Professional Photographic Lighting – Light Work can be Heavy Going
Lighting for professional London photographer
If using natural light was the answer for a professional photographer, you wouldn’t find me lugging around 30 kilogrammes of off camera flash lighting equipment on the London Underground travelling to photo-shoots.
As a trick of the trade, the truth is that lighting makes the biggest difference between an amateur’s photographs versus a professional’s. The difference is far greater than the make of camera body or lens. If I was asked to put a number on it, I’d say great pictures are about 80% the result of a professional lighting rig, and the rest is down to the camera, lens and the photographer’s experience and talent.
Professional lighting conceals and flatters
Don’t get me wrong. Good cameras and lenses are important. If you’ve read my newsetters, you’ll know my love of Leica equipment borders on the obsessional. But without my portable (ahem!) Elinchrom lighting rig, the images would inevitably disappoint clients. The light it produces wraps completely around the subject’s face, creating softer, kinder images. In some ways the effects are counter intuitive. You’d think that extra light would reveal more of a subject’s flaws in skin tone. But it has the opposite effect. The light actually conceals and flatters, and that’s why it’s worth the half hour it takes me set up my lights ahead of a shoot.
The wow factor from the lighting set up
More than this, lights create a sense of occasion, a bit of a wow factor if you will. At a corporate portrait photoshoot, the CEO or director, on seeing the lighting set up, suddenly gives the session their full focus and attention. Just as importantly, it also leads to an efficient use of their time, because I know I can have the shots I need in a few minutes rather than clicking away at the shutter for much longer in the hope of the right shot.
Consistent colour tones in every photograph
Professional lighting also produces repeatable images that not only look super soft, but also have consistent colour tones in every shot. Natural light, in contrast, will vary as the sun goes in and out and the contrast will change from very low on cloudy days to far too high on a sunny day. My lighting rig ensures a soft envelope of light every single time, no matter what time of day or what sort of room is used for shooting. And the reason this matters is that we end up with consistent professional photographs that are ideal for company websites, marketing literature or social media avatars.
And there are benefits for me too, because lugging so much lighting kit back and forth means I am spared having to join a gym to stay fit.
Using an Elinchrom flash softbox
The large Elinchrom softbox can be used to generate a very soft flattering and even light using off camera flash, essential for corporate portraits and the second light in my bag can be set up to raise the ambient light in the room behind the subject or perhaps the outside walls/factory machinery very effectively. It’s all controlled by a sophisticated wireless trigger too, so no more hazardous cables to trip over.
Elinchrom flash triggers
In the seemingly endless quest for more control over lighting to get the better pictures ever faster, I am very happy with the new Elinchrom flash trigger.
It allows firstly a very reliable wireless trigger to my flash units which means no long ‘Health and Safety’ issues over trailing cables across the floor.
They have 8 channels which sounds like overkill but on some shoots there is a lot of interference from other electronic gadgets, such as the time I took the portrait of the CEO of CrossRail in front of one of the new digging machines, the electronic control systems in place meant I had to change channel several times to get a reliable trigger.
They also have four different zones, so I can have several locations set up for portraits and only trigger the relevant flash heads when needed. This is very useful in an office environment to stop firing all the flashes at once every time the camera takes a shot in a room quite a way away.
All in all, it’s one of those pieces of kit that isn’t an obvious showy device but works reliably every time and keeps photo shoot disruption to a minimum.
New Elinchrom One – No flash in the pan
After eight years of sterling service and 500,000 flashes, I have decided to retire my trusty portable flash, the Elinchrom ELB400. This model has been remarkably reliable and is still in full working order, but it’s now so old that vital replacement parts like its battery are no longer available and that meant it was time to find a replacement.
There were a number of different options on the market, as you’d expect, but the one I chose was the new Elinchrom One.
It got the nod for two reasons. First, the power of its flash isn’t excessive. Most flashes are sold on how powerful they are, but in almost all shoots, only a small pop of soft light is all that’s required to remove shadows and transform the image.
If the flash power isn’t excessive then neither is its weight, making this flash system much more portable as well as easier and quicker to set up, which are both important considerations for a busy corporate portrait photographer often travelling between multiple assignments in a day.
The second reason I went for the Elinchrom One was the shape of its flash, which differs from other brands. The flash bulb sits outside the cylindrical body of the flash itself, allowing the light to radiate outwards in all directions.
In other models, the flash tube is often buried deep within a cylinder shape, creating a bright light in the centre but leaving it dim around the edges like a glorified torch. This produces a vignette on the subject and offers the photographer much less creative control.
The Elinchrom One’s flash tube protrudes out the front, and the light from its soft box for my portraits is very soft and even, which is exactly what I like and need for my headshots.
Its batteries last a whole day of photo shoots, which is something new for me, so that’s a big improvement. Also, the batteries are integrated in the body of the flash so there are no trailing wires and it can be recharged with a standard iPhone charger, if necessary, cutting down on heavy charging bricks. In fact, my laptop can be charged with the same device too.
Lastly, its flash heads have a new clean modern control system which is very nice to use. And with the light from the soft box even better and softer than before, I look forward to the Elinchrom One giving me at least eight years of working life just like its much admired predecessor.
Article in DIY Photography
Douglas wrote an article about the use of off camera flash for use on corporate photoshoots to give the appearance of natural light even in a gloomy or not particularly well-lit meeting room in a client’s London office. To read the full article please visit this page – How to Use Off Camera Flash.
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