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Commercial and portrait photographer Bobbi Lane will be leading a hands-on workshop on location lighting in New York City utilizing the incredible Profoto B1 and B2 Battery-Powered Flash Units. In anticipation of the August 15-16th event, we asked Bobbi a handful of questions about location lighting. Like Bobbi in-person, her answers are filled with attention to detail, practical advice, and a friendly ability to get to the point. Learn more and register for the Photo Quest workshop here and see more of Bobbi’s work on her website.
Can you discuss your decision-making process when approaching a location portrait compared to an in-studio shot?
Shooting on location is challenging because there are many more decisions to make compared to working in the studio: composition and design of the background, ambient light, space around the shooting area, etc. I’m looking for locations that help tell a story about the subject and include what is necessary to get that concept across to the viewer without distracting. If you include too much, you might lose the person. If you include too little, there might not be enough information to communicate the idea of the person and the place. Scouting the location and testing your setup without the subject should still create a well composed and interesting photo. Adding the subject is what gives your photos the depth and meaning of the “Portrait Story.” Lighting is the key ingredient in all of this. You can sculpt highlights and shadows and set the mood by using direction, quality, and depth of light to match your concept.
When shooting in mixed light, where do you begin to meter and how do you prefer to ‘shape’ a look?
Shooting in mixed light or balancing ambient and strobe lighting is always a challenge but can provide some interesting visuals that spark up a photo. Here’s a brief explanation of how to “drag the shutter.” The strobe light exposure is controlled by the f-stop and the ambient light is a combination of aperture and shutter speed. When I’m balancing light, I have to decide which is more important to the image- the aperture because I want a certain amount of depth of field, or the shutter speed if I’m looking to use a slow shutter for effect, like shaking or zooming the lens during the exposure. If I’m looking for a small amount of depth of field then I may decide upon using an aperture of f/2.8 or 4. As long as I’m using TTL, all I need to do is set that f-stop on the lens and the camera tells the strobe how much light to put out. The next step is to take an ambient light reading of the background with the camera or handheld meter set to the selected f-stop in order to find the shutter speed. If I’m looking for a long shutter speed so that I can blur or shake the background, then I take the ambient reading first, set the shutter speed on the camera, and then choose the correct aperture. Using TTL and the manual exposure mode, I’m all set to go!
Can you easily blend in the ProFoto B1 and B2 flashes with ambient light?
One of the great things about the Profoto B1 and B2 is that they TTL with either Nikon or Canon. The strobe and camera “talk” to each other so that when the aperture is set, that information is communicated to the strobe so that the power output will result in the proper exposure. It works extremely well even under difficult conditions.
How much does the weight of a light kit affect your decisions when it comes to lighting on location?
My favorite saying in photography is: “Everything depends upon everything!” The lighting gear that I bring on location depends upon the kind of image that I’m creating and how complex it is. Sometimes I need multiple lights for large rooms or if I’m making a complex lighting design for the subject. Other times one light will do. The ideal situation is to have the power and flexibility you need in a compact and lightweight lighting kit. Sometimes I have to work quickly and change locations. In those situations I will bring the lightest gear I can.
How important is keeping a dialogue with your portrait subject while you are shooting? And given that, how much of a distraction is it to be adjusting lighting while in the process of shooting?
Before every shoot, I always do research. This consists of working on creative ideas by searching the internet, looking in art and photography books, brainstorming with other creative people, and especially by talking to my subject. My subjects are not objects to photograph but collaborators; I need to get to know them and ask for their input too. I try to set up my lights before my subject arrives, but of course there is always fine tuning once they are in place. My method of communication with my subject is to keep a constant dialogue asking questions and listening to answers. Everyone likes to be heard. So while I’m adjusting lights we are talking and during the shoot we are talking. I give a lot of direction, especially to “non-professionals.” Models and actors are much quicker to be at ease and understand the process, but others may need more attention and positive feedback. It’s a skill that takes time to develop and each person finds a way that works for them.