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
After 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.
The wonderful thing about off-camera flash is that you do not have to be a slave to the ambient light. Photographers that shoot only available light portraits have limited options when it comes to the time of day where the light is perfect. Golden hour, when the sun is low and warm, is fleeting and if there are clouds, well, forget about it.
Open shade is the other go-to for available light photographers. The light is super soft– to the point of being flat and uninteresting. Sometimes I wonder if that is why so many photographers are relying on Lightroom plug-ins to make their portraits more visually interesting.
In this photo of Elaine, age 10, I wanted to shoot a simple location portrait that captured the spirit of who she is today. Elaine and her family met me in a local park and after a few group family portraits, I repositioned my main light, a Westcott Rapidbox 3-foot octabox. By moving it in close, just out of frame, camera left, gave me some beautiful soft (but not flat) light to work with.
The early evening ambient light was pretty flat. The air was filled with smoke from local wildfires. To create a golden hour look, I put a second strobe with a Profoto Magnum reflector and full CTO filter (color temp. orange) behind Elaine on camera right. Actually, I had her dad hold the Profoto B1 strobe on a light stand high and aimed down on the back of her head. The warm light brought out the texture and red in her hair. The background was grass and cattail reeds, which at /f2.8 on my 80-200mm lens (at 200mm) made for some nice creamy bokeh.
Settings: Nikon D5; Nikon70-200 2.8 lens at /4.5; ISO 125 at 1/400 sec. shutter speed in high-speed sync
My assignment for the newspaper was to photograph Whitworth University’s Haley Goranson Jacob, an assistant professor of theology, who has been named “one of 10 female theologians to know” by Christianity Today magazine.
As I arrived at her house, I had to make my way through a gauntlet of weeping willow branches that lined Goranson’s walkway. I new right then that this would be my portrait location. I set up three lights. My key light was camera left. I used a Profoto B1 with a 2-foot beauty dish. I could only raise it so high because of the limbs. For the background, I wanted the leaves to sparkle with highlights. I placed a B1 head with a color temperature orange gel about ten feet behind Goranson and aimed it at the back of her head. Just for kicks, I place one more strobe a Profoto B2 behind the foliage camera right. I’m not sure if it did much though. I set my manual ambient exposure so that is was about three stops under by using high-speed sync at 1/640th of a second.
Next, I fired off a tight shot of Goranson’s face in TTL and then locked the exposure in by switching to manual on my Profoto Air Remote installed on the hot shoe of my camera. The key light was set to Group A, and the rear lights were set to Group B. I brought the exposure of the rear light up about a stop, which gave me the highlights in the leaves I was looking for.
Settings: Nikon D850 with a 24-70mm 2.8 lens at f/4; 1/640th Sec. at ISO 80
For this portrait, Joel, age 7, wanted to be photographed in this tree. He climbed up and struck this pose naturally. I told him not to move as I placed my key light on camera left. This strobe, a Profoto B2 with a Westcott 3 -foot Rapidbox Switch attached, provided broad soft light on the subject. Behind Joel, I had his father hold a Profoto B1 above his head. The wireless monolight had a Magnum OCF reflector with a warming gel attached. This edged the tree and Joel in warm light that mimicked golden hour.
To get my exposure, I shot one frame of Joel’s face in TTL, ( through-the-lens auto metering) then switched the Profoto Air Remote over to manual and fine-tuned the exposure. Even though I recently bought a Sekonic flash meter, I struggle finding a need for it on location shoots like this.
Settings: Nikon D5 with a Nikkor 50 f/1.8 lens; iso 125; 1/320/sec. at f/2 White balance set to 5400 Kelvin
My assignment was to shoot Rich Zack, an entomology professor at Washington State University. Arriving at the lab, where 3.1 million insects are stored, I quickly made the decision to use my Godox wireless strobe kit to light the professor. The ambient light was fluorescent and murky–you know, like every entomology lab ever!
I started with positioning the professor between a row of bug storage cabinets. I placed a speedlight 10-feet behind and used a Magsphere on my key light and handheld it. I was not happy with the photo. It just didn’t work to my liking.
While the professor went off to be interviewed for the story, I explored the lab. In the back, I found a better space to work. I quickly surmised that I needed to add some color as the lab was as drab as they come. I placed a Godox AD200 wireless strobe with a magenta gel far in the background on camera left. I didn’t have any other lightstands, so I enlisted the help of the university media flack to hold my key light, with a Westcott 26-inch octabox (with soft grid) attached positioned on camera right. For my third light, I had the reporter aim a rim light (a Godox 860 II with a Maggrid) at his shoulders. I shot a test frame on TTL, then made adjustments to each speedlight’s exposure.
The great feature of these lights is that I can set each on its own group. Then from my on-camera controller, dial in each strobe to my liking.
As part of our annual football preview special section, I was assigned to shoot portraits of local quarterbacks. I brought out my big guns for the shoot, two Profoto wireless B1s and a B2 location kit to light my subjects on their school’s football fields. At the University of Idaho Kibbie Dome, I faced a different lighting challenge in that I was shooting inside a medium-sized domed stadium. The other portraits I had been taking were all shot outside at dusk. Now I had stadium TV lights filling the space with bright tungsten (warm color) ambient.
Arriving a half hour before the shoot, my assistant Liz helped me set up my lights. In the far end zone I noticed a large Vandals team logo on the wall. During my test shoot using Liz as a stand in, I found the wall went dark and muddy.
One of the great features of Profoto wireless strobes is that you can put them anywhere– up to 800-1000 feet away and trigger them right from your camera.
I placed a B1 with a magnum reflector at about the 15-yard line and pointed it at the wall logo. After shooting a frame using TTL on my Air Remote trigger, I switched to manual setting and balanced my key and edge lights to be about a stop higher than the background. I found the white wall with black letters needed some color, so I added a 1/2 CTO gel (color temperature orange) to the magnum background light. This was an important step in that I was able to use this yellow light to make a better picture a few minutes later.
In next shot, I had Liz bring the background yellow-gelled light just so the reflector peaked into frame from camera left. When fired, it created a warm streak of light that looked like the setting sun. It added something special into the photo that I wasn’t expecting. I kept the other lights the same. A two-foot octabox as my key light and two edge lights (the Profoto B2’s ) to add of kick.
Things I learned:
Again, give yourself time to set up and test your lighting so when your subject arrives you are ready to go.
Don’t be afraid to experiment as you are setting up. This was the first time I had used the Magnum reflector and I’m glad I put it to use. Gel are also a great way to give your portraits a fresh look. Think out what colors work best with your subject. I chose a yellow color because it worked with the black and gold of the Vandal’s team colors.
Balancing the background light in TTL didn’t give me the look I needed. It wanted to balance all the strobes the same, making the background too light. By switching to manual on the air remote it allowed me to dial in the exposure to my liking.
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.
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.
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.
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.