Using studio strobes on location
The other day a fashion designer asked me whether I could shoot some outdoor shots of a couple of her latest designs. Sure, why not I thought. Usually I shoot in the studio, so it sounded like fun to try an outdoor photo shoot. I’d wanted to practice outdoor lighting for photography for a while anyway . The first task obviously was to find a good location. Since I don’t have a battery pack for my strobes (yet) it had to be a place where I had access to a power outlet. I remembered a place in town where they recently put up some cool graffiti on the walls. That might be a nice contrasty background. After I explained the management of the place about the photo shoot they were all for it. Luckily a socket was in reach with an extension cord.
So we found the place. Next thing was to decide what kind of look we wanted. Since we were going to shoot against a grungy graffiti background I didn’t really want to use a flattering soft light source. A hard light that gives more contrast and lots of shadows felt much more appropriate for this type of background. Hence I packed a strobe and a 21cm reflector, which for the occasion I fitted with a 30 degree grid. You don’t want to light the heck out of the model and the wall. You want the light to be on the model, with just enough exposure on the graffiti to feel the texture and the color. With a grid spot I could do just that. By the way, I was using an Elinchrome strobe of 300Ws, and I had all the power I needed to shoot outdoors.
With the location set and the lighting scenario in mind, we packed all the gear we needed and drove off to the site. And now came the hard part: I got exactly one hour to set up the gear, measure the light and make the shots. The models were waiting outside getting cold and wanted to leave early. The manager of the place was already looking at his watch before we even got started. Working fast was the message. Ok, so you want a simple lighting setup. You can’t waist time messing around with a bunch of lights and reflectors and whatever have you. I quickly set up the strobe with the grid and started measuring the light. Under these conditions you really start appreciating a light meter.
I started with the strobe at full power. It was still daylight and I figured I needed all the flash I could get to overpower the sun. Wrong! My light meter went to f25 and I was blowing out the whole scene. Nice surprise! I knew these Elinchrome strobes are good, I didn’t know they were that good! After some fiddling with the meter and the lights I ended up lowering the output with 3 f-stops, at half the maximum output. That gave me a reading of f11, just where I wanted it. By the way, when shooting in daylight, your modeling lights are useless. So you really need to have a light meter to check where the light is going. Especially when you’re working with a narrow beam of light from a grid spot. I guess you could go for the hit and miss approach with a test subject, but I didn’t have that luxury.
Once I had the light at the right output to get a good exposure the rest was easy. The key was to choose a shutter speed that will allow the strobe light to blend in with some ambient light. At 1/125 of a second I got sufficient ambient light mixed in to light the background, but still keep the overall mood pretty dark. Like this the model would really stand out and catch the attention of the viewer. If you want the background lighter, that’s easy, just lower the shutter speed, and keep the strobe at the same output. Setting up and measuring the light took me around 20 minutes. That gave me another 40 minutes to do the actual photo shoot. Plenty of time to get some nice shots. You can see some more images of the session here. All the shots were taken with a Nikon d700, at ISO100 with a 70-300mm lens.