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Lighting Studio On The Go

For photographers who like total control over their lighting, there’s nothing better than studio-style strobes. They provide power and versatility, with an abundance of easily adjustable light modifiers readily available. But while they may be the ultimate photographic lighting tools, they’re also kind of cumbersome and they’re not particularly portable.

That lack of mobility pushes some photographers toward speedlights, but those have their drawbacks too. Namely, speedlight-style flashes don’t pack the punch of more powerful studio strobes. So instead of giving up on big strobes, why not make them more portable?

Portrait clients regularly ask me to work quickly and move from place to place, creating new locations and lighting setups on the fly. I sometimes have an assistant help me, but still, it’s a challenge to dismantle and move a strobe, softbox and stand quickly and easily. Packing up takes too long, and leaving everything set up is too cumbersome to move easily. So, to make my lighting more efficiently portable, I construct a rolling kit from readily available gear. Here’s how.

What You Need

Along with your preferred strobe (be it monolight or pack-and-head style, battery operated or AC-powered), modifiers (softbox, umbrella, etc.) and stand (a collapsible 9-footer is ideal), you’ll want to gather the following:

  • A rolling two-wheel hand cart—preferably the kind of compact, collapsible cart that’s often used to tote boxes and documents, available from most office supply stores.
  • A milk crate or plastic tub. The milk crate is a standard production accessory as it’s cheap, durable and perfect for carrying assorted accessories.
  • Bungee cords. Two or three cords measuring 12 to 24 inches in length. They’re perfect for securing the crate and the light stand to the cart.
  • A sandbag. A 15-pound sandbag is ideal to provide ballast that makes this rolling setup stable and secure.

Suitably armed with the equipment above, start by placing the milk crate on the cart and strapping it down with the bungees. Then, drop in the sandbag, and your rolling foundation is stable and ready for step two.

Next, extend the light stand to the height of the cart or just a few inches above. Don’t spread the base, however. Instead, keep the legs folded up so the stand will fit in the crate, and strap it tightly to the uprights of the cart. Then, place the strobe head on the stand and the pack inside the crate, and connect them like normal.

In the example shown here, the strobe pack is a battery-powered Elinchrom Ranger Quadra, so no extension cord is needed. But I throw one in the crate as a backup just in case. If your pack requires AC power, the extension cord also stows in the crate for easy mobility, and can simply plug and play as you move.

I throw an umbrella, pop-up reflector, gaff tape and clamps in the crate as well. You can even throw in a spare camera, lenses or other accessories too. That’s part of the beauty of this self-contained system: Plenty of accessories fit in the crate and roll along easily with your light. By affixing the stand to the cart you can simply roll up to the new location, extend the light to full height and go. It’s quick and convenient and makes studio strobe lighting super portable so you can work fast without compromising on quality.

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