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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Portable Studio

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

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Nikon D200, 10.5 fisheye, 1⁄100 sec., ƒ/16, ISO 100
Shot using two Elinchrom Quadras in cross lighting with standard reflectors
This kit is very light and packs into a camera bag with your camera and lens. You have endless lighting combinations using snoots, gels and reflectors with this kit. I use Nikon equipment, and their flash system is fantastic. The SB-900 Speedlights are controlled wirelessly by the SU-800 transmitter attached to the camera, so I can create interesting lighting setups with off-camera flash.

Why only one light stand? I attach one flash to the light stand using the TriFlash bracket and attach the other flash to my tripod using the Justin Clamp. I always travel with a tripod, but rarely use it for my portraits. My tripod doubles as a light stand using the handy Justin Clamp to attach a flash to a tripod leg. With my flashes attached, I can add an umbrella to the TriFlash bracket and add a variety of light modifiers to the flash on the Justin Clamp. One other item I often carry with this kit is a Lastolite 24-inch Ezybox. This softbox adds more volume to the kit, but the soft quality of light is incredible for TTL flash.


Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 1⁄250 sec., ƒ/10, ISO 100. Shot using one Elinchrom Quadra with a standard reflector
This lighting kit offers more power, faster recycling and the option to use larger lightboxes for studio-quality lighting. The benefit of the Elinchrom Quadra is its speed and power. I can overpower the midday sun (underexposing the ambient light) using flash with lightning-fast recycle times. Recently in Mongolia, this lighting system proved its worth. Many of our subjects were only comfortable with us photographing them for a short time before they lost interest. With the Quadra, we had almost instant flash recycling, so we could squeeze in the maximum number of frames in a short amount of time.

We also used a three-foot diameter Octabank to create a very soft light for our portraits. The Quadra packs have a built-in wireless receiver, so their output is controlled at the camera via the Skyport transmitter. Each pack has two ports for flash heads. I use two heads on the light stands and sometimes add a third head on the ground to add fill light. When traveling with this kit, I put the light stands and Octabank in my suitcase until I reach my destination.

The Equalizer
2 Elinchrom Quadras
3 Quadra A heads
1 Elinchrom Skyport transmitter
1 Elinchrom mini-Octabank
2 5001B Bogen light stands
1 Lastolite small white/soft gold
reflector Various Rosco gels


LumiQuest Softbox III and Nikon SB-900
A few other accessories are worth mentioning for both of these lighting kits. A huge advantage of digital photography is the ability to instantly review your images in the field. This means you’re either looking at your LCD or a computer monitor if you’re shooting tethered. Reviewing images in the field, especially on sunny days, can be difficult. Seeing the image on your screen requires hiding in some shade if you can find some. Instead of scurrying off to a dark cave, I use a Hoodman Loupe for my LCD and a Hoodman monitor screen for tethered shooting. These handy devices reduce stray light hitting your screen and make reviewing images in the field much easier.

Which lighting kit is right for you? Both systems have their advantages. Cost, weight and shooting habits will determine which lighting kit best suits you. Whatever system you put together, practice with it a lot so you’re ready when you hit the road. Make sure to bring extra batteries and chargers with the appropriate adapters if you’re traveling abroad.

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