On Assignment: Scout and a Shoot Pt. 1

Gonna do something a little different today.

If at all possible, before a job I try to get to the location a day or two in advance and do a quick scout. This helps me to think a little in the interim and to anticipate any problems I might have during the shoot. It also helps me to decide what gear to bring — i.e., not to overpack.

So let's do a quick scout together. In the next post, we'll walk through the shoot itself.

The location is the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship, AKA the MCE. Longtime readers will recognize this place from a pair of other OA posts.

But this time we'll have no creepy/cool Stanley Kubrick hallway and lasers. Nor will we even have a conference room and whiteboard.

Nope. Here is our studio for the day, a disused white office room with a window that overlooks a fluorescent-lit hallway:

There you go.

The good news:

• The room is white.
• The room has a (white) ceiling, of decent height.
• It's (mostly) empty.

The bad news:

• It's mostly empty.
• Not a lot of personality
• We have to do a couple different shoots here.
• We'll be working quickly to swap up between shoots

But this is not the only vantage point in the room. Let's walk to the far corner and have a look back this way:

That's not too bad. In fact, that's seamless white paper that I won't have to cart in. So that's good.

Also, the walls and ceiling being white, they won't influence my flash. Whatever I shoot into them — or gel into them — I'll get bounced back faithfully. Actually, I'll take this room, compared to many others.

Let's pop out and take a look at that white hallway out the window:

Okay then. Here it is naked, not even color-balanced yet. This is a daylight-balanced photo showing it as it really is under those fluorescents. Looks like a giant harvest gold-green kitchen from the '70s in this light. Hmm.

So there you go. Given the quick change, and the fact that I will have no assistant, I am going to choose to do this with speedlights. I'll bring a few, some stands, a few diffused umbrellas, odds and ends and a C-stand or two.

Cameras? Let's call it a Nikon D3 with a 105mm portrait lens and a 35/2, a Fuji X100s and a coupla PocketWizard PlusX remotes. Add some gels to the mix and that should do us.

Let the room percolate in your mind, and I'll see you in a couple of days when we come back to shoot it.

Next: How We Shot It


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Blogger darango said...

Were the pictures taken inside the office room white-balanced? The room appears to have fluorescents just like the hallway.

July 29, 2013 8:17 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Yes. Shot the inside pics on my iPhone.

July 29, 2013 8:20 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

What kind of portraits does the assignment call for? Are these yearbook photos or something more motivated?

July 29, 2013 8:29 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


They are business portraits for the local economic development authority. That's pretty much the brief. There are some shape considerations (i.e., overlaying graphics, etc.) that I have to hit, but that's a variable. The photos will be used as title page pics with the overlays, then used without the overlays inside. So I shoot them to be able to be used both ways with different crops. But that's probably TMI for the purposes of this OA.

July 29, 2013 9:48 AM  
Blogger MikeScottPhoto said...

I'll say thanks in advance.. seeing pt. 2 will bring it all together, but it's fun to play along as far as previsualizing what you might do with it.

Out of curiousity, which 105mm lens are you using for portraits? AF Micro or DC or something else?

July 29, 2013 10:02 AM  
Blogger Zeshan Anjum said...

What if you scrim that window and fire a strobe through it like a make-shift softbox? Could work as a rim light too.

July 29, 2013 10:26 AM  
Blogger Tom Lim said...

For male subject: I would use the desk as the prop. Have them half sitting on it (1 foot on the ground kinda thing other side thigh on desk) hands together on leg (hope that made sense). Grey out the background.

Female subject: I would just do a typical 3/4 height shot with grey background in front of desk, rim light. Nothing too fancy. Not sure what else you can do in that room.

Look forward to seeing what you do!

July 29, 2013 10:29 AM  
Blogger ------------------------------- said...

Is there an Ikea nearby? Not that I need anything especially for the shoot, I just really like to shop at Ikea.... Can't wait to see the gel'd results. ; )

July 29, 2013 12:02 PM  
Blogger David Sikes said...

I work and shoot in an office environment - we just grabbed a couple of these, and they are ridiculously useful in the setting: http://www.amazon.com/Avenger-C1000-Drop-Ceiling-Scissor-Clamp/dp/B0000BZL05/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1375118114&sr=8-1&keywords=Avenger+C1000.

If you work in an environment with drop ceilings, I can't recommend them enough. Add a C-stand arm and you have a light you can position absolutely anywhere above without getting in the shot.

July 29, 2013 1:17 PM  
Blogger Brian McCarthy said...

Depending on the work the group doesn (I know it's economic development) I'd be interested in using that window as a framing device, ie: shooting from the outside in.

July 29, 2013 2:49 PM  
Blogger Gerard said...

My first thought - the frosted window seems a good asset to have on this shoot, especially since you have access to the hallway outside. You could put a light through it for a built in, Disney-style hidden softbox. You could gel the light and have it as a colored square frame for a subject (doing double duty as a backlight). If the organization has a color that it uses on its marketing materials, you could go with that color. Thinking of marketing ... if you have access to a suitably powered projector, you could even project their logo onto that window (or something else relevant to the person).

July 29, 2013 2:55 PM  
Blogger martyn said...

Hello David.
I'm a novice, will you explain how you work out the flash settings please.

July 29, 2013 5:57 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


The window is not frosted. And projector? These are bread-and-butter business portraits. It's not like they're gonna have sparklers shooting out their asses.

July 29, 2013 6:01 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


If you are a newb you need to hit Lighting 101, the core module of the site specifically designed for you.

You are jumping in midstream, but the site is specifically set up to bring you up to speed.

July 29, 2013 6:03 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Were you hiding in the MCE a couple weeks ago? Keep thinking ... how would you do it?

July 29, 2013 6:04 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Indeed, I am well familiar.

July 29, 2013 6:05 PM  
Blogger dave moser said...

i find myself in these situations more than i'd like to, i'm afraid.
one thing i always have in my bag is a 6 foot square white shower curtain liner from bed bath and beyond, less than $20, perfect for putting up over that window and creating either a glowing background or as a soft box...
i also prefer NOT to schlep c-stands, and go with regular manfrotto stands. true, no boom, but you could, i think, live without that...maybe?
an alien b or einstein and a vagabond battery is a great thing to bring along, not so heavy, big broad punch of light... no extension cords necessary with the battery... looking forward to seeing how you solve this... leave the gels at home...

July 29, 2013 6:30 PM  
Blogger dave moser said...

i find myself in these situations more than i'd like to, i'm afraid.
one thing i always have in my bag is a 6 foot square white shower curtain liner from bed bath and beyond, less than $20, perfect for putting up over that window and creating either a glowing background or as a soft box...
i also prefer NOT to schlep c-stands, and go with regular manfrotto stands. true, no boom, but you could, i think, live without that...maybe?
an alien b or einstein and a vagabond battery is a great thing to bring along, not so heavy, big broad punch of light... no extension cords necessary with the battery... looking forward to seeing how you solve this... leave the gels at home...

July 29, 2013 6:30 PM  
Blogger Eric Vaughan said...

Since these are business portraits with overlays on cover you wouldn't want to get too crazy here. You got couple possibilities here, you could put one speedlite outside the window shooting in with warming Gel, simulate warm evening light coming in from outside for rim light. Use main speedlite bouncing off ceiling/wall for main light and to control the shadows use your go to ring light or umbrella. Or you have an all white corner there with white walls and ceiling you could just use for simple white background and bounce light for main with fill light for shadows. You could also have another speedlight lighting the background walls with cool gel and use warm gel on portrait for nice balance of warm and cool tones,just depends on how creative you want to get with them. Any of those desk could be moved around for props if needed.

July 29, 2013 9:09 PM  
Blogger DrMuz said...

You could stand the long section of desk on it's end, on top of the short section, to create a fake timber textured background.

July 29, 2013 11:58 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Just thinking out loud.

White Room:
K.I.S.S. portrait against the white wall with very slight gel tint of color. Color determined by what the overlaying graphics colors if known in advance. If not then gel contrast to clothing color. To get fancy gobo a pattern that will bokeh smoothly.

Fluorescent lights off. Shoot CTO gel out of the closest door onto the opposite wall. Shoot a non gelled flash out of the second door onto the wall. Portrait shot with wide aperture. The Main front high Photek softlighter.

July 30, 2013 2:54 AM  
Blogger Matt Hauer said...

If you're needing something creative, a laptop on the desk with two people over it (or just seated by it) would say 'office'. Maybe someone out in the hallway as well? A light outside would clear any window-induced light reduction pretty quick.
The room is twelve seconds from being used for corner portraits though. But those green doors might get a little obnoxious.

July 30, 2013 3:02 AM  
Blogger Owl Exterminator said...

Does your editor/boss know you're crowdsourcing your job?! tsk tsk tsk, Mr. Hobby.

July 30, 2013 3:05 AM  
Blogger Scott Nelle said...

The fast sync speed on the x100s will handily eliminate the florescents, I imagine. Or you could gel your flashes to match and balance to florescent.

Excited to see where you go with this, David!

July 30, 2013 10:19 AM  
Blogger Brian McCarthy said...

David -
There are two ways that come to mind to use the window as a framing device, as a positive (ei, shoot against the window) or a negative (use the window as a giant gobo). The latter is tricky because the hallway is too narrow to shoot a flash perpendicular to the window and get a usable square of light anywhere in the room -- the light will just spray everywhere. But, if you were to set the strobe down the hall and fire it at the window and rake it across it would create a keystone effect on the adjacent wall in the room. That could create a cool angular sliver of light on the wall to frame the client and create some separation. In that case I would keep the rest of the room unlit, except the subject of course. If you were to shoot the window as a positive, I would get a strobe or two in the hall to create a colored wall and then bring your subject away from the window so a) I didn't create any reflections with the key lights and b) so I could compress the image with a longer lens and keep the square window (which is sort of big already) and the subject in a good proportion with each other. Beyond that, I'm not quite sure what your client's taste is or what they are trying to evoke in the viewer, so it's difficult to say how I would specifically light the subject.

Personally, I'd try to rake the light across the window at a steep angle to see if I could create a cool colored trapezoid on the adjacent wall. It makes me think of a tagline, "Your business doesn't have to be square. Let us help." :-)

July 30, 2013 12:43 PM  
Blogger martyn said...


Thanks for your advice about Lighting 101.

July 30, 2013 6:13 PM  
Blogger MikeScottPhoto said...

Not sure why so many people want to use the window (because it's there I guess). I'd keep it simple and stay away from the window. "Business portraits for the economic development authority" - not Joe f'n McNally firing strobes through a dirty window to simulate sunlight. ;)

July 31, 2013 9:34 AM  
Blogger Matt Vanecek said...

What kind of C-Stands are you using, that are transportable? Brand, style? I have one, not the most expensive, and it collapses down to 5'. Not very transportable, really, unless absolutely required. So I'm curious what you're using.

With an all-white room like that, are you concerned with the room acting like a big light-bomb of reflected light? I assume you'd be doing corporate headshots or something similar in that type of environment, so would you be trying to shape the light for some nice, pleasing depth, or just deliver a pleasant, pretty flat lighting performance?

July 31, 2013 10:49 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


No C-Stand is easily transportable. The weight is what makes them awesome and steady in use. But you can strip them down and they'll transport pretty well (legs, arm and riser all separated.)

As for brand, I use Avengers and LumoPros. Both are ridiculous solid. I like the LP's as a better value because they are cheaper and have a 5-year warranty.

July 31, 2013 2:10 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


I'll tell you right now, I used the window. :)

July 31, 2013 2:11 PM  
Blogger Jason Doiy said...

You could use the hallway to shoot from, subject in the room, frame the subject with the window, strobes in room and let the green color the outer wall, could be a cool color combo.

July 31, 2013 6:33 PM  
Blogger MikeScottPhoto said...

Well lah-di-dah, aren't you Mr. Dave f'n Hobby?

Lol, as I said earlier, I can't wait to see the shots. Thanks for letting us play along at home.

July 31, 2013 7:54 PM  
Blogger Veli Ojala said...

@Scott Nelle

You don't need x100ish sync speed to overpower some fluorescent lights, LOL. Even 1/160 will be enough with little speedlights.

August 01, 2013 1:35 AM  
Blogger aledobroadband said...

YOU'RE NOT FOOLING ME, MR. HOBBY! Admit it - you're completely out of ideas and scared silly, so you're hitting us up for ideas in a lame attempt to get your creative juices flowing. Not buying it,buddy!

August 01, 2013 1:15 PM  
Blogger Owain Shaw said...

David, I am so glad I read this yesterday and had it fresh in my mind because today I found myself in a blank room with added miscellaneous and unattractive clutter. This post helped me to think creatively about how I could produce something in that environment.

In the end, I used a single speedlight pointed up at the (again thankfully white) ceiling from the floor directly in front of the camera but out of shot. This created a nice shadow on the ceiling and also projected shadows of an arc of chairs to create a more amphitheatrical effect (the subject was a performer) on the back wall.

Without this site I wouldn't have been using off camera flash today at all, I'd have just bagged the action shots without flash and not tried for a portrait of a famous performer which I may now be able to use in my portfolio. And thanks to this post in particular, I was prepared to think around the room and work out what I could do with it. Thanks for the inspiration and information that's made this possible.

All the best,


May 22, 2014 1:38 PM  

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