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.

SLC-2L-07: Journalist Hope Kahn

Hope Kahn is a Maryland-based journalist who is doing all of the sorts of things I was doing at her age: honing her writing and reporting skills, putting out a student newspaper, and always scrambling to find a good local story.

But that's where the similarities stop. Over the last couple of years she's been punching way above her weight class, having been published in national outlets such as Ms. and The New York Times. Suffice to say those are not exactly things I had accomplished before graduating high school.

More important, she writes about subjects that are touchstones for her generation. Her work with #SinceParkland is a great example of someone from Generation Lockdown working to effect change for her peers.

Recently we did some head shots. The idea was to help her with visually branding herself as the serious, thoughtful journalist she is fast becoming. The setup we used was classic Lighting 101 head-shot-in-a-corner fare, with an L102 and L103 twist.

L101: Corner = Backdrop and a Reflector

The first level of the lighting in this photo is how manipulating the environment contributes to the look. For a corner headshot, you are using the back wall as a backdrop and the side wall as a reflector.

You can control the darkness of the backdrop by adjusting the ratio of the distance of light-to-subject vs. light-to-backdrop. In this case, the lights are very close to Hope, which will tame that wall behind her even though she is only a couple feet away from it. At this working distance, we were able to tame the cream-colored wall and take it down closer to a medium gray.

And we are also 2-3 feet away from the camera right wall, AKA our reflector. So that will provide modest legibility in the camera-right shadows.

L102: Apparent Light Size

There are a few things going on here. If we look at a pullback, you can see we are using two of the inexpensive, 2x3' soft boxes that we talked about earlier in Lighting Cookbook.

One, the soft boxes are in pretty close. So they are going to create soft shadows, a nice highlight-to-shadow transition and soft specular highlights.

Two, when stacked they effectively make one big light source. But because of the orientation of the lights (key light pointing down and fill pointing up) the overall light is sort of in an arc shape. So it is going to hit her face from more angles than would a planar light from a single, 2x6-foot strip. So the two 2x3-foot boxes are going to appear softer than the equivalent double-sized light source.

The effective light source is spread across many square inches. And since it is so close, the apparent size of the ganged source looks huge when viewed from the position of Hope's face. This makes for soft and understated catch lights in her eyes, because the per-square-inch lumen density is so low.

Check a bigger version of the photo to see what I mean. Bonus: were she wearing glasses, a light source reflection that subtle would fill up the glass, and allow you to see right through it to her eyes without distraction.

That muted catch light is a proxy for the type of speculars you can expect on a person's skin, as mentioned above. In this case it's the difference between shiny, and glow.

Three, this curved, ganged setup is better than a big strip light in that it is not only articulated but the fill is pulled over a little bit to camera right. This lets me reach in and fill those shadows on her face at camera-right.

L103: Chromatically Complex

Lastly, if you look closely at the pullback (where the flashes meet the soft boxes) you'll see that I am pushing warm light through the key and cool light through the fill. It's not much: a Rosco 08 "Pale Gold" up top and a 1/2 CTB on bottom.

This is about the minimum color pack I would use on a person. Honestly, it is all but invisible. But the lighting and skin tones look more realistic as compared to the sterile, electronic look of ungelled white light.

Here's a different way to think of it. In terms of gelling light for a portrait, I would think of this [key/fill] color pack intensity (an R08 + 1/2 CTB) as a zero on a scale of 1-10. As far as color goes, this is base.

Comparatively speaking, using white light would feel like about a minus three on the same scale. Which is to say that I'd only do it with good reason to — i.e., if creating a sterile look for effect. Maybe if shooting something tech-oriented in a lab.

For those who normally use a 1/4 CTO as a standard warming gel, the Rosco 08 is similar but with a little less red. An Rosco 09 is the same thing, but a bit stronger.

Please Note: the Lee filter equivalent to the Rosco 08, for those of you in EU where Rosco is harder to find, is a Lee 103.


It's kind of cool how what is essentially a simple head shot also mirrors the evolution of the lighting on this site—and by extension the evolution of my own lighting journey.

But just as important — more important, really — is why a head shot like this happens in the first place. While my kids Ben and Emily were still at Wilde Lake High School, much of my spare shooting bandwidth gravitated towards the things they were involved with: band, soccer, theatre, STEM competitions, etc. And if your own kids are in high school and you are not doing this, you're missing out in so many ways.

And having also been shooting for the Howard County Arts Council for the past ten years, I have really grown to enjoy photographing young people at transitional points in their lives. Specifically, young people who have already become dedicated to something.

I have watched the HCAC young artists move on to some amazing careers. And it's been wonderful to have worked with them at a time when visual assets could help them to shape young emerging brands.

So even though my own kids are moving on, I want to keep on the lookout for people in this age group who are showing both dedication and promise in their fields. This is an exciting time as they prepare to jump into the deep end. My hope is that photos, done now, can help to nudge some arcs in little ways at the right time to help to shape their futures.

For those of you looking for your own ongoing projects, I would very much recommend giving thought to what is important to you, and how you might start to shape and affect those things as a photographer.

FROM: Strobist Lighting Cookbook


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