UPDATE, JUNE 2024: Strobist was archived in 2021. Here is what I am up to now. -DH


On Assignment: Conference Room Quickie

Dontcha just love five-assignment days?

They are sometimes unavoidable, as in this case when I was heading back to the paper at mid-afternoon with four in the can. (Should we even say "in the can" any more, with digital?)

Anyhow, they beeped me to go to a suburb of Baltimore, where some hi-tech company was designing a prototype set of futuristic BDUs for soldiers to wear in the field. I get there and they show me the clothes, laying in a pile on a table in the conference room.

Yee-ha. Pretty exciting.

But the story was interesting, and it would be a shame to bury it with a cruddy photo. So I asked if I could use one of the engineers as a mannequin to make it a bit more, uh, lifelike.

While she suited up (which was no small task) I looked for a good place to shoot her. Nothing. It was a typically boring, florescent-lit office park.

But I did have my two Viivitar 283 flashes with "VP-1" modules, which converts them into manual flashes that you can seemlessly dial down 5 stops. So we decided to whip up a temporary studio in the the conference room.

Here are your problems:

Low, suspended ceilings, with florescent fixtures. Conference table. Not a lot of room.

There was one clean wall, though. Which is all you really need.

First step (after flipping the table up on its side to buy some space) was to control the ambient. Even if we gel the strobes, the fixtures will make hotspots on the cool-looking helmet, which I did not want. So we turned off the lights for the shoot and opened a hall door for just enough spillover ambient to see by.

The lighting was an easy, classic studio two-light setup -with a little improvisation.

Since I wanted a smoother light on the right than an umbrella would have given me, I bounced a 283 (on a stand, on full power) off of the right wall. Bingo. Nice big, smooth highlights.

Putting her close to the wall controlled the ratio of the light hitting the back wall, just as in the head shot lesson. (But this time, the right side wall is the light source.)

Then I put my other 283 on a stand and stuck it in the back left, aimed back at the soldier (and me, unfortunately.) So I slapped a GoBo (as back in Lighting 101) on the camera side of the flash in the back to block the light from flaring me. That one was set at about 1/8 power. The VP-1 has an analog dial to set the power, so you never know for sure where you really are...

The result is a smooth, soft-light/hard-rim look put together in just a couple of minutes in a conference room.

I left space on the left side in case they wanted to lay type in (it is that kind of a photo) and there was more space up top if they needed it. You could make it a mag cover, with the title running behind her head, if you had to.

We were door-to-door in about 15 minutes. They were not time crunched - I was. It was mid-afternoon and there were now five jobs to turn.

This photo is a little ironic in that it looks much like a studio shot.

I really dislike the idea of "studio lighting," because it starts to get you thinking that studios are the only place you should be using serious light.

That's dumb. Just think "lighting." A studio is just a room. And you cannot drag it around with you, anyway.

Twenty years ago, I thought of studios as some magic place where cool light could be made. Now, I think of them as big, boring rooms where some other photographer has left the heavy, clunky lights I have to rely on in some state of disrepair.

Locations are generally much more interesting than studios. Learn to light anywhere.

Next: Lighting Prep Basketball


New to Strobist? Start here | Or jump right to Lighting 101
Got a question? Hit me on Twitter: @Strobist
My current project: The Traveling Photograher's Manifesto