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.
I shot this portrait of a local high school football quarterback just after a night practice. I used the school stadium lights in my composition to add some drama.
For lighting, I used a Westcott 3-foot Rapidbox Switch with a Profoto B2 as a key light on camera right. For the edge lights, I used two Profoto OFC 1 x 3 stripboxes with B1 heads camera right and left and slightly behind.
The pose was pretty organic. As Connor took off his helmet, it looked kind of iconic in my mind. I just had him hold this pose. I only had a few minutes to work, as the coach said he needed to turn off the lights on the field. My first frames I shot had the key light straight on to the subject. The light was flat and uninteresting. After I moved it more to the side, it gave me a pleasing short light pattern on his face. The little Rembrandt triangle under the left eye made all the difference in this portrait.
I had shot a different photo before this one where I needed the ambient of the bleachers to show. In my hurry to get this shot, I forgot to lower my ISO back down. To cut the flare of the lights, I just raised my shutter speed in high-speed sync mode up until is was tamed.
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
When I see a great face I just have to stop and take a photo. I spotted street musician Joe Sumner as I was heading to a diner with a friend. As I walked past him, the only thought I had was, “I need to make a portrait of him.”
The one thing I love best about the Profoto Air wireless system is that I can put the controller on TTL (through the lens) metering and shoot a tight shot of the face. From that perfect exposure, I switch the controller over to manual, which locks the TTL exposure settings in. With this method, I rarely feel like I need a flash meter to get great exposures.
For this shot, I wanted to try a simple butterfly lighting pattern. I had Tony hold the beauty dish right above my camera and slightly tipped down. The light from the dish was hard, but not harsh. My camera settings were 1/250 of a second shutter, f/6.3 at ISO 50. This killed most of the ambient light, which is what I wanted. I love the complimentary colors of the blue wall and the red clothing. In post I kept it pretty simple with adding clarity, contrast, vibrance and a vignette.
Keep in mind, that you don’t need to use expensive lighting gear to make a portrait like this. I could have just a well shot it with my cheap $179 Godox 860 II speed light and a cheap Godox beauty dish.
Editorial portraits are always a challenge for me. I want to show my subject in their natural environment, but at the same time, capture personality that reveals. I normally get my photo assignments on the day of the shoot. It includes where and when to meet a subject with a few added sentences about what the reporter is writing about. Over thirty years of doing this type of environmental portrait for my newspaper, I’ve gotten pretty good at assessing the environment, lighting and subject to quickly to pull together a decent photo in a short amount of time.
On this assignment, I photographed Dr. Suzan Entwistle, a former surgeon who lost the use of her hand for doing surgery because of a horse riding accident. She now uses her medical training to help several families who have questions about recent autopsies performed by the Spokane County Medical Examiners Office. Her late husband, Dr. John Marshall, was found, Jan. 26, 2016, dead in the Spokane River.
Arriving Entwistle’s rural home, I checked the interior for a possible portrait location and found nothing visually interesting. But the horses in the corral near the house did intrigue me. At first, I was not sure doing a portrait with a horse fit the story until Entwistle told me she lost the use of her hand for doing surgery after a riding accident. The horses and their connection to Entwistle’s story allowed me to bring two visual elements together to make a compelling portrait.
My challenge was the ambient lighting. It was super soft, but in a weird way. Local forest fires had inundated our county with smoke. In order to give the light some sharpness, I grabbed my Godox light bag and Westcott Rapid Box 26-inch beauty dish from my car. I set up a Godox AD200 strobe with the beauty dish as my key light on camera right. I made some test shots all in TTL (through the lens metering) mode. I got the harder light I was looking for, and a nice Rembrandt triangle on Suzan’s shadow side of her face. The photo still felt a bit flat to me. I grabbed a Godox 860II from the bag and set it to trigger wirelessly. I handed the speedlight, with no modifier, to Entwistle’s daughter (human light stands are the best) and told her to point it at the back of her mother’s head and shoulders. It was also set to fire in TTL mode, which gave me a subtle exposure pop to the face and side of the horse. I also wanted to bring the ambient light down about a stop so I kicked the lights into high-speed sync mode. My final camera settings were ISO 250, f/4 at 1250th of a sec. shutter speed.
We chased other horses around the corral, but it was this frame that I felt captured the pain, loss and hope I needed to illustrate the story (Read it here.)
The lighting is not as dramatic as I wanted. I think if I had taken the diffuser off the beauty dish I would have gotten a bit more sparkle in the light.
This photo almost doesn’t look lit to the untrained eye. But look at the horse’s eye and you can see the two light sources.
The one thing I loved about using my Godox speedlights for this shoot is there were no cords to drag through the corral dust, dirt and manure. I would had liked to have used my new Profoto B2’s, but I changed my mind quickly after seeing where I was going to set up at.
The shoot went pretty smooth, but I kept making pictures until I felt I had a good selection. Just remember, as you edit your take, you are looking for that one frame that says it all–body language, light, color, and moment.
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.
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.
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.
I 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 HSS 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.
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.