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Simple Light for Location Portaits

Guest Post and Images by Stacy L. Pearsall

EDITOR’S NOTE: I will be teaching a workshop with Stacy on location in South Carolina. She’s simply one of the best photographers I’ve ever seen. She’s an amazing human and a great teacher. If you can make the workshop, you should come – in spite of the fact that I will be there too :)

Today I went to a local hospital to create portraits of the surgical department staff. I had a choice. I could go in and snap natural light pictures that would be flat and drab or bring a couple of lights to enhance my final product.

To get the job done, I brought my Charleston Center for Photography intern, Tyler, for help and some really great tools. The gear I brought was a Nikon D3s, Nikkor 24-70mm lens, Nikkor 70-200mm lens, Elinchrom Ranger Quadra with two heads, Elinchrom softbox, Manfrotto Stacker Light Stand set, Manfrotto backdrop system, black Seamless Roll Paper, and Kata OC-88 Oraganizer Case.

I put the Quadra, softbox and reflector dish in the Kata bag. It fits really good. However, I have my eye on the Kata OC-97. This will allow me to fit my light stands and backdrop system all in one bag! I can’t wait until I get it.

I try to keep my gear very light, because the shoots are quick and we move through the whole hospital at lightening speed. Many of the staff only have a few minutes between meeting patients, so I spend my time getting the lighting right before they come for their portrait.

The Quadra is awesome for these sessions, because I don’t have to plug it in. It’s just one less thing to worry about – you know… finding an outlet. LOL! Since I only have a few minutes for each portrait session, not having to spend time trying to find an outlet is good.

I try to have a stand in, so that I can get a better sense of the light and position of the subjects. You can see the below picture of Tyler “standing in” for the surgeons.

I try to explore every angle of the room, so that I can have as clean a background as possible. I also try to adjust my light to better enhance dimension and drama. I know it’s a simple staff picture, but I always find that I can have fun with them.

I usually go through my mental check list:

– Know photo objective & number of subjects
– Identify background distractions
– Find the best angle to enhance the environment
– Adjust lights so that everyone is lit and with dimension
– Pick the proper lens
– Meter lights
– Determine exposure
– Test and adjust

You can see the doctors laughing and having fun. Nine times out of ten, I have never met my subjects before. So, I try to interact with them, joke and put them at ease. I snap some pictures, so that they get used to the pop of the flash. I talk to them with my camera to my face, so that I can capture the moment when it happens.

I take charge of every shoot and guide my subjects with clear and concise direction. This gives them confidence in my ability to make a good picture of them. Just as they are professionals, so am I. That’s the difference between someone who “takes pictures” and someone who “makes pictures”. If you want to be a true professional photographer, then you need to be a good leader and proficient technician.

In just a few short minutes, I can capture the portraits I need to complete the assignment. My client is happy, my subjects are happy and I’m happy.

My final picture from the surgical room is simple and pleasant. It looks like it wasn’t lit, which is what I aim for. Good lighting should be incognito. It should add dimension and drama to an average “light” situation.

Happy portrait making everyone!


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