A simple location lighting kit. Cheap flashes. Skinny stands and a dinky tripod.

Background light at one sixteenth power.
Main light (on the right of the frame) one quarter power. 
Fill light (near the center of the frame) at one eighth power.

Back in 2007 I wrote an entire book on the use of small, battery powered flashes used in the practice of professional photography. It's called Minimalist Lighting and it's still selling well on Amazon.com and in bookstores. The premise was the using small flashes with radio triggers or camera manufacturer's built in infra-red controllers would replace (in many applications) the older and more expensive traditional studio flash lighting we used to use. That book and David Hobby's Strobist site changed the landscape of lighting for professional and advanced amateur photographers. 

But at some point I "fell off the wagon", went "cold turkey" on the "little flash Kool-aide" and started pulling out the bigger flashes again. Maybe I missed the modeling lights or maybe I got tired of changing batteries---I don't really know but it happened. Until the conference in Denver moved up the priority scale and I realized that I needed to put together a make-shift studio to take a series of group photos and head shots in. I wanted to travel light as there was no budget for an assistant and I hate dragging tons of stuff through airports (bigger lights generally mean bigger stands, heavy cables, extension cords and bigger cases!).  At that point I realized that I'd sold off all the Nikon flashes, all of the Canon flashes and all I had left was a little, dedicated flash for the Panasonic cameras and a nearly useless Sony HVL-60 flash from my a99 days. 

I did my research, bought some Yongnuo 560 type 2 flashes, charged up all the Sanyo Eneloop batteries I could gather together, and packed a case with stands and on-camera flash adapters. Those and a brace of cheap umbrellas. Everything fit in one case.  And it was a case with wheels on it. 

I got assigned to the "Gold" room, which I thought was a good omen. I set up the flashes as you see them above. Lost to the angle of the photo is the beautiful, muslin background that I dragged along. 
We did maybe a dozen head shots and a big group shot and then I packed everything back up and continued to do my mobile work for the rest of the conference. 

I learned (once again) that $120 for three flashes that have their own built in optical slaves is a screaming bargain. I learned that 1/4 power rocks for most stuff....especially now that all cameras are graceful at 400 ISO. I once again learned that traveling light is traveling happy. Small cameras and small flashes are just lovely for the post "fun to travel" times.

Stan Y. and Kirk test the lighting set up.

Stan and Kirk have a genuine good time at the Math Conference shoots.

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Ron Nabity said...

I still do most of my work with battery flashes. I can pack a small Domke bag with 2 OMD bodies and lenses, 2 strobes, triggers + extra batteries, lens brushes, pens, etc and a small baseball bag with stands and umbrellas and easily walk from my car into any location. Sets up in tears down in minutes.

By the way, the carpet in the Gold Room is pretty epic, wish there was a way you could have repurposed it for a backdrop!

Anonymous said...

"Maybe I missed the modeling lights or maybe I got tired of changing batteries---I don't really know but it happened."

I bet missing the modelling light had something to do with it. A continuous light source + an EVF = pre-chimping bliss.

Which, along with that photo above led me to an idea that wouldn't it be cool if manufacturers like Youngnuo who make both portable LED lights and manual speedlights came up with a way to combine those two products of theirs into one compact sized enclosure?
Something that had both, but wouldn't be much bulkier than the LED panel alone, and could use multiple energy sources. As long as it was something as simple as that, it wouldn't have to be much bulkier or pricier, either.
I know there are things like the Omicrons and standalone ring shaped panels that can do light bursts, but those aren't quite the same, nor are they cheap.

Something like that would be the killer product for travelling stills and video shooters alike, wouldn't it. I'd buy a few. The key factors here are simplicity, portability, size, price and weight. Simple, cheap, skinny and dinky.

Feel free to use your network and pitch the manufacturers about such a product. But if you'll be successful, I'd like to have a small cut of the royalties, too. Or at least a cup of coffee and a doughnut on you. ;)

Well, just a thought, inspired by that portrait shooting photo.
Meanwhile, apparently we just need to carry on carrying both the LED and the speedlight along with the umbrellas, clamps and stands, or leave either one home.

Gato said...

You tell us the power settings and I presume from the post you're at ISO 400, but you don't say what aperture. I'm curious what sort of exposure you're getting.

I do a fair amount of small flash lighting with a similar setup, though normally with the lights closer to the subject. Being a dinosour, I'm still using old-school Vivitar 283 units - I bought the first two my dealer could get when they were announced back in the 1970s and some 30 years later bought the last 2 new units I could find when I heard they were discontinued.

Now I'm looking at the Yongnuo 560III with it's remote power setting feature and expect to buy a couple as soon as the camera control unit is available. Especially for the background light this should save me a lot of steps.

Frank Grygier said...

Kung Poa flash and the Master of Light strike another blow for traveling photographers.

Anonymous said...

Why did you opt for the Yongnuo 560 type 2 versus the type 3?

Kirk Tuck said...

I chose the model two because it was cheaper and had less stuff in it to go wrong. All I wanted in a flash was a built in optical slave and the ability to ratio power. My experience is that the more features the more complex the menus get and the more stuff to go wrong...

They did work perfectly. Every time.

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Gato,

The aperture hovered around f5.6. Sometimes f5. I hope that helps. It was a fun adventure. Total investment in flashes= $130.

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Anonymous. Good idea about the LEDs incorporated into the flashes. Sony does this on their (crappy) HVL60 flash and the small Panasonic flash also has a fixed LED, front and center. Both would be good for guides to set up but both are cut off when the flash is activated...

Anonymous said...

What I had in mind about combining a LED panel and a flash was that the LED panel should be just as big and bright as their standalone LED panels ( I don't remember the model names), not just a guide light for focusing. Maybe the LED panel could be built around the flash head or something. The dinky little LEDs in those Sony and Panasonic (and others, I believe) flashes aren't quite the same thing.

Dave said...

Do you always shoot on a tripod for studio work? I never have, thinking it would slow me down if I want to move 3 feet to the right or something. I know you've pointed out in the past that a good tripod makes a bigger difference than a better lens.

Paul S said...

One thing not mentioned: You do need to buy some kind of trigger for your camera? does the flash come with one or is it separate?