When Light Stands Are Not An Option

When Light Stands Are Not An Option

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Very, very rarely do I come across a location shoot where the ever adaptable light stand just can’t cut the mustard when I need to hang a light. The only time I find myself unable to use a light stand is when I simply don’t have enough room to squeeze a light stand into a composition due to various constraints. It can be tricky, and at times, you end up having to change up your shot to a less ideal composition to acoomodate light stands where you need them. Last weekend, I didn’t have that option, I couldn’t change up my shot even if I wanted to.

You’ve heard me say it many times… I love location photography. It’s always something new, fresh, and pushes your photographic work to a dynamic range whether you like it or not. To be able to walk on to a location, one that you’ve never seen before, and it’s your job to tell a story with a photograph. To create and control light and execute proper exposure for an inspiring photograph within just a couple minutes after arriving is challenging and something I love doing. It starts with seeing what you have to work with, asking yourself a bunch of questions, and visualizing the desired end product.

The vast majority of people look at a location that will be used for a photo shoot and see what’s there, a.k.a. however the scene looks as is. Mainly, they are focusing on the existing light and how it’s effecting the current environment. Us off-camera lighting junkies look at that same scene and see something completely different, and that’s because they know how dramatically flash lighting can influence a composition, regardless of the existing light. Many times on shoots even my clients will look at me crazy when I get excited about a location. They usually look around, doing a 360 spin, trying to understand my logic, sometimes saying “but the sun is behind us” or “but that is in the shade” or handful of other things that is common when they don’t understand what my photography is all about. Then I setup some lights, take their picture, spin the camera around for them to see the freshly taken photo, and watch there eyes light up with a smile. From that point on, they get it, they know I see something they don’t, they don’t know how it works but they like it, and they just worry about smiling for the rest of our time together.

I go on this long rant to come back around to talk about visualization. With that solid understanding of lighting and going into a shoot with a desired concept, you can effectly set light location, angles, power, and modifiers as needed. You might be asking “what’s the big deal? I can just start from scratch, not really have an idea in mind, and adjust as needed.” Well… you can go that route, sometimes you are forced to, but a common constraint during shoots is time, and for different reasons. Maybe your client has a limited window of time to work, maybe you’re utilizing a sunset for your shot and the sun is sinking fast, or maybe your client is paying you on a time-based rate. If you spend more time fiddling with your lights and scratching your head than interacting with your client, you may find your level of work plateauing or even declining.

Exibit A, below, is a shoot I recently completed for the Active Series. This shoot is capturing Tim, a large, powerful man tossing a discus. We have a standard discus field, complete with a throwing circle and fencing wrapped around the circle. The location was great, I was happy with it… for the most part. The exception is how are we going to light Tim with this fencing? My goal is to setup lights high up and at an angle to emulate standium lighting. But we have fence boardering the circle pretty dang tight, with only about 1-2 feet between the fence and circle. Why is that a problem? Because we need to light Tim from both sides, and setting up lights on a couple stands on the outside of the fencing and pointing them in will paint Tim with cyclone fencing pattern shadows from head to toe, not cool. Mr. Light Stand, I’m sorry, you just can’t help me with this one, I need my lights on the inside of that fence to prevent those shadows. In steps the super clamp. More specifically, the Manfrotto Sky Hook Adjustable Gaffer Clamp. Now this thing is BEEFY, not your standard chip clip, super solid and heavy, about 8-10 inches in length. Screw reaching for a bat if I wake up to someone breaking into my house, I’m reaching for the super clamp, and it’ll mess that dude up! At 40 bucks, they are not cheap, but they will prove their value time and time again. They squeeze down so powerfully that no matter how strong you are, it is a two-hand job to get these things to open up long enough to clamp it to something. The clamp is fully adjustable to latch on and hold to anything from about 1 to 3 inches. So, the 2.5 inch bar supports of the fence were perfect. The Manfrotto clamp can accomodate hanging just about any light off of it (I’m fairly confident that I could hang a 50 lbs setup off the thing). Luckily, my light setup for this shoot was only about 5-7 lbs per clamp, so no sweat. It has a couple standard light mounts as well as a hot shoe mount location for you strobist freaks out there.

I used 3 lights in this setup, two clamped to fence supports to light my subject from the side. We got some great shots, and minus the fence shadows thanks to the clamps. I’d recommend any serious lighting photog out there pack a couple of these in the gear bag (or another clamp similar in strength and durability, I’m not a brand pusher, but just remember that the age-old saying still holds true – you get what you pay for). You never know when they will come in handy. Sometimes mine sit in the bag for months on end, forgetten about, but when I need them, they are just about the most important thing I have on me at the time.

In the above pics, you can see the clamp with an AlienBee light attached to one of the light adapters on the clamp, as well as a pocket wizard attached to the light for wireless flash triggering. Below is a test photo taken to see if I was getting desired results with light exposure and knocking down enough of the ambient light to get a more dramatic look. I’ll typically do a few quick test and get my lights dialed-in before I pull my subject in, so they can spend a couple more minutes relaxing instead of just standing there with nothing to do.

Actual photos from this shoot coming soon!