Two General "Portrait/Lighting" Questions

Cory

EOS RP
Oct 20, 2012
553
3
Yardley, PA
youtube.com
If you can, I have 2 quick questions as I orient myself to learning more. Just got Syl Arena's "Speedliter's Handbook" which might answer all, but in the mean time -

1. Do some high-level portrait photographers not use backgrounds, but only natural settings (whether inside or out)?

2. I'm trying to get my head around off-camera flash using flashes and/or strobes, but what's the deal with being triggered by the camera or using lights that are on all the time?

Hope that made sense and thanks for any input.
 

Bennymiata

EOS R
CR Pro
1. Some top photographers like to use fixed backgrounds, and some don't.
It just depends on the circumstances and the brief.

2. You can use constant lighting or flash.
Constant lighting, like video lights etc., are good, but nowhere near as powerful as studio flashes.
If you are shooting outdoors, flash is much better to get the amount of light you want, and where it is placed.
To operate the off-camera flashes, get yourself a radio trigger system. You can get good Chinese ones relatively cheaply, and they work quite well.
 
P

Pookie

Guest
Cory said:
If you can, I have 2 quick questions as I orient myself to learning more. Just got Syl Arena's "Speedliter's Handbook" which might answer all, but in the mean time -

1. Do some high-level portrait photographers not use backgrounds, but only natural settings (whether inside or out)?

2. I'm trying to get my head around off-camera flash using flashes and/or strobes, but what's the deal with being triggered by the camera or using lights that are on all the time?

Hope that made sense and thanks for any input.
I think your questions are a little limiting... any portrait photographer can do either depending on the needs of the client or the aesthetics being attempted.

Strobes or speedlites it makes no difference... it always looks better to pull your light off axis aka off-camera, even if slightly. Unless your intentionally going for that look with ring lighting or something similar. Constant lighting is ok but not the best unless your talking about reflective. Well, maybe some Kino Flo's might work if you have them. It all really depends on the circumstances. Triggers are what they are not much to them. The newer ones can control multiple units at the same time but cheapy ones will work too. If your talking about speedlite then RF will do the same these days. I prefer Elinchrom for my trigger needs.

I wouldn't classify any photographer as high-level or know what that means. Heisler, Avedon, Mann, Liebovitz, etc, etc, etc... are all superb portraitists. Are they inherently better than anyone else or have some higher attained knowledge than you or I...no. Do they have the "correct" formula over any other... no. What they do have is experience.

I consider myself a professional as I have paid the bills for many years with my business. What that means to me is that I can walk into a room or event and know exactly what it takes to capture what a client needs without excuses. That is experience and that only comes from always working to get better, learning from my mistakes. Always looking for new angles and not being so worried about the equipment. I know my gear though and I know each systems pluses and minuses... and I can work them to the maximum or at the least figure it out quickly. Me personally... I love on site work. Weddings, portraits of people doing what they love and events work. I will work in my studio if requested but if I have a choice I'd rather be "out there", anywhere but in the studio. Is it better than studio work no... just different.

Syl's book is good. I've attended many of his workshops but what I find interesting with him is his sole reliance on speedlites. It's an interesting concept but in many ways supremely limited. McNally is kind of the same way but with Nikon gear or Lastolite.


I do love on-site strobes though... Elinchrom are my faves but I use Profoto too.
 

FTb-n

Canonet QL17 GIII
Sep 22, 2012
533
8
St. Paul, MN
I shoot mostly available light events and sports, but have been aggressively exploring portrait work for several years. I think I can relate to the path that you are on.

I found the art of painting with light to be intimidating at first -- but also challenging. Plus, it can be fun to make your own backdrops from king-size flat bed sheets and Rit dye, and stands from PVC. Over the years, I've made many backdrops and reflectors, and purchased a bunch of Yongnuo flashes, and lots of umbrellas. I started with a single off-camera flash and an umbrella then kept adding lights and reflectors. While I still use several lights for "high-key" shots against white seamless paper, I'm back to exploring one or two lights and a large 4'x6' 5in1 reflector. Simple is a good way to learn how to paint with light.

My best advice is to absorb as much as you can from sources available on the internet. Google is a valuable tool. David Hobby's site, www.strobist.com is a great place to start. Adorama and BHPhoto have many online video tutorials that are quite helpful. I particularly like what Gavin Hoey has offered on Adorama (and his own www.gavtrain.com).

To answer your questions, pros use whatever they need to get the shot that their clients want. I occasional shoot senior photos and find that most prefer the great outdoors. Still, it helps to be comfortable with and without a backdrop. One tip. With a fast lens (like the 70-200 f2.8 ) and lots of trees in a distant background, you can blur the leaves to render the mottled backdrop look.

Flash or constant lighting is a personal preference that may be dictated by venue. Constant lighting offers the benefit of immediately seeing how your lights paint your model. But, they need power and limit you to a studio. Older lights can be hot and uncomfortable. Peter Hurley is one of the top head-shot photogs in the country and pioneered a look with florescent Kino lights. He has now switched to LED light banks. If you're handy in the garage, you can make your own with 2x4 shop lights from Home Depot using T8 florescent or LED (the latter would be better).

Flash or strobe is still king for location shoots. I prefer to "take my studio with me" and have stuck with flash and strobes. (But, I often revisit the idea of making my own florescent or LED system.)

For what it's worth, I have had good luck with Yongnou YN565 EX II flashes, YN622c remotes, and Adorama's Flashpoint RoveLight 600. I would start with a couple the YN565's. The best deal in AC-powered strobes is likely with Paul C Buff lights. But, if you don't want to deal with external battery packs for location shooting, the RoveLight is very handy.

I have collected many YN flashes and often doubled them up with two per umbrella. But, I wish that I had taken the plunge into monolights sooner. Still, I suggest starting with a couple flashes. If you find your self wanting 5 or 6 (or more), then consider a monolight.

At the risk of rambling, I'll offer some of the things that I learned from my light painting journey.

Yongnuo 622c remotes are cheap and reliable. I've tried others, but like these the best and carry at least four for shoots. I use them on my flashes and my RoveLights.

My must-have kit consists of two YN-565 flashes, four 622c remotes, and two 5"x5" bases made from a cutting board and using the cheap plastic shoe stand that come with each flash. Place these at strategic locations around a room to bounce light around and you have a make-shift studio. Add home-made foam wrap-around reflectors and you can add more control over the light. This can be a great way to explore controlling the direction of light while leveraging walls or ceilings to diffuse it.

Add a couple Impact stands and white translucent umbrellas, and you have a versatile portable studio kit. I've collected lots of umbrellas, but my most used by far are satin white umbrellas for shoot-thru or bouncing. I prefer the Photoflex 45" satin white and the Photoflex 60" convertible without the black backing. These are relatively cheap and extremely versatile. They bounce light everywhere, which can be forgiving. Put the black backing on the 60" and you can gain more control over spill. Collapse it a bit and you have a makeshift snoot.

I have stands from Bogen, Photoflex, Cowboy Studio and Impact. My preference is Impact which offers a great product and good price. While I have different sizes, the heavy duty, 3 section, 9.6' stand is my favorite for it's stability.

A simple, white, 10x20 foot backdrop is my most versatile one. It can be white if lit or near black if not. But, I also like a 10x20 black backdrop. If I could only have two, these would be the two.

You will read lots about soft boxes and options are plenty. I prefer quick setup and round catch lights. The Paul C Buff PLM system is tuff to beat and works great on location. I like the soft silver with the white diffuser in both the 51" and 64" sizes. Put a Stofen-like diffuser on a flash when using it with these umbrellas. The Stofen will fill the umbrella more than a bare flash with virtually no loss in power.

Favorite reflector is a 4'x6' Fotodiox 5-in-1. You can hang it on a stand, close to your model to offer soft fill from your key light. Or lay it on the ground to fill shadows for small group shots.

For what it's worth, my new favorite softbox for the RoveLight is Adorama's ParaPop 28". It's my most expensive modifier, but I love the light and it's a great size for most outdoor shoots. Oh, sandbag or a voice-operated-light-stand (such as a son or daughter) is an added plus when shooting outdoors.