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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Portable Studio

Create dramatic portraits on the road with today’s lightweight equipment

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Nikon D3, 24-70mm, 1⁄250 sec., ƒ/16, ISO 100. Shot using single Elinchrom Quadra with 39-inch Octabank

Honl Speed Snoot 8-inch
I spend much of my year traveling the globe creating images, from shooting editorial assignments in remote Honduran jungles to teaching photo workshops in the shifting sands of the Gobi Desert. One of the joys of travel photography is creating portraits of people you meet, whether it’s in your hometown or on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Inevitably, I find myself photographing people in tough lighting conditions. The challenge of travel photography is that you don’t have a lot of time in any one location, so you have to shoot with the existing light. Harsh daylight, murky alleys, martian green interiors, dreary overcast—these lighting nasties are just waiting for you on your next trip! But now you have a tool to defeat these rough lighting situations—the portable studio.

Nikon D3, 24-70mm, 1⁄250 sec., ƒ/11, ISO 100. Shot using single Elinchrom Quadra with 39x27-inch square Rotalux softbox
Lighting gear, from simple reflectors to studio packs, has dramatically improved in the last few years. Equipment is lighter, more powerful and easier to use. Combine this with instant feedback from your camera’s LCD, and anyone can create compelling portraits on the road. The trick is bringing just the right amount of gear to offer multiple lighting options, but with as little weight and size as possible. And this lighting kit needs to fit in an overhead compartment for air travel.

During my travels, I’ve learned many lessons the hard way about traveling with lighting gear. These include watching my flash heads float down a river to pleading in Mongolian (think, sign language) for permission to carry my rechargeable batteries.

I have two portable lighting kits I bring with me on trips. One kit is super-lightweight and streamlined, what I call “The Bare-Bones Kit.” The other lighting kit is slightly larger, but offers more power and faster flash duration; I call it “The Equalizer” since it has all the tools I need to eliminate any nasty lighting I encounter. In creating your own portable studio, you might mix and match from these two lighting kits since your situation and needs will be different.

The Bare-Bones Kit

2 Nikon SB-900 Speedlights
1 Nikon SU-800 wireless transmitter
1 Lastolite small white/soft gold reflector
1 Honl gel kit
1 Honl Speed Snoot
1 Honl Speed Strap (Velcro®)

1 LumiQuest Softbox III
1 Bogen Justin Clamp
1 Lastolite TriFlash bracket
1 5001B Bogen light stand
1 compact umbrella

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