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Monday, June 25, 2012

Amping Up Your Portable Lighting Gear

Lighting Equipment

Woody Guthrie once said with respect to crafting songs, "If you play more than two chords, you're showing off."

Similar could be said of how many lights a photographer uses. So with this general sentiment in mind, we set out to create a musical portrait (granted, a little flashier than what Woodie may have envisioned) with just one light. And a little bit of Photoshop.

This lesson examines some simple, effective ways to configure and modify your shoe mount flashes so that they render beautifully rich lighting, freeze action, and maintain portability.

(Click on any thumbnail image below for an enlarged view.)

Topics Covered:

  •     The Concept
The Choice of Lighting Gear
Alternate Soft Box Setups

  •     Configuring the Set
Camera Settings
Controlling Reflections

  •     "The Shot's No Good Until The Model's In Pain"
Swapping out the Background

For this lesson, I wanted to have some fun and create a quintessential "rock out" portrait. I talked with my assistant, James, about the idea and asked if he'd be into modeling for the shoot. He confessed that he didn't really play the guitar, but that he'd be willing to bust out his best rock and roll fantasy moves, as it sounded like a lot of fun.

The Concept

The idea was to have James captured in mid-air jamming on an electric guitar. I wanted to keep the lighting on him simple, but have it be dynamic enough so that I could easily superimpose him onto a separate background. The lighting would also need to be powerful enough to freeze James in mid-air.

The Choice of Lighting Gear

Rather than use a studio strobe, I decided to try out a portable setup that Photoflex® offers. Essentially, it includes hardware that allows you to mount two shoe mount flashes and wireless receivers inside a softbox. And what this means is that you can shoot with a large soft light source without being tethered to an electrical power source.

I had James set up the kit while I took pictures documenting the process. The first thing he did was set up a Large MultiDome® softbox, supported by a Photoflex Reflector Connector. This connector is similar to other strobe connectors, only the opening houses a flat reflective metal disc, which is designed to reflect light from the shoe mount flashes back out through the front of the softbox.

Next, James set up a Medium LiteStand, attached a Heavy Duty Swivel to it, and then mounted the Dual Flash Adapter Kit onto the Swivel. Once this was set up, James attached the MultiDome softbox and Reflector Connector to the Dual Mount Flash Hardware. [figure 1]

Once the two units were connected, James closed the flaps of the softbox to prevent light from leaking out the back. [figure 2]

Figure 1

Figure 2

Here's a look at the Reflector Connector and Dual Flash Adapter Kit inside the MultiDome soft box. There are four cold shoe mounts to accommodate your shoe mount flashes and wireless receivers. [figure 3]

Figure 3

For this shot, I decided to really warm up the quality of light by inserting four gold panels into the MultiDome. These panels are reversible with silver on the other side, so you have several configurations you can choose from with this type of softbox. [figure 4]

Figure 4

Once the panels were inserted, James then mounted two wireless receivers to two of the cold shoes. These receivers would then be synced with two shoe mount flashes. [figures 5 & 6]

Figure 5

Figure 6

Once the receivers were in place, James then mounted the two shoe mount flashes to the other two cold shoes. As you can see, the flashes point (and will bounce light) into the back of the softbox and Reflector Connector. [figures 7 & 8]

Figure 7

Figure 8

Here's a look at the setup without the internal baffle or front face of the baffle attached. As you can see, it's nicely self-contained. [figures 9 & 10]

Figure 9

Figure 10

Next, James attached the internal baffle, which would help to diffuse the light even more, and then attached the front face. [figures 11 & 12]

Figure 11

Figure 12

Alternate Softbox Setups

Keep in mind that this shoe mount strobe setup is not limited to large or rectangular softboxes. Here's the same hardware setup in a Small LiteDome® and a Small OctoDome®3. [figures 13 & 14]

Figure 13

Figure 14

Configuring the Set

With the softbox now set up, my main objective was now to determine where to shoot. I really wanted to keep things simple and decided to shoot against a window, rather than on a seamless paper background, in order to to gain a little natural back light. It happened to be an overcast, somewhat snowy afternoon, and the light coming through the window was relatively soft and diffused.

I arranged a small trampoline for the shoot so James could get some extra "air" in his jumps. Being in good shape, James doesn't really need a trampoline to jump high, but knowing I would be needing him to jump repeatedly throughout the shoot, I thought the trampoline would definitely make this easier for both of us.

We set the trampoline up in front of one of the studio windows, and James took a few practice bounces. [figures 15 & 16]

Figure 15

Figure 16

Camera Settings

Figure 17

While James practiced some air guitar, I set about configuring my camera, which had a wireless transmitter mounted to the hot shoe to trigger the shoe mount flashes in the softbox. Here are the settings I ended up using:

• Exposure mode: Manual
• Focal length: around 16mm
• Aperture setting: f/5
• Shutter/sync speed: 1/200th of a second
• ISO: 100
• White balance: 5800˚K (near daylight)
• Format: Raw

Controlling Reflections

In reviewing the test shots, I saw that the MultiDome I was using was being reflected into the window. While this wasn't really a big problem, since I'd be dropping out the background anyway, I realized it might interrupt the overall lighting with its hard reflection in the window. So just to be safe, I taped a 77"x77" sheet of LitePanel fabric to the window, which would do away with the hard reflection and still allow the light from outside to come through.

In these shots, you can see the LitePanel fabric taped to the window and the position of the softbox. When I was shooting, I was directly underneath the softbox. [figures 18 & 19]

Figure 18

Figure 19

With everything all dialed in, James grabbed the electric guitar and prepared to rock out. [figures 20 & 21]

Figure 20

Figure 21

"The Shot's No Good Until The Model's In Pain"

James ended up jumping for five minutes stretches while I shot away. We had to wait a few seconds in-between shots in order to let the flashes recycle, but after a while, we both got into a rock-n-roll rhythm. At the end of each 5-minute jumping session, James would have to take a few minutes to catch his breath. Apparently, rocking out like this is quite a workout!

After the shoot, we each went through the outtakes separately and selected our favorites. These were the selects that made it into the favorites list. [figure 22]

Figure 22

Of the bunch, I felt like this was one of the strongest and decided to work on it first. [figure 23]

Figure 23

Swapping out the Background

I opened up the image in Photoshop, used the Pen tool* to draw a path around James, made a background layer of pure white and deleted the original studio background.

As you can see, at this point I had a nice clean shot of just James in mid air with no distracting background to contend with. Notice the rich, warm skin tones? These are due to the gold panels in the MultiDome. [figure 24]

Figure 24

*To learn more on how to use the Pen tool in Photoshop and other digital imaging techniques, check out the Digital Editing section of WebPhotoSchool.com®

Next, I wanted to see what the image would look like in grayscale, so I converted the layer of James to black and white. Thanks to the high quality of lighting in this shot, this black and white conversion resulted in no loss of image quality and had just as strong an impact as the original. [figure 25]

Figure 25

Next, I thought I'd see how well the image held up with an all-black background underneath. Again, just as good. [figure 26]

Figure 26

Finally, I decided to utilize the richness of the original capture and create a graphic background to compliment the warmth of the light. I boosted the saturation and contrast of the James layer just a bit and then created a sunburst background, which seemed to compliment the shot nicely. [figure 27]

Figure 27

Afterward, I thought of how this could be a great image for a CD jacket or some such musical marketing collateral. Now James just needs to learn how to actually play the guitar!


Written and photographed by Ben Clay, contributing lesson writer for WebPhotoSchool.com and Photoflex.com®.

Modeled and assisted by James Helms.

Lighting Equipment

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