Tag Archives: strobe

Outdoor lighting for photography

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.
outdoor lighting for photography
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.

outdoor lighting for photography

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.

outdoor lighting for photography

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.

Posted in Dushanbe, Fashion, flash, modeling, outdoor lighting, photography Also tagged , , , |

Tajikistan – persimmons covered in snow

Tajikistan – persimmon trees covered in snow



Snow came early this year in Dushanbe. As I was walking through my garden admiring the white blanket I noticed the snow covered persimmons remaining in the trees. That deserves a picture I thought, and went back inside for my camera. My first shot I took in aperture mode. Let the camera do the thinking and see what comes out. Not bad, but nothing special either. Just another picture of persimmons hanging in the tree.



Let’s throw some light on this, I figured, and took out a strobe that was still standing in my living room from a previous shoot. First shot, nothing fancy, just pointed the strobe straigth on the persimmons. I mounted a grid of 20 degrees to concentrate the light. Camera put in manual mode, at f16 and a shutter speed of 1/125.  It already looks a bit more interesting, but the f-stop effectively blocked out the daylight and made it look like it was shot at night.



So for the next picture I reduced the f-stop to 6.3 in order to blend in the daylight. To avoid overexposure I lowered the power on the strobe. Taping some orange gel over the light helped to bring out the soft orange from the persimmons. Now that starts to look like a picture. Nice orange colours almost like there’s a glowing sunset. There wasn’t though. It was a grey overcast day, as you can see in the background. That light is not affected by my gel covered strobe.persimmon

Would be nice if I could get rid of that grey colour. Not that it’s ugly, but it doesn’t help the magic of the moment. Hang on, how about changing white balance? And since I have a very orange gel on my light, turning the white balance to tungsten might just work. Tried it, and it did. The background turned to deep blue, which just works wonders with the saturated orange of the persimmons.

Same persimmons, but with a bit of light and white balance tricks a picture that is just common turns into wow. This picture was made with a strobe, but the same could be done with an off-camera flash. Check out this link for more on colour gels and white balance.


Posted in photography, Tajikistan, technique Also tagged , , , , , , |