Location lighting breakdown: Using four lights

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Whitworth quarterback Ian Kolste. Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review

Sometimes simple lighting with one light source is best, but not in this case. I had just bought a Profoto B2 location strobe kit to go with my Profoto B1s. My assignment for my newspaper was to produce strobe-lit portraits of four different quarterbacks from around the region. I wanted to push my lighting skills and really work at shaping the light using a mix of hard and soft sources. Adding the Profoto B2’s gave me a chance to use four strobes on my subject.

I really like to use edge lighting with my 1 x 3 strip softboxes for sports portraits. When you look at the photo above you will see how the strip lights  help separate Ian from the background, These are the lights I start with first, as they can be tricky to find the best angle to edge the subject. I did a few tests flashes to get them placed, then moved on to my background light, which I placed about five-feet behind with a small reflector and a warming gel. This gave me a nice rim light on his head.

For my key light, I placed my strobe camera right, parallel to Ian’s face. At first, I had a two-foot octabox on the B1 head, but I felt I needed a harder light on his face. Using the bare bulb of the B1 head gave me the hard light I was looking for.

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I started shooting my first shots with my on-camera Profoto Air Remote set to TTL, then switched to manual to lock in the settings. I used three groups of light settings. “A” group was my strip boxes, “B” group was my rear light and “C” was my key light. I adjusted each group’s exposure to dial in the look I wanted and then fired away. My settings were 250th of the sec., f/4 at ISO 100.

I really liked how the Profoto B1s and B2s worked together flawlessly.

Some takeaways and tips:

  • Arrive early, set up and test your lights before the subject shows up. I was lucky in that my boss came with me to help assist. Having her be a stand in made the final shoot go quickly without a lot of trouble shooting.
  • Soft grids on the strip lights are really helpful in focusing the light where you want it, but also they prevent flare from hitting your lens.
  • Be willing to experiment and try something different. I started out with more of a ridged pose, but then had Ian go through the motions of throwing the ball. That motion really helped bring the photo to life.

Lighting breakdown: Light the face, shoot the mirror

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Jackie Pederson holds a photo of her son Jason who was shot and killed in a downtown Spokane Alley recently. Jason was 37 when he died. Growing up, he was a pretty clean-cut kid. He was an Eagle Scout, and his dad was his troop leader. When Jason was in his early 20s, his dad died, and Jason was the one who came home and found him. It really affected him, and he struggled with depression and alcoholism off and on throughout his adult life. Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review

When I arrived a Jackie Pederson’s home, it had only been a few days since she found out her son Jason had been shot and killed in a downtown Spokane Alleyway. My photo assignment just said get a photograph of Pederson. I’ve been to a dozen or more of these types of photo situations in my career. Someone has died and the only (and easiest) way is to have the loved one hold a picture of the deceased.

Before I started to incorporate wireless strobes into my photojournalistic work, I would have just used the window light and called it good. Now with speedlights I have far more visual options.

I walked around Pederson’s kitchen and living room, but struggled to find a clean background in a house filled with knickknacks and wall ornaments gathered over a lifetime.

I glanced in the large living room mirror and solved my lighting dilemma. I positioned Pederson looking into the mirror. A minor problem of her not being tall enough was solved with a kitchen stepladder. Now I have to figure out the best way to light her and the room. I want to shape and focus my key light just on her, so I chose my Westcott Rapid Box  12 X 36” Strip. with a soft grid and a Godox 860II speedlight. I fire off a few test frames and like what I see, but I think the background needs some color.

I place another Godox 860II wireless speedlight in the back corner of the room and attach a Magmod blue gel to the strobe. I aim it up and toward the back wall. I felt the blue light would reflect the sadness of the situation.

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To be clear here, I am staying very connected to my vulnerable subject. I do not want to push to hard, considering what had happened to her son. I work quickly on the set up.  I start to shoot into the mirror and the TTL flash exposure of the main light is right on. The background speedlight is a bit bright though.

One thing I have learned using gels is that if you underexpose them a stop or so, you get more color saturation. On my Godox X1n hot shoe-mounted wireless trigger, I dial down the background flash one stop and shoot away. I played around with my composition , tightening it as I shot.

A few minutes later I was packed up and headed to my next assignment. Total time from arrival to completion was 32 minutes.

Location lighting breakdown: In search of Bigfoot

 

Searching for Bigfoot
Cliff Barackman, a Bigfoot field researcher and co-host of Animal Planet’s “Finding Bigfoot” TV series, has been searching for the elusive Sasquatch for 23-years. Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review

Our directions were a bit fuzzy, just a point on a Google map next to a forest logging road in the Blue Mountains of Washington state. Spokesman-Review Reporter Abby Lynes and I were getting nervous as the sun inched toward the horizon and, well, we were in Bigfoot country. Read her story here.

We had come the the Blue mountains in search of Bigfoot, or rather Cliff Barackman, a Bigfoot researcher and co-host of Animal Planet’s “Finding Bigfoot” TV series. 

Turning a corner, there he was sitting in a lawn chair next of his Jeep Wrangler waiting for us. Our plan was to camp with Barackman and then go out at night to see if we could get a Bigfoot to respond to Barackman’s Sasquatch call.

SRX_BIGFOOT_2_OFCI realized that my golden light moment was fading, and I quickly grabbed my Godox location light kit and went to work. I noticed the sunset peaking through the forest trees. I had Barackman stand on a stump as  I placed my lights. My key light is a Godox AD200 placed camera right. I used a 28-inch Westcott Rapidbox beauty dish with soft grid as my modifier. Next, I quickly placed a second strobe, a Godox 860II, behind him camera left. I put a Magod grid with a CTO (color temperature orange) gel to mimic the evening sunlight and to add a bit of edge light.

Now the pressure was on. We drove a mile down the road to our campsite. It had an open view of the sun setting.

One of the themes I continuously face with location lighting is time constraints. “You only have ten minutes,” is what I usually get from coaches, executives, or in this case the sun.

I positioned Barackman with the sun to his back. I used just one light this time, a Godox AD200 with a beauty dish covered with a soft grid. The lighting challenge here is one where TTL (through the lens metering) and high-speed sync (HHS) of the strobe works great. In order for me to get the rich light of the sun, I had to under expose my ambient light. With the strobes lowkeytut-4HSS I was able to go above my camera’s limited sync speed of 250th and raise it to 1600th of a second. My camera monitor showed me  a properly exposed background, but Cliff was a silhouette.  I now add the strobe light. The great thing about the wireless Godox strobes is that I can adjust the output right from my camera’s hot-shoe mounted trigger. The TTL read the light pretty good, but Cliff was a bit under exposed. I bumped the strobe one stop and got the perfect exposure I was looking for just as the sun went below the horizon.

Time to setup camp

That night, Barackman took us out on a midnight stroll along dark logging roads. When I say dark, I mean only moonlight. You see, flashlights and camera strobes are not one of Bigfoot’s favorite things. We spent a few hours calling Sasquatch, but unfortunately no replies. Also no decent photos. No worries! When we got back to camp, I asked Cliff to pose in the forest with is thermal images viewer.

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This time I used two Godox strobes– front, camera left with a Magmod grid and a warming gel, and a speedlight with a blue gel placed about ten feet behind Cliff. The warm and cool gels created the atmosphere I was looking for. I was hoping to catch the reflection a Bigfoot’s eyes in my photo, but I’m sure the gentle giant was somewhere far, far away.

Speedlights shine with new features

In the past few years, a big shift in the functionality of speedlights and strobes have taken place. Photographers who wanted to use wireless with their portable strobes had to cobble together external transmitters/receivers like Pocket Wizards to trigger their off-camera flashes.

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The big change came when Chinese manufactures like Godox and Yongnuo reverse engineered the TTL metering systems of Nikon and Canon speedlights. They added built-in wireless receivers, making the need for Pocket Wizards moot. Rapid development schedules proceeded to out-spec and undercut the price of the big camera manufacturers strobes by half or more. High-end strobe companies like Profoto jumped in too with their innovative wireless  AirTTL B1 and B2 systems

So why does is this matter?

Lately, the cost of entry into a wireless off-camera systems has fallen through the floor. When I was researching flash systems, I  was shocked at the price of the new Nikon SB5000 wireless speed light. At $600.00, plus the camera trigger for $200.00 more, the price just didn’t seem like a great value to me.

Instead,  I took a chance and ordered two Godox 860IIN speedlights for $200.00 apiece. The quality-built hot shoe trigger cost only $49.00! So for cost of one Nikon SB5000, I got two Godox TTL wireless speedlights and a trigger. Later, I added a slightly larger, but more powerful 200 watt-second Godox AD200 ($299.00) to my kit.

So what am I missing by not going with the Nikon? Not much as far as I can tell. The build quality is of the Godox is excellent. The Godox strobes also come with rechargable lithium ion batteries, which are a huge cost-saving. They last forever, and the recycle time is faster than the alkaline batteries the Nikon SB5000 uses.

Before I bought the Godox speedlights, the best I could do is use a long TTL cord tethered from my camera to the flash. Now I can quickly set up multiple speedlights and dial in the exposure of each right from the display on the hot shoe trigger.

The most powerful feature for me is the inclusion of high-speed sync. HSS allows me to shoot above my camera’s sync speed of 250th of a second. Depending on the lighting situations, I can shoot up to 8000th of sec.–turning ambient daylight into night. This feature also opens up creative possibilities, allowing photographers to use wider apertures with flash in their photos.

I have been using my Godox system trouble free for five-months now and have no regrets at not spending twice the money on a Nikon system.

 

Simple OCF brings big rewards

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I had a last-minute assignment to photograph a solar eclipse wedding as an assignment for the newspaper I work at. The couple, from Hong Kong, decided to get married shortly before the moon covered the sun. My go-to lighting kit is three Godox strobes and a 26- inch Westcott Rapidbox beauty dish. As the sun was nearing the point of partial eclipse, the couple’s wedding photographer had them and the party toast the moment. I quickly set up my Godox AD200 strobe with the Rapidbox camera left–about six feet up on a stand with the diffusion cover off. I then quickly set up two Goxdox 860II speed-lights behind the group camera left and right just out of frame. With these, I placed Magmod grids and warming filters on the strobes to add a bit of warmth to the scene. I shot the all the strobes in TTL (through the lens) metering mode with an Godox X1N trigger on-camera. The TTL worked great for the test exposures. The wedding photographer decided to lay on the ground for his shot. After he was finished, I jumped in and shot at a higher view with my Nikon 24-120mm f/4 for the above photograph. The settings were 160th of a Sec., ISO 100 at f/5.

The photo ran on the Associated Press wire and was used in publications all over the world, including Time magazine, CNN and The Guardian.

I am trying to incorporate more off-camera flash into my everyday newspaper assignments. It is such a great training ground for using OFC. I want push my boundaries of my lighting abilities and see what I can come up with.  If you have any question, hit me up in the comments below.