Lighten my load with smaller cameras and lenses? Which dream world do you live in...?

Happy Photographer writes blog about camera size and weight 
versus the need to bring the lights...

Some of us photographers who cross over and do video like to talk about the benefits of "hybrid" shoots where we "light once and then shoot twice." By keeping the lighting instruments the same and using the same cameras for both disciplines the big idea is that we lighten our load of equipment and get multiple kinds of imaging stuff done quicker. And, as far as I can tell, it works pretty well most of the time. But never in this particular proposal of processes have I ever indicated that getting smaller and lighter cameras is an important part of the hybrid equation. I'm not thrilled with the weight savings of smaller, mirrorless cameras any more than I am thrilled by the overweight nature of professional DSLRs. The reason I don't particularly care about the weight or size of cameras is that so much of my work is done using various kinds of lighting equipment. 

I was all excited about shooting a marketing piece for a theater today. We planned on shooting various actors on a white background. I'd mastered lighting a traditional white out background with my Apurture LightStorm LED lights and I was getting ready to pack when my art director e-mailed over so final notes. The actors would be dancing and moving and might be jumping as well. Well, that kills it for the LEDs. I can't freeze someone mid jump and keep them sharp with continuous lights. I got busy packing up the flashes. 

The number of lights is basically the same so I wouldn't mind BUT..... after we shoot the marketing piece for one production, and wrap up the gear at that location, we're breaking for a late lunch and then setting up in a different building to shoot two video interview. Which, of course, do not call for electronic flash. So I'm right back to the requirement of packing two sets of lights. Oh joy!

You can make the cameras as light as you want. You could even put your lights on a diet, but for most of the stuff I shoot we're hauling around a set of background stands and a nine foot roll of background paper, six to eight heavy duty light stands, flags, three or four sand bags, a sturdy cart. apple boxes, a hundred feet of heavy extension cords,  soft boxes, umbrellas and the various hard and semi-hard cases required to keep all the breakable stuff unbroken. Saving two to five pounds on camera gear is a drop in the bucket in the overall equation of a couple hundred pounds of (necessary) lighting gear. 

Today we'll also need to bring along a large duffle filled with sound blankets because the space we're assigned to shoot in is as hot as the hood of a black car in a Texas parking lot. We need to take the edge and echo off the voice recording. By the time we pack white masonite for the floor and another c-stand and fish pool for the microphone we'll just about have the Honda CR-V filled to capacity. 

I know that some of you will chime in and tell me that you do photography strictly for the love of it and I'm happy for you. I'm not sure I chose the right career ---- sometimes it just feels light a combination of logistics and weight-lifting with a few moments of imaging tossed in...

I dream of the day when I can take just a small bag with a camera and a lens or two. But it's the lighting and accessories that make it feel like "work." 

Really should have gotten a couple of assistants for this job. They could be setting up while I get in a noon swim. Now that would be delicious.

With a flurry of back to back jobs the studio is starting to look like a warehouse.
We drop off one set of gear and grab another. The image above is as neat and clean as it's been in months....

The magic ingredient for commercial photography success, besides having a trust fund or a wealthy spouse, is a non-stop stream of coffee. Comes in handy when the client "needs" those shots the next morning and you're still on location wrapping up the shoot at 7:15pm.

Photographers tend to fixate on those "magic" cameras but I think the real 
magic is in bringing the lights and knowing how to use them. 
That, and getting along with people. 


  1. Hey Kirk,
    That is absolutely true, and I have often thought about the same thing... But the weight saving is more for comfort while I am shooting. A recent example is a model shoot for a skincare line, there were 4 models staggered one after the next in 2 "sets", and I was shooting straight for about 7 hours.

    Just expanding the experience into the shooting time (as opposed to transport).

  2. Preach, brother! I love my Olympus OMD E-M10 Mk II for street and travel photography, but if I was shooting what you're shooting, camera size and weight would be the least of my concerns -- especially since whatever cameras and lenses I'd be using would be mounted on a tripod and not my neck or shoulder. The one consolation is that you can get away with smaller, lighter strobes than in the old days. Lugging a 2000 w/s Speedotron up a few flights of stairs was no joke.

  3. I don't have a solution for your need for multiple lighting systems, but I have found that I can replace that 9' roll of seamless with this product from Westcott that packs onto a small duffle bag:


  4. Here you go. The hybrid shooters dream.

  5. Lights,



    A photographers Haiku

    Or/also our mantra for on the job : )


  6. Hang in there! Digital lighting in post, it's coming! Although possibly not at a sensible price point. I am pretty sure you can do it for video RIGHT NOW, but you need a Lytro cinema rig and a digital effects shop to relight your footage. I dunno, a couple million bucks.

    But I think it's coming for stills pretty soon.

  7. Kirk,
    Just picked up on the heavy coffee comment, even though I have been reading your posts for years.
    You really should try skipping the coffee and switch to ginger. I find slicing up a section of ginger root and pouring hot water over it is better. Also points during the day, when feel slow, I eat a piece of crystallized ginger. Seems to give energy, without any of the coffee negatives. Also much more healthy, however you do need to get used to the burn. Now I can just eat a piece of ginger root.
    All the best,

  8. Yeahhhh, portrait shoot last week. 90 minutes of setup, 5-minutes of shooting. Remember that Planet Fitness ad? "I pick things up and put them down?" That's the job.

  9. Thanks for that Kirk, makes me feel fortunate.

    Much as I love that my Fuji system is small and light, it is still dwarfed by the laptop/tethering kit, lighting kit and stands that come on most shoots--and I'm the kind of stills only guy you mention. I already leave a roll of background paper at several clients' offices and have considered leaving a set of background stands with each of them, too; one less thing to carry. I am thankful I don't have a second lighting kit and support kit and an audio kit to add to the above...

    Side note to Stan--that "wrinkle resistant" backdrop is very wrinkled when it comes out of the bag, every time it comes out of the bag. It really needs to be accompanied by a steamer. I bought one for a multi-city shoot last year when the timeframe didn't allow for purchasing a 9' seamless locally in each city.

  10. David. Re: Coffee. There are over 465 antioxidant compounds in every cup of coffee and studies show moderate coffee drinkers outlive non-coffee drinkers by an average of three months. There is also the social side of coffee. While ginger 'might' be better for you I can't imagine asking one of my coffee addicted art directors to join me for a tepid cup of water flavored with ginger root. I'm not even sure where on the Starbucks menu that item is....

  11. Andrew Molitor!!!! Put the right logo on the side and I'm sure I'll buy it...

  12. What's the old line? "Ninety percent of photography is moving furniture."

    I'm about 99% retired and claim I travel light, but a few years back I bought a 10-foot cargo trailer. Now the backdrops, stands, and most of the lights live in the trailer. Even when I don't take the trailer with me it's a lot easier than loading out of the house. Doesn't help much with getting stuff up stairs at the location, though.

    Re: The "wrinkle resistant" backdrop, even Westcott says it is wrinkle free "when stretched." Bring on the A-clamps. Thanks to Michael N Meyer for his insight.

  13. Kirk have you seen the info on Rotolight Neo 2, it may have helped solve your problem if they were freely available. It combines LED and HSS flash


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