post, check out the following links:

OctoDome®: medium

LiteReach® Plus

TritonFlash (The TritonFlash is currently sold out. Coming Soon! The new TRITONFLASH2: Higher Wattage, Wireless Control, Faster Recycle Time)

George Simian is a commercial photographer and educator who lives and works in Los Angeles. To see more of his work, visit

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