First Time in the US: Gulf Photo Plus is Coming to Seattle.

On Assignment: Reed Quintet

I shoot a lot of individual artists for the Howard County Arts Council. But when Bassoonist Eddie Sanders (center, above) asked if we could instead shoot his military reed quintet, I jumped at the chance.

Really, how often do you get a chance to photograph a reed quintet?

One condition: we'd have to do something cool, and with a little attitude…

As we usually do with HCAC shoots, we worked through sunset and into dusk. The variety of beautiful light you get in such a shot amount of time yields so many possibilities. I hear it happens at sunrise, too. But that's like, really early.

For this shoot, we decided to cover ourselves with a more standard musicians' group shot using available light at golden hour. We would work fast, use the twilight to swap sets and then strobe into the afterglow/dusk for the other group shot.

Here is the "safe" group shot, done without flash. Not that we did not use light, though. The sun was still above the horizon, and shining over the musicians' camera-right shoulders. We were in my favorite field for evening and sunset shooting—at a nearby middle school.

My assistant, Lisa, was bouncing that sun right back into them with a California Sunbounce Micro-Mini reflector.

She is actually out of frame at camera left, but the reflector is so taut it can send a beam of reflected light a long way. In this case, she is mostly using it to hit Eddie on the right. You can see the setup with Lisa closer in here, afterwards, when we went to the head shots:

Photo ©David Kile

For head shots we raked the sun over the camera left shoulder and threw the highlight from the Micro-Mini onto the same side of their faces. It sometimes seems kind of default to put key and rim on opposite sides, but there is no law that says it has to be that way.

Here is the head shot from the BTS above:

It is quick and easy, instantaneous recycle, and you can shoot at any aperture. (Kinda like McNally, working with 37 ganged SB-900s in FP mode, but way the hell cheaper.)

Once we had the safe group shot and head shots done (which took all of ten minutes) we moved over to set up the shot we really came for.

So lets take a look at the shot up top, which was done into post-sunset light with speedlights. Those instruments are a combination of dark wood and chrome. And they will be absolutely black in terms of ambient when shooting into that sunset.

So, fill light—and in particular the specular quality of it—gets top priority here. we wanted a gigantic fill light, to put smooth speculars on both the chrome and dark wood. Detail without harsh glare.

Also, we wanted a little color contrast between the fill and key, so we would gel the fill with a full CTB.

We hung a bedsheet on a background stand and put three speedlights behind it on a triple bracket. This was fired from right behind me, and would ensure nothing on the people or instruments would go pitch black.

If you remember the motorcycle shot from a little ways back, this is very similar. That's because, like the bike shot, we are going for creamy highlights from curved metal.

The key was a 60" Photek SoftLighter II in a table-top position just in front of the group. It also got three speedlights, all 1/4 CTO'd for color contrast with the fill.

Here is a BTS of the setup:

Photo ©Lisa Dierolf

The fill flashes are unseen here, behind the sheet at camera left. As you can see, I am triggering all of the lights with my reversed, on-camera flash—which is also CTB'd.

So there are really only two light sources here: Key and fill. Why three flashes on each? Speed and power. If I have the flashes to put in there, I want faster recycles. So why not.

The lights in the background were headlights from the cars of the group members. I originally thought about hiding the lights behind their legs and using them as hidden rims, but with the attitude we were getting out of these guys it ended up looking better with some headlights showing.

And speaking of attitude, that is a big part of this shot. This is sort of "movie poster" light, and needs a little attitude from the subjects to pull it off.

To that end, my car was parked right behind the fill light with doors open and stereo blasting. I love having my iPhone and car near a shoot, because in 30 seconds and 99 cents on a whim you can have any soundtrack song you want.

I got a kind of "Young Guns" vibe from this setup, so we went with Bon Jovi's Wanted: Dead or Alive.

Seemed to work, as they look pretty badass for a group of reed players. Which was exactly the idea.

UPDATE: And here's the photo, used as lead on their site (other photos from this shoot used throughout):

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Blogger notsh said...

Great to see more OAs.

As always, fantastic shots. I don't know what I love more: the fantastic group shot with the car headlights or the fact that a simple reflector into the sunset can create almost the same light as the beauty dish in your "Prep Quarterback"-OA.

Brilliant post and cool pics. Can't wait for the next one!

May 21, 2012 8:38 AM  
Blogger Tompano said...

Great post as always and equally great shots. What I wanna know is how you secured the three speedlites in the Softlighter. Are you using a bracket or something?

May 21, 2012 10:06 AM  
Blogger Chip Kalback said...

Thanks for another great walk through. Any reason in particular why you've gone with the Photek soft lighter versus the Paul C Buff PLM? Seems like there isn't much difference between the two, just curious why you're using what you're using. Thanks-

May 21, 2012 11:04 AM  
Blogger Ted Felsberg said...

I absolutely love this post. The picture has such great color and detail. And I am really feeling the attitude you were talking about. I've been following your blog for a year now and this is my first post. I remember the last time you used that whole bed sheet thing on a bg stand. What a great idea! I can't wait to try it out and see what i can do with it on my own. Thank you for the inspiration and simplistic, effective ideas. keep em' coming!!

May 21, 2012 11:20 AM  
Blogger Blake Irvine said...

David, can you please share a link to the Reed Quintet so we can check out their music too - the other half of this artistry! Thanks

May 21, 2012 12:41 PM  
Blogger JoeH said...

Who needs another piece of gear to drag along to a shoot...?
But looking at your parking lot setup I saw all the gear on the asphalt. Got me thinking, a cheap yoga mat might be handy to lay on concrete surfaces or when ground is wet. Rolls up compactly.
Just a thought.

May 21, 2012 12:55 PM  
Blogger John Barclay said...

Great post. Now how do I hear their music. Very intrigued!

May 21, 2012 1:16 PM  
Blogger Virginia said...

Wow! I love that lighting,the posing and the facial expressions. Excellent!

May 21, 2012 1:22 PM  
Blogger Kevin B. said...

Great shots David! I have a question on your Cali Sunbounce... Did your subjects have complaints of blinding? When I've used it in the past, its always been pretty bright on my subjects eyes, causing a slight squint. Its taken assistants a while to feather it enough to keep enough light on the face without blinding the eyes.

May 21, 2012 1:31 PM  
Blogger 2z said...

The shot with the headlights in the back is HOT!!! Love it.

May 21, 2012 1:37 PM  
Blogger Mike McClelland said...

i'm curious as to why it shows f/0?

May 21, 2012 1:53 PM  
Blogger Iain Mackenzie said...

Great post! Been waiting for it for what seems ages since you put out the photograph a while back.
Would love to see the looks on your subjects faces when they see you pull out a bedsheet for the first time!
Same as Tompano, what flash bracket are you using in the Photek?

Why is Dave standing to attention in the BTS shot? Were you shouting at him? ;)

May 21, 2012 2:03 PM  
Blogger ...Hendrik Gassmann? said...

I'm deeply impressed by the Pic on top... Great Shot, brillant Work.. !!!

May 21, 2012 2:38 PM  
Blogger Wolfgang Kratky said...

I am also interested in the flash bracket but I guess it's an original Gaffer's one.

Great post as always, David. Would Love to read more OA posts.

Wolfgang, enthusiastic reader from Vienna, Austria

May 21, 2012 3:54 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

@Tompano; @Wolfgang; @Iain -

Actually a good Q. There are several different versions of the three-way brackets avail, each w/different advantages and price points. I'll whip up a QA in a day or two.


The PLM is parabolic (quasi, actually) and gets its insane efficiency advantages from having an omnidirectional light mounted right in the focal point. For that same reason, the Photek is better suited for speed lights, IMO.

@ Blake; @John-

They are an UTR offshoot of the Air Force field band. They do a lot of piggybacked side gigs as a result, but do not have their own website.


We were reflect waning sun so it was not a prob. Sounds like you are already onto the feathering solution for full sun, too. It is very efficient, so necessarily bright.


Damn. Was hoping to keep the EXIF info from the new 35/f0 lens a secret. Oh well...

May 21, 2012 4:12 PM  
Blogger Joel Locaylocay said...

I always look forward to and appreciate your BTS posts. I especially like how you 'pushed' a CTB'd fill against a 1/4-CTO'd key (or vice versa). It still surprises me how little pieces of plastic could make that sort of impact on an image. :-)#

On a related note, won't the overlap of the light from the bracketed flashes with the 1/4 CTO gels create a warmer light in the process?

May 21, 2012 5:17 PM  
Blogger Ian said...

Wow you must live in a part of the world with little wind. Even with sandbags this set up would be a mess in the bald ass prairie I live in. I'd need a VAL on every stand with sand bags including one on each end of the background stand!

May 21, 2012 11:43 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

Uh oh. musicians with their instruments... I'm gonna tell Zack!

May 22, 2012 3:25 AM  
Blogger DC said...

Is there a reason you triggered your speedlights with your onboard flash rather than with your PW's?

May 22, 2012 9:08 AM  
Blogger Yugo said...

Just gorgeous, David. Really great tone, color, and pose/expression. Thanks for sharing both the images and the BTS!

May 22, 2012 11:10 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


When I am close in and line-of-sight, optical is both simplest and very reliable. So that's what I default to in that situation.

May 22, 2012 1:31 PM  
Blogger jmac said...

Beautiful shot and setup David! Group made the usual agony of doing groups simple and easy....very cool....

May 22, 2012 6:08 PM  
Blogger Benjamin Geiger said...

If I shot at dusk, the S. C. Johnson people would absolutely love me. I'd be going through a bottle of Off! each evening, and probably still getting eaten alive by the Florida state bird.

May 23, 2012 1:41 AM  
Blogger core said...

goodjob,i love this style.

May 23, 2012 7:12 AM  
Blogger Tattoo Al said...

David, what was the reasoning behind the CTB on the on camera flash?

May 23, 2012 7:36 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I love how much you frequently pack into your posts. This one is definitely one of those.

The posted shot is really cool. The BTS is really really cool.

You've talked about inspiration alot lately. I see this post really providing that. Your McNally quip (laughed out loud on that) hints to my why. $$

You said you were in a middle school field. Free, down to earth site. Take away, we don't need to have exotic locations to create solid compelling images....eyes and imagination will do.

The bed sheet/fill...that is so awesome. Joe always talks about his big panels being nothing but a big bedsheet, but I understand that for his normal shooting they are not as user friendly. For this though, why not, and you've been showing that the results are really good. So another really inexpensive part of the shoot.

Speedlights for your lights. I'm sure with your already established stable, these were SB600-900 lights. You used 7 lights, so if someone was looking to replicate this, they could hit Amazon (or ebay) and for slightly under the cost of ONE SB910 they could get 7 Yongnou 560 manual flashes. Suppose if you wanted to go budget, this could be done with two Flashpoint strobes from Adorama for about the same cost. Again, the $$ were not an issue. You didn't use Rangers, or Profoto...the picture was not about the cost of the lightsource (or modifier).

Given the star pattern in the headlights you were at a small f-stop, so those 6 little flashes were able to provide a good deal of light. Also like the backlit look on the shoes that the headlights provided.

The iPhone/car as a soundsystem is another great, "use what's around you", low cost solution. Cool to get the behind the scenes glimpse of the workings of the shoot down to this detail as well.

As far as the shot goes, your main guy really gave the look/pose to set the tone for the whole thing. The bald guy to his right really gave a great look too. Really has a 'Criminal Minds', 'SVU' cast shot type look.

Thanks for continuing to inspire, and show that you don't need a garage filled with equipment to make compelling images!

May 23, 2012 8:47 AM  
Blogger ronjoli said...

Looking at the attitude shot, I'm remembering your recent post lamenting your lack of creativity. So what the hell were you talking about???

May 23, 2012 11:15 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Dear God, don't buy 7 YN560s. On the bright side, a couple of them would probably work reliably...

I am working on a post tomorrow on all of this. Stay tuned.

May 23, 2012 1:55 PM  
Blogger Steve M said...

beautiful work, but you need a soundtrack advisor.

May 23, 2012 9:34 PM  
Blogger ghazzawi said...


1- can you post Aperture and shutter speed , iso values

2- you say I am triggering all of the lights with my reversed, on-camera flash—which is also CTB'd.
" .. please explain CTB'd

May 23, 2012 10:11 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


The music got me exactly what I wanted. Ergo, it was the right music.


CTB is a type of cooling gel. (New here?) :)

Aperture was f/8, ISO 400, shutter speed - dunno. Was changing pretty fast as the light fell. Probably in the neighborhood of 1/30th.

May 24, 2012 5:36 PM  
Blogger Kevin Fishel said...

Knew the yn560 comment would get a comment:) Had seen your post about them prior to writing that.

They are twice the price, but have the LumoPro's been that much more reliable when you've played with them?

Have a great holiday weekend.

May 25, 2012 8:45 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

Never had a problem with an LP. And I have used four of them ... extensively.

Also, they have a 2-yr warranty. Which you are never gonna see on a YN. :)

May 25, 2012 10:13 AM  
Blogger Kevin Fishel said...

Good to know about the LP. I picked them up on display at the David Ziser PhotoPlus conference here in Feb. Seemed so light I was worried about longevity. Like Mpex and they are only a little over an hour away if I wanted to actually go to the store.

May 25, 2012 10:24 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Really love the lighting on the group shots. Great technique.

However, I'm not really digging the highlight on the side of the nose. Was that intentional?

May 25, 2012 12:40 PM  
Blogger Addison Geary Photography said...


Big piece of glass your using on that headshot, and looks like your some distance away. 300mm 2.8? Would also account for the flattened perspective and blurred background. Great post.

May 25, 2012 9:22 PM  
Blogger Andy Furniss said...

Hey David,

You say you are triggering your fill flashes behind sheet with your on camera flash but I cant seem to work out how you fired your 3 flashes in the softlighter.

I am a Canon user and the only explanation I can find is that you are using the optical slaves built in to the flashes also...?!?!?


Been following this blog for sometime.....I find it very useful....Thank you.

Keep up the good work!


May 27, 2012 2:25 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Yep, optical slaves. At this range they are perfectly reliable, even through the outer diffusion layer on the Photek. And if you think about it, just oe of them has to trigger and the others will trigger from the one that did.

May 27, 2012 11:22 AM  
Blogger Brad C said...

Love the opening shot!

May 29, 2012 3:38 PM  
Blogger LIU said...

你好 David , 我来自中国,很喜欢你的博客。受你的影响,我缩衣节食买了永诺560II。你是个很好的老师。

May 29, 2012 9:51 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

Thanks, Liu!

(Imperfect Google translation: "Hello David, I am from China, like your blog. By your influence, I shrink clothes diet buy allways 560II. You are a very good teacher.
Happy wishes to work.")

May 29, 2012 10:59 PM  
Blogger Robert Davidson said...

On the subject of creative use of speedlights in challenging outdoor situations, I was reading this post on the Strobist Flikr forum. So I followed this link.
If you ever get the time/inclination to try out one or a few of these Saberstrips, I would really like to see a post on your creative use of them.

May 31, 2012 10:52 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Risking asking a silly question here but... what kind of boom/stand are you using there? It looks portable yet it's supporting the softlighter and 3 flashes.

July 10, 2012 8:52 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

It's a Paul C. Buff boom arm. I would point you towards it, but they are no longer carried by the company. Sorry.

July 10, 2012 10:43 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for the reply. Not sure why my name isn't appearing... I found you article comparing other boom arms - great stuff. Do you think the Lumopro one that you mentioned would be able to handle the same load? (multiple flashes + softlighter). Thanks in advance.

July 15, 2012 10:16 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

Nope, that's just a reflector holder which repurposes ideally to a speedlight boom. It isn't very big. You'll need a full-sized boom (i.e., ) to get that kind of load out far enough to clear a light source that big.

July 15, 2012 10:39 AM  
Blogger Lala Mabaso said...

this is great. so is this sorta like shooting at high-noon? Maybe with a diffusion material above the subject. Then filling with a strobe behind a white sheet at you've done here.

February 06, 2014 7:00 PM  

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