Travel Portraiture // It’s All About The Light

It’s not so easy to travel with heavy, bulky strobes.  But sometimes, it’s an absolute must.  And if that’s the case, I would recommend the battery powered Profoto D1 or 7b systems.  If you’re like me though, and have an A/C power system, strobes aren’t even an option when traveling to remote locales like my most recent job in South Sudan.

So what do I do to get those dramatic and compelling portraits that I have in mind before I ever step on the plane?  Well, in short… you work with what you’ve got.

ARS_SEEDEFFECT_140818_1277

So what does that mean?

The first, and most obvious answer is an off camera flash, like my Canon Speedlite 580EX II on a small stand, triggered by PocketWizard Plus III.  When I want drama, that is usually my “go to” set up.  Here are a few field  examples with that system, including the shot above…

ARS_SEEDEFFECT_140816_0443-2

ARS_SEEDEFFECT_140813_0810-2

ARS_SEEDEFFECT_140816_0477-2

ARS_SEEDEFFECT_140813_9436

ARS_SEEDEFFECT_140818_1332

ARS_SEEDEFFECT_140816_0459

ARS_SEEDEFFECT_140813_9459

ARS_SEEDEFFECT_140816_0554-2

ARS_SEEDEFFECT_140813_9661

ARS_SEEDEFFECT_140817_0765

ARS_SEEDEFFECT_140815_0265

ARS_SEEDEFFECT_140815_0352

ARS_SEEDEFFECT_140818_1590

ARS_SEEDEFFECT_140818_1319

So what are the pros and cons?  Well, the pros are that it is a very light weight, quick set-up, cost-effective solution to the problem of poor/ low lighting.  It can certainly take a little practice before hand to understand the power and ambient relationships you’ll need to achieve the look you want.  But it’s very effective.

The downsides are that you don’t get as much power as strobes, so it can be tough to overpower the ambient when outside on a sunny day.  Also, the quality of the light you get from most speedlights is not as rich as strobes.  It can be harsh and cooler looking.  But there are several ways to counteract this with light modifiers like small softboxes, grids/ honeycombs, and gels.  I recommend playing around with all of these options before your trip in various ambient scenarios to see what you like and don’t like.

ARS_SEEDEFFECT_140815_0316

In the absence of our comforting strobes, it’s also a good time to get reacquainted with our old friend, available light.

It’s funny how we can rely sometimes on the trends and tricks of the trade, but when it comes down to it, for many of us at least, our first love is working with the light we’re given… not creating our own.  So on these trips I try to reconnect (when the situation calls for it) my eye to identifying my best available light.

Often times it’s the soft, indirect sunlight from a doorway or window.

ARS_SEEDEFFECT_140816_0708-2

ARS_SEEDEFFECT_140815_0126

ARS_SEEDEFFECT_140818_0978

ARS_SEEDEFFECT_140815_0039

And other times, it’s the soft, diffused light of an overcast sky.

ARS_SEEDEFFECT_140813_9434

But don’t get discouraged when the light just doesn’t appear any good at all.  It’s always a motivating excuse to get creative… and perhaps make a compelling silhouette portrait.  It’s amazing how much can be said with a completely shadowed subject.

ARS_SEEDEFFECT_140814_0172

The point is to keep seeing and creating in new ways.  Push yourself beyond your comfort level, and make the most beautiful portrait you can with what you have.  This last one was the ugliest, hottest middle of the day (near the equator) kind of light you could get.  But her smile, her eyes, and the colors she wore compelled me to photograph her in this wrap-around light, and not worry about blowing out the background.  It was beautiful light to me.

ARS_SEEDEFFECT_140818_1317

So keep shooting and exploring.  And don’t let your long-held notions about good light and bad light cause you to stumble.  Let it instead challenge your creativity to see that all light is good light… you just have to find out how to use it!

Happy shooting…

— andrew


 
Come learn light with me… check out my new workshop dates:
 
Grand Teton Photographic Tour/ Workshops 2014
More Destination Photo Tours/ Workshops 2014
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // andrew r. slaton
 
If you are interested in purchasing prints from this post, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
andrew r. slaton // photographer // prints
 
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2014