On Assignment: Mark Edwards

A suburban community nestled between Baltimore and Washington DC, Howard County is not exactly known for its exotic location backdrops for shoots. But if you are a little creative, you can usually scrounge something up.

Such was the case for a recent HCAC shoot of classical guitarist Mark Edwards, for which we borrowed access to the courtyard of the Franciscan Friars in Ellicott City, MD.

The Friars are caretakers of an actual relic -- AKA, a part of a human body -- a practice which is common in Europe but much less so in the United States. The Franciscan Friars' Shrine of St. Anthony houses a relic from the saint of the same name.

The relic looks about as you would expect a centuries-old piece of human flesh to look, but the building itself is beautiful. It was designed after a similar structure in Assisi, Italy and is a great location, considering the relative homogeneity of the surrounding areas.

My standard M.O. for getting access to a neat area for a shoot is to call well in advance, compliment the heck out of the location, and be very flexible and deferential to their schedule.

I generally do not promise so beforehand, but afterwards I almost always email some images of the location itself and give the owners the rights to use them on the website, etc.

Some will chafe at the fact that I am giving away the use of photos, but I am also getting a great location for free. It's a win/win, as we are both essentially getting something for next to nothing.

It's also great karma. Thinking every transaction has to be of the monetary kind -- not-so-great karma.

Expose for The Sky, Light for The Subject

For the shot at top I completely underexposed the shaded, interior hallway around Mark, dropping the exposure to just below that of the full-daylight sky and sunlit background.

That means going to a 250th of a second shutter speed right off the bat, to give myself a friendly aperture against which to light. The shutter speed gives you the aperture (adjust your aperture until you get the background tones you want). Then you match that exposure with your flash and you are good to go.

For these photos I was using one light -- a Profoto B600 battery-powered flash in a Paul Buff PLM. I love the 64" version. I cannot imagine the big one, as the middle-sized one I use is humongous.

It is similar in theory to the 60" Photek Softlighter II (which I used here) but significantly more efficient due to its parabolic design.

Both of those light mods offer wonderful value for money -- truly a poor man's Octa, IMO. They both have some advantages over the other, but for less than $100 it is hard to go wrong either way. I am using both of them quite a bit lately, and hope to have a good comparison post up before long.

Give Yourself an Edge

So, why even use a PLM or Softlighter? Why not just a Zack Arias Special 60" umbrella?

Simple -- I love what that optional front panel does for me. It gives me a light source that has a flat front, and that means it has an edge you can feather.

Sometimes you want a big, bulbous light source to flood the area. And for that an umbrella is great. But the PLM, for instance can give you a beautiful, efficient, soft light source with an edge that you can use.

Take this shot, for example. See how the light falls off as it heads up the wall? That makes Mark pop a little more, and it is very difficult to do with an umbrella. You could flag it, I guess. But that would involve another stand, a big gobo and some clamps.

The outcropping on the wall also falls off a little differently than does the recessed wall in the back. I like that variety and texture.

Here is a side view of the light, and you can really see how the light falls off at the edges with the PLM/front diffusor combo.

For reference, Mark would be at the outcropping portion of the wall at left, and I would be shooting from camera right.

I nearly always shoot setup shots, and I usually learn something new from them. (And yes, I did use that gorgeous hallway in some of the other shots.)

In this case, you can see the hard tilt I have applied to the PLM. It's such a big light source that I still get a nice wrap on the vertical axis on Mark, but I have a nice fall-off edge against which to work, too.

In this setup shot you can see an even harder vertical fall-off on the camera right side than the one on the left. The light is actually pointed away from the wall, but is still hitting near the bottom. And you can really see the edge happening as it goes up.

The other thing you can see is how cool it looks to drop a big light source into the middle of a frame. Say you were shooting a photo from the point of view of this setup shot, looking back into the hallway. The light would bathe down on the subject and fall off as it came towards you, making for a very 3-D look in that space.

If you needed detail in the shadows of the subject, it would be an easy fill with some ~2-stop down on-axis light. If you did not want to fill the walls at the edge of the frame, you could flag the fill light on the sides or use a gridded, on-camera flash to fill.

You may remember Mark from a previous post in which we blew out the background with a little high-speed, focal plane sync. That photo (here) was shot at this exact location and direction, yet looks totally different because the shallow depth of field melts the background detail away.

But we spent most of the time working with that big, 64-inch PLM. Paul Buff is still trying to keep up with demand -- and with good reason. They are efficient, gorgeous and amazing value for $77.90, including the front diffusor.

Next: Betty Allison


Brand new to Strobist? Start here | Or jump right to Lighting 101
Connect w/Strobist readers via: Words | Photos

Comments are closed. Question? Hit me on Twitter: @Strobist


Blogger jrossphotography said...

Is that Paul Buff PLM the silver inside or satin?

July 05, 2010 3:53 PM  
Blogger David said...


Yep, silver. Sorry forgot to specify. Reason: I want the most efficiency possible, and I can always tone the specular down by adding the white front diffusor when needed.


July 05, 2010 3:59 PM  
Blogger Ronnie said...

So, you use both the black and white front diffuser?

July 05, 2010 4:26 PM  
Blogger Bruce said...

Great post, great shot, as always.

As a relative newbie, I'd really appreciate it if you could expand a little on the logic in the following two paragraphs of your post (maybe add some example numbers to illustrate the points):

For the shot at top I completely underexposed the shaded, interior hallway around Mark, dropping the exposure to just below that of the full-daylight sky and sunlit background. [Would another way of me understanding that be: "I slightly underexposed the sky and sunlit background, for deeper colours, which obviously left the hallway and Mark underexposed"?]

That means going to a 250th of a second shutter speed right off the bat, to give myself a friendly aperture against which to light. [I don't follow that thinking.]

The shutter speed gives you the aperture (adjust your aperture until you get the background tones you want). Then you match that exposure with your flash and you are good to go. [Again, I don't quite follow that.]

Sorry to be slow but really would appreciate your expansion of the above.

July 05, 2010 4:33 PM  
Blogger ambienteye said...

Oh I am so stealing this location. Any elaboration on how you convinced them to let you set up stands and things? Did you have to set a specific time with them?

July 05, 2010 4:48 PM  
Blogger spwong said...

Thanks for showing that all you need sometimes is one light. I bought the Softlighter II a while ago and find it fits my wants most of the times, (maybe a reflector too). Also wanted to express some appreciation for showing off HC in a different light. Having grown up there and moved away after my years at Centennial HS, I mostly experience it now when the M&P visits take me to Hunan Manor (IIRC you mentioned before too!).

July 05, 2010 5:26 PM  
Blogger David said...


Father Bart (and/or his assistant) is the point person. Bear in mind that they are a very conservative org, so I would consider how you approach them and/or what you shoot there.

Take a visit out there and check it out. It's beautiful.


July 05, 2010 5:30 PM  
Blogger SLofgren said...

@ Bruce:
From one newbie to another: DH would most likely remind you that the answers can be found in Lighting 101 and 102 but as someone who has followed those for a few years let me offer the following: Think of it as 2 exposures:
Exposure 1: Pick your highest synch speed and use the aperture to expose the background to the desired depth of color. That gives you the aperture.
Exposure 2: Given the aperture you have just determined use flash power adjustment to expose the foreground subject to your taste.
By starting with the highest possible shutter speed you wind up with the largest possible aperture which in turn means you can use less flash power for faster recycling and other benefits.
I hope that unscrambles DH's shorthand.

July 05, 2010 6:19 PM  
Blogger David said...


Please bear in mind that you are kind of walking into a 4+ year-old, 1000(+)post lighting discussion. Would not really make sense to explain it down to the bone every single time.

I am guessing you have not read through Lighting 101, or Lighting 102, or through very many On Assignment posts.

This should explain things a little in a rough way.

July 05, 2010 6:49 PM  
Blogger Kevin Housen said...

Interesting post as usual.

Do you know if its possible to use the PLM with a speedlight?

July 05, 2010 11:01 PM  
Blogger 陳一豪 said...

Not trying to be anal here

The reflection of the umbrella is seen on the guitar.

I'm not sure if I'm being picky or not, but I don't quite like it there. Is there a reason it was in there?


July 06, 2010 3:17 AM  
Blogger Pat Morrissey said...

David, another bonus from the PLM versus the brolly is the wonderful texture and light on the guitar - no ribs showing. Great shots, great post.

July 06, 2010 3:51 AM  
Blogger Bruce said...

@SLofgren, thanks for taking time out to explain, and apologies to all for taking up their time with this out-of-place post.

I've read all of the Lighting 101/102 stuff, and David's link as well — many times :-) I just wanted to make sure I interpreted your shorthand correctly.

July 06, 2010 4:18 AM  
Blogger Virgil Lund said...

Hi David

Have you tried using the PLM with a speedlight?

July 06, 2010 5:27 AM  
Blogger tim said...

I think it's a bit weird reading at strobist (less gear more brain..... do it the cheap way...) about "Well.... I simply used that 2,3k $ Strobe-stuff and it's so cool...

And alas it's not for the first time. I started wondering when reading about "I used about 5 SB-800's for this shot" (= 1-1,5k $ just for the strobes...!)

Still a great source for learning! And I still appreciate what you do and love the style you write... honestly! But it's getting more and more pricey and "exclusive".

July 06, 2010 7:22 AM  
Blogger SOAP: Design and Photography said...

Interesting stuff. It's always good to see set up shots to go with shoots like these, you can see so much more than people describe. Great final shot, really lovely

July 06, 2010 7:58 AM  
Blogger dragin33 said...


I was just noticing that in your first picture there is just fantastic color both in the background and on the subject. Then in the next shot against the bump-out the color is very flat and bland. However, in the setup shot the color on the wall seems to be better. Was this on purpose? Was this how it came out of camera? Was this on purpose - post processing work?

Just curious since I like the vivid colors of the wall in the setup shot.

July 06, 2010 9:51 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

About that PLM....how many speedlights would it take to be usable? I'm not about to lay down for a profoto rig, but I do have some speedlights. I could use a multi bracket and possibly squeeze 4 of the suckers in there? Is it feasable?

July 06, 2010 11:26 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

@tim (regarding the gear getting pricier)

I konw where you're coming from , but as David aluuded to earlier in the comments there's already over 1000 posts here. It would get mighty repetitive if every entry was about how to use a single secondhand SB-24 and a piece of tracing paper to photograph something.

I'm still really enjoying the site, because we're all growing with it. Even if we're not buying the gear. David does such a great job explaining his thinking that I still find these posts really valuable. In this instance it made me really think about the effect using my $20 collapsible shoot-through in a room versus outside has on the background behind my subject.

For anybody who is struggling a bit to keep up the complexity of the thinking has been very gradual, and there is a wealth of information already on the site which you can go back and read through to bring yourself up to speed.

July 06, 2010 12:32 PM  
Blogger Lee said...


Great post and incredible results (love the location too). One quesiton: How would you compare the light fall-off of the PLM to a reflective umbrella (obviously a shoot through will have a much less defined edge, but I would think that a reflective umbrella would be 'similar').


July 06, 2010 12:36 PM  
Blogger Kevin Blackburn Photography said...

I like them these are very nice I agree totally with your Karma statement.. We should all learn from that.

Thanks K

July 06, 2010 1:21 PM  
Blogger David said...


I had them with and without (slight change of shooting position would move or eliminate it.) As long as there are no ribs (would be w/an umbrella) I liked it as a way to show the surface quality of the guitar. Horses for courses, tho.

@Virgil and others-

The PLM is a parabolic mod, and thus needs a bare-type light source at its focal point. Rob Galbraith tells me that he has used speedlights and has gotten much of the lost efficiency back by backing the light out a little.


I blog from my personal experience, which continues to evolve. Trust me, if I were all SB-24's and cardboard snoots I would get bitching, too. Or people would vote with their feet, which is the easier reaction. Plenty of cardboard archives back in there. Or look up "DIY" in the index.


Yep, I de-satted the straight-on shot a bit.


depends on your needs. See above re speedlights in PLM, too.


Without the diffusor, think of it as a super-efficient umbrella which needs a bare flash input and has a beam of about 40 degrees. That's a tight throw for an umbrella, and it even has an edge you can use for feathering.

July 06, 2010 1:35 PM  
Blogger Cailin said...

About locations - David, have you ever used the Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City?


it is the ruins of an old school on the top of a hill, refurbished enough that they use it for Shakespeare in the summer. So it's save, but still in ruins.

Check it out!

July 06, 2010 1:53 PM  
Blogger David said...


Yep. I been HoCo for 22 years!

July 06, 2010 2:30 PM  
Blogger Sean MacDonald Photography said...

David, I fully agree with your comment to Tim's post. I appreciate learning about light whether it is from a profoto b600, sb24, or a candle. The way I have been understanding strobist is to not let things limit you ($ or a photography degree for example). If you can afford profoto, good for you and I hope you teach me something about it as you did. The concepts about light are what we learn the most from, not exactly what gear you use. If I simply cant do something because of my limited gear, then I choose to learn the concept for later in case I am ever in the position to use better equipment. I think Tim is missing the point, you are not more of a strobist if you only have 2 sb24's a pack of rubber bands and a survival guide by Chuck Norris. Its about learning to light with what you got. And you've got a profoto. All the more power to you (literally).

Thanks for the post and all the information in it.

July 06, 2010 6:09 PM  
Blogger thewiss said...


I've recently gotten a honl snoot and thrown it on my speedlight inside my umbrella. I rather like the control it gives me, though I haven't played with it too much. It gives a controllable edge to feather and soft light (but not near as big as the light from the PLM).

By the way, I love when you shoot in HoCo, as I'm from Ellicott City.


July 06, 2010 9:07 PM  
Blogger Scrivyscriv said...

The intro photo is one of my favorite images from you in a long time. Good work.
You must have a nice camera ;)

July 07, 2010 2:42 PM  
Blogger Steve Hebert said...

Mr. Hobby, Check out: http://stephen-hebert.blogspot.com/ Thanks to you, Chase Jarvis, and Joe McNally I am doing my Eagle Project for my Pregnancy Help Center. For my Project I am filming them new videos to put online and on DVD. Without your blog I would have, at 17, never have know how to light it. But I now do. Thank you so much for all that you have done. Mine is one of many lives that has been helped by your blog and I am eternally grateful.

Steve Hebert

July 07, 2010 6:44 PM  
Blogger Neil said...

The Paul Buff PLM's been on back order for at least 6 months now :(

July 07, 2010 6:54 PM  
Blogger 陳一豪 said...

Thanks David!

July 08, 2010 11:28 AM  
OpenID photographando said...

//Yep, silver. Sorry forgot to
//specify. Reason: I want the most
//efficiency possible, and I can
//always tone the specular down by
//adding the white front diffusor
//when needed.

Hi David, I would like to use this information and ask if this is the same idea with a silver vs white beauty dish comparisson... I'm planning on buying a BD from Paul Buff... would you buy a silver for efficiency and use the sock to tone down specularity? Is the quality of light on a white BD the same as in a silver+sock set?

Thanks again for all the amazing content on strobist.com

July 10, 2010 10:15 PM  
Blogger markleethephotographer said...

How do you manage the generous amount of umbrella shaft? Seems like some softness is lost if you have to pull it way back because you don't want to poke your subject in the eye or forehead.


September 11, 2010 6:46 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home