When I completed Strobist as a project in 2021, I promised to check back in when I had something worth sharing. Today, I’m announcing my new book, The Traveling Photographer’s Manifesto, which seeks to do for traveling photographers what Strobist always tried to do for lighting photographers.

Thanks for giving it a look—and for your comments and feedback.

On Assignment: Theresa Daytner, Pt. 2

Having shot the section front photo of Daytner out in the lobby, we quick-walked the lights into her office area. Working from the back and by swapping just one light mod, we were able to get something pretty different for the inside pages.

Arnold Newman, the father of environmental portrait photography, said it best when he noted that environmental portraiture is 10% photography and 90% moving furniture. That was kinda verboten in the more journalistic confines of the Baltimore Sun. But I'm not there anymore.

So we found a blue wall with a little depth to use as a background, then worked forward from there. By moving a white table about three feet over to the right and using the papers from one of Daytner's public works projects, we created a setting with layers of planes and angles, leading lines and some subtle curves.

Stravinsky at the Piano it ain't, but I'll still try to play with geometry if I get the opportunity and it is appropriate. And her office was so unphotogenic (not messy, just not great for photos) that it seemed best to do something elsewhere.

We had used eye contact in for the cover image, so I wanted to go the other way here. (More of an editing thing than a shooting thing -- we shot each one both ways.)

I used the same three flashes as from the first shoot, with one quick mod swap. The background gets the gridded bare speedlight, scraping across the wall to provide both texture and a leading line in the form of a shadow. The gridded mini dish remains in use as the key.

Exposure-wise, both of these lights are adjusted just to taste -- not unlike adding salt to soup. As long as you kill the ambient with your exposure first, you simply adjust the power on your flashes to hit the proper exposure on the wall and her face. And these are two tight-beamed sources, so for the moment everything else is going to be black.

That's until you add the fill light, of course. And that fill light (on-axis, behind the camera) has been swapped out from a 43" umbrella to a 60" SoftLighter II.

This is simply so I could squat down in front of it without losing all of my fill light. That fill light will wrap right past me. That said, I have been walking 6-7 miles a day this summer, and hope to not need such a big fill light to wrap around me in the future. We'll see, though.

Here is the setup from the subject's position. The intensity of the fill is done taste, too. Prolly two stops down from the key. You could make the photo flatter or more contrasty by varying the power of this light.

Normally, I bring in the fill first, to give a safety net of legibility everywhere. But this time I was playing with the geometry of the photo, so I started from the background light and worked forward from there. One variable at a time -- ambient exposure, then add and adjust one light at a time. It is actually pretty difficult to screw up this way.

Of all of the things that happened during the assignment, it was probably the few minutes we spent talking together -- before I even scouted -- which had the most influence on the pictures. I had a better feel for her, she had more trust in me -- just a better connection altogether.

I even found out that she had been photographed recently by one of my favorite photographers, Ben Baker. He shot her for Forbes Magazine. As such, Baker was a little higher on the production scale -- assistant, big lights, more time -- but I really like his photo.

Always neat to see how someone else treats the same subject matter. But I am glad I saw it after making my shots, and not before. Otherwise, no matter what I did I would feel influenced by what he had done. Human nature.

Apologies for the length (even when cut into two parts) but every now and then I feel like it is a good idea to go a little more 360 than just the lighting and get into the rest of the process.

Next: Soccer Through Sunset


New to Strobist? Start here | Or jump right to Lighting 101
Got a question? Hit me on Twitter: @Strobist
Have a passport? Join me in Hanoi: X-Peditions Location Workshops