Off Camera Lighting - The Strobist Approach

We consider ourselves first and foremost as Landscape Photographers, but once you have a camera in hand, and you look like you might have half a clue as to what you are doing, then the requests come thick and fast. We try to be very selective with these requests, referring to other much more accomplished photographers in the appropriate field, but some are harder to refuse than others. Event photography can be a minefield, and we feel that honesty, good planning, and good communication is probably just as important if not more so than photographic skills.

Although we do prefer natural lighting if at all possible, off camera lighting is often required particularly for evening and night time events. Although on camera lighting may be more convenient, this lighting is often too direct, harsh and unflattering. In our experience, this is true even with the use of any of the myriad of light modifiers/ diffusers available.

There are many ways to approach off camera lighting for event photography, from extreme budget, to that requiring a second mortgage. For a couple of hundred dollars, one can pick up some generic flash units and a set of 4 Yong Nuo triggers from Ebay. Add another $100 or so for some light stands, umbrella holders and umbrellas and you’re set to go. At the other end of the scale, one can spend literally tens of thousands on dedicated high output flash/strobe units, battery packs, huge soft boxes and other light modifiers.

We have taken a middle road and opted for a “strobist” approach. Since we already owned flash units (Speedlites: 4 Canon 580EXII between us) we decided to stick with these. Their advantage is portability. Their disadvantages are possible lack of power, say to overpower the sun in backlit scenarios, and battery life. Obviously dedicated flash heads with a battery pack will do a lot better job on location, but also cost several times more.

Rather than use generic triggers such as Yong Nuo, we went for Pocket Wizards, with the mini TT1 transmitter and multiple Flex TT5 receivers and transmitters. These have the advantage over generic triggers in that they are radio triggers and not just line of sight. In addition, they are full ETTL, have high speed sync, zone control, full manual control over the speedlites, and have a range of over 400m. None of these are possible with the generics, which just provide a line of sight trigger.

We utilize easily portable light stands, umbrellas and soft boxes, and a portable backdrop stand. A grey background suffices for most settings (since grey can be exposed to look either white or black), though some events have dedicated backdrops made.

How to use a Grey Background

This is our basic portable setup. We are using large fold up softboxes now rather than shoot through umbrellas:

At some events, dedicated backdrops are produced. This is a 3 strobe setup, strobes camera left and right, as well as a strobe right rear for hair highlights.

This image was taken with 2 strobes only, camera left and right:

A portable strobist setup with a portable backdrop also allows the capture of interesting images anywhere. These were captured using the multi setting on the 580EXII:

Off camera flash is also applicable in many other forms of photography. This includes light painting cars…

as well as all different forms of sport. This is where the range and the non dependence on line of sight transmission of Pocket Wizards makes them invaluable.

Photo courtesy of Rob Scott, Marathon Photos

Marathon Photos

To read more about the strobist approach, this link is a real resource:

The Strobist Approach

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