Creative Lighting For Portraiture

Einstein E640 Flash Unit From Paul C. Buff, Inc.

As a traveling and oftentimes "guerrilla" editorial and advertising photographer, I usually run into a ton of complications when it comes to getting the gear I need into locations, whether it be the need to travel light and get out quickly, or the lack of any source of electricity for 300 miles—all while trying to maintain great light quality.

Paul C. Buff Einstein E640 Flash Unit

I traveled out to the Salton Sea recently with my buddy Greg Lutzka to shoot new marketing images for Black Star Beer. This is a tricky location and kind of dangerous. It’s a no-man’s-land in the deepest deserts of California. There’s no sheriff, no laws and no rules. The place is filled with outlaw bikers and squatters alike, but it also provides some of the most beautiful terrain to shoot. I had to get in, get my shots and get out quick. We drove around, found our location, and we were set up and running with the Einsteins in less than three minutes.

With the sun setting behind my subject, I used the sun as a rim light, one Einstein with the Paul C. Buff Foldable Octabox softbox for a main light and another Einstein with a 7-inch reflector behind his left shoulder as an edge light. With the ability to control every feature of my lights via Buff’s Cyber Commander transmitter, it really streamlines my workflow and allows me to adjust power on the fly without ever having to move from my shooting position. The lights can also be controlled individually via this remote. Fifteen minutes from the time I pulled up, I had finished the shoot, was packed up and driving to the next location.
—Tyler Clinton

Even a very basic lighting setup can add a powerful punch to a portrait while providing far more control over exposure, shutter speed, image noise and aperture in your camera. What’s more, coupling a standard lighting kit with additional light modification tools like softboxes, reflectors, grids or snoots gains you even more leverage by giving you the ability to shape the quality of the light and the level of the intensity.

Deciding which kind of setup you need and which kinds of lights best fit your style of portraiture depends primarily on each image or series that you’re trying to construct and personal preference. But as you’ll see in this article, there are distinct kinds of lights and specific lighting setups that will provide stellar results that are repeatable and easily modifiable for even more possibilities. As your skills progress, and you can see what’s truly possible by mastering lighting, it will be simple to add on to your lighting arsenal as needed, growing new potential with each new tool.

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