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How to Shoot One Light Dramatic Portraits On Location By Yourself

11/20/2014 ISO 1200 Magazine 0 Comments

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This week on The Slanted Lens, Jay P Morgan is in Maine heading out to Stonington to photograph fishermen. His goal with today's lesson is to show how you can get dramatic results with a single light and working on your own. He has no assistants with him, he isdoing this all by himself. Julene is with him but she will only be shooting behind-the-scenes footage to show what he is doing.  This is the story:

My Run and Gun Setup
I am going to use a Photoflex Triton on a stand with an Octodome that has a grid on it. The reason I choose this so often is that it is small and easy to move around. The footprint isn't very big and it also doesn't have a large dome on top that is going to get blown around in the wind. I will hang two Triton batteries from the stand to act as a weight but also to give me a backup as soon as I need one. I don't want to have to take several trips back to the car and we don't have a lot of time with these fishermen before the sun goes down. To add more weight to the stand, I am using a PhotoFlex RockSteady portable sandbag with a couple water bottles in each side. This is what I will carry around.

Shooting Process
I am using a method of mixing one strobe light as the key with ambient light as the fill. I am only one person so I don’t want to move a strobe and a Fill light. I want to carry a strobe in one hand and a camera on a tripod in the other. This will make me mobile so I can move to the next setup without having to go back and get things. A Canon 5D Mark III with a Tamron 24-70mm 2.8 lens is my primary camera. I want to capture portraits and the background so this wider angle lens is perfect. My secondary camera is another Mark III on my hip in the Spider Holster; this one has a Tamron 70-200mm 2.8 lens to get nice close up shots. I will use a Pocket Wizard on the camera to trigger my light. I wish I had two triggers but when I put the secondary camera at my side, I would have knocked the trigger off the hot shoe. Moving the trigger from camera to camera slows me down a little but not too much.

Camera Settings
First, I am shooting on Manual. It is very hard to balance strobes and daylight when on any other setting. I set my shutter at 1/60th of a second and then open the aperture up until I get a comfortable ambient exposure. I am using the open daylight to fill his face, then I add my Triton and dial it up or down until I get a nice highlight on his face. I am using a grid on the Photoflex Octodome so that I can keep the light more focused and not have the strobe reveal itself by spilling all over the dock.

I am not in love with this setup so I moved my first subject around to the corner of the building and reset my aperture. I want the background to be a bit darker here and I can control that with my ambient exposure. It is a bit of a dance though because I do not want the fill on his face to be too dark. To compensate, I will bring the light around and use a more frontal key light.

I photographed several fishermen in this open light. This method of shooting for open shadows is easy to do and ideal when you are working alone with one light. I will post a new video of how I lit these portraits each week on so make sure you check back often to see them all. 

Until then, keep those cameras rollin' and keep on clickin'.

Text and video via The Slanted Lens