Portable Lighting for Studio and Location

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When it comes to illustrating lighting tips and techniques, we here at Photoflex like to challenge ourselves by honing the elements down to their most basic parts. It’s important to understand the nature and quality of various light sources so that you can know how to best use them to your advantage when taking pictures.

For eager photographers just starting out, one of the mistakes you can make with lighting gear has to do with over-complicating things. It’s very easy to want to throw another light into the mix of your set to try to resolve the lighting. But unless you know what each light is doing, you can spend a lot of time chasing your tail.

Topics Covered:

  • The Lighting Gear
  • A Simple Full-Length Portrait
  • Accentuating the Window Light
  • Have Kit, Will Travel
  • Outside the Fish Market
  • On the Docks

For this lesson, I wanted to demonstrate the versatility of the OctoDome® nxt: extra small studio kit by using it in both in the studio and on location.

The Lighting Gear

The equipment used in this lesson all folds down very compactly. Here, you can see most of the components that make up this kit (a StarFire™: digital flash and a Small LiteStand are also included).

Here’s what you’re looking at:

A: Photoflex® Basic Metal OctoConnector
B: Photoflex® Adjustable Shoe Mount Hardware
C: Photoflex® Heavy Duty Swivel
D: Photoflex® OctoDome nxt: extra small
E: Photoflex FlashFire™: wireless kit
F: small screwdriver (not included in kit)

I attached the Adjustable Shoe Mount Hardware to the OctoConnector and tightened it with leverage from a small screwdriver. (The new Adjustable Shoe Mount Hardware allows you to use the larger 3/8″ end of the heavy duty brass stud, rather than the smaller 1/4-20 end.)

I then attached the OctoDome to the OctoConnector.

Once you have the OctoDome set up, you can mount the hardware to the LiteStand by way of the Heavy Duty Swivel. At this point you’re ready to add a shoe flash and wireless receiver.

Fortunately, this kit comes with both of those: the StarFire™: digital flash and the FlashFire™: wireless kit. I turned both units on and mounted the StarFire™ to the hot shoe of the FlashFire™.

I then mounted the FlashFire™ to the Adjustable Shoe Mount Hardware and the light was ready to go. For more detailed information on how to set this light up, please refer to the Adjustable Shoe Mount Hardware instruction sheet.

A Simple Full-Length Portrait

My assistant, James, had already set up the white seamless paper background and supported it with a Photoflex® ProDuty Support Kit, and our model for the day, Whitney, was all ready for the shoot. We all thought it might be interesting to start by having Whitney’s chic dress juxtaposed against her pair of silver rain boots.

For the lighting, I started by having the window light serve as the main light and the OctoDome serve as the hair light. James mounted the soft box to a Photoflex Boom and Boom Stand, then positioned it approximately two feet above Whitney’s head.

I knew that Whitney’s left side would fall into strong shadow, so I asked James to set up a LitePanel Kit and position it off to the left to bounce light from the window into the shadows.

Collapsed, the LitePanel frame doesn’t take up very much room at all. And since all of the pieces of the frame are shock-corded together, it’s easy to pop into place.

With the frame set up, James attached the Crossbar for added stability. It’s also an ideal part of the frame to mount the supporting hardware if you’re only using one LiteStand, as you’ll see.

The New LitePanel Kit comes with the new GripJaw™ clamp, which allows you to lock down the frame securely and at any angle.

This is an ideal setup for the studio, as you can angle the LitePanel however you want without having to worry about wind knocking it over. Outdoors, it’s best to support the frame on both sides with two LiteStands and RockSteady Bags.

With the LitePanel Kit set up with a Silver panel attached, I fine-tuned its position until I could see the reflection of the window light bounce into Whitney’s shadow side. With everything in place, I went to power up the camera.

I took a series of close-cropped shots and saw that the OctoDome was doing a good job at illuminating and separating her hair from the background and that the window light was doing a fairly decent job at illuminating the rest of Whitney.

Accentuating the Window Light

The look was clean and simple, but I wanted the emphasis to be on Whitney’s face, rather than her hair, which seemed to be stealing the show. Since I was only using one light, I repositioned it so that it would serve to accentuate the main window light, rather than compete with it.

So I took the box off the Boom, mounted it to the LiteStand, placed it in a similar position as the window light, and angled it to illuminate Whitney’s face.

I then took a few shots with and without the shoe mount flash going off. Here, you can see a side-by-side result.

As you can see from the result on the right, the OctoDome really helped to brighten up Whitney’s face, while not detracting from the overall quality of the window light.

In reviewing the images, though, we all decided that the boots weren’t really working for this shot, and so we decided to have Whitney wear some classier shoes. Once she changed her footwear, I took a few more shots. Here’s one of our favorites of the bunch.

As you can see, we captured a pretty good full-length studio portrait using just window light and one small additional light source. It just goes to show that you don’t always need a ton of lights to get a classic look.

Have Kit, Will Travel

After lunch, we brought this kit on location for some outdoor portraits. During December in Maine (where we were shooting), you aren’t always blessed with tolerable weather for shooting portraits outside; but we happened to get lucky this day as the temperature soared to almost 40˚F! We packed up the OctoDome kit, drove down to Portland’s Old Port, and walked down to Fishermen’s Wharf, where many of the streets consist of cobble stone, brick and dirt. Perfect for those silver rain boots!

For the first shot, I had Whitney walk down a side walkway with an old brick building in the background. James set the light up to the left of Whitney, and I tested the transmitter to make sure my wireless connection was good.

With everything dialed in, I took a series of shots, both with and without the flash going off.

Here, you can see a huge difference with the quality of light and overall contrast. Without the strobe going off, Whitney’s face falls in shadow while the rest of this backlit shot is fairly well exposed. With the strobe going off, however, Whitney’s face and jacket are much more vibrant and really pop off the page.

Outside the Fish Market

Right around the corner from this side street is a great seafood market, which has an old wooden porch out front. For the next shot, I had Whitney stand in front of the building and I came in tight with the telephoto lens.

One of the great things about using a portable soft light like this is that you can expose the background however you want without affecting the exposure of your subject. As you can see here, I wanted to keep the background somewhat dark so that Whitney would pop off the page, and this was only possible with the OctoDome kit going off.

Here are the results with and without the flash going off.

On the Docks

Finally, we shot a little further down near where the lobstermen work. This time, I set the OctoDome to the right of Whitney and took a series of shots.

This shot turned out to be a favorite.

As you can see, this simple lighting accessory can really make a big difference with with the end quality of your results. Below is a cropped comparison of this scene taken with and without the OctoDome triggering.

Remember to experiment with your lighting and have fun in the process!

Written and photographed by Ben Clay

Basic Lighting,

Outdoor Portraits,

Indoor Portraits,

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