Overpowering the sun with one light


I was waiting for a group of cyclists to start their SpokeFest ride on Sunday. The sunlight was  high in the sky and  pretty harsh. I decided to grab my Profoto B1 with Magnum reflector out of my car and set it up on the sidewalk on camera left. I was not sure what the effect would be.

The Profoto Magnum reflector added about two stops of light, which is perfect for over powering the bright sunlight. I dialed down the ambient exposure by a stop and a half and set the B1 on manual and at full power. After a few test shots in high-speed sync (1/1250 of second), I just blasted away as the riders came forward. I tried to pace my shutter clicks to the 2-second recycle time of the strobe.

When I downloaded the files, I was surprised at how great the color was. The light was subtle, with the faces of the riders nicely side lit. The sky, which would have been washed out without the strobe, was blue and saturated. A much better look than if I had just shot it with natural  light.

Takeaways: I like to use strobes in situations other than just portraits. Wireless strobes make it easy to put lights in places where cords would just get in the way.

Settings: Nikon D5 70-200 2.8 (at 125mm) f/14; ISO 80 at 1/1250 a second shutter

Using sun, ambient and flash together

At an experimental orchard near Prosser., Wash., WSU researcher Tom Collins and his team are studying “smoke taint” in wine– an unpleasant taste as a result of a grape vine’s exposure to smoke from wildfires. Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW

At an experimental orchard near Prosser, Wash., WSU researcher Tom Collins and I enter a smoke-filled tent. He and his research team are studying the effects that wildfire smoke has on grapes used in making wine. The light was pretty good in the tent where about 80 percent of the direct sunlight was being  filtered out by a black covering. I made some unposed photos as Collins explained how “smoke taint” affects the flavor of wine. The photos were ok, and in my pre-strobe days,  I would have said they were fine. But now, with a SUV full of Profoto gear, I had to make one more photo.

Tom Collins no flashjpgIG

I started by placing a Profoto B-1 strobe with a Magnum reflector about 25-feet behind Collins and  pointed at his back. I wanted  try and backlight the smoke in the tent, which was pretty faint. I set the strobe on group B (so I could independently adjust exposure versus the key light.)

For my key light, I  used a Profoto B2 head with a OCF beauty dish on camera left set to group A. I placed it there because the sunlight was reflecting off of  Collins’ shirt on camera right, which gave it some nice separation from the darker background.

I shot a quick photo in TTL of Collins’ face, then switched to manual on my Profoto Air Remote trigger to lock in the settings. I then bumped up the exposure of the rear light by two stops and the key light by a half of a stop to get to look I wanted.

The strobed photo, compared to the non-strobe photo, was much cleaner and pleasing to look at. This is definitely a magazine-style portrait. Maybe not what readers would expect from a newspaper. I like it, and am glad I took the time to shoot it.

My key take away here is to use the ambient and bright sun to your advantage. Try  to balance all your light sources to get the dramatic look you need.

Settings: Nikon D850 17-35mm Nikon lens; 1/250th of a sec. shutter; f/5 at ISO 125; White balance: 5200 Kelvin


Mascots in a movie theater

This was a fun lighting setup to do for the cover of a college football special section for The Spokesman-Review newspaper I work for. It was a chore for my photo editor to find the perfect time where all three local colleges mascots’ could be available for the photo shoot. Once they arrived at a local movie theater, all three went into mascot mode–where they didn’t speak. It took some patience on my part the get them all to settle down and into the front row seats. Popcorn was all over the place after one mascot started to throw kernels at the rival mascot.


The projector room light was too high to use, so I placed a Profoto wireless  B1 head with a blue gel at the top row of the seats.  My key light was placed camera left, with a B1 wireless strobe head and a Westcott Switch 3-foot Rapidbox. One more light, a Profoto B2 head and 1 x 3 foot strip light with a soft grid, was placed about four rows back at camera left. This helped add some needed separation light behind the subjects

MASCOTSAfter the shoot, the scene descended into madness as a bucket of popcorn ended up on the head of the one of the Mascots. I  kept shooting and the moment ended up being used in the table of content page.


 Settings: Nikon D850; Nikon 24-70mm 2.8 lens at f/3.5; 1/160th of a sec. at ISO 400. White balance set to 5200 Kelvin.