“Art is not what you see but what you make others see.”
— Edgar Degas
On location means away from your normal studio. Shooting on location provides interesting challenges that allow you to break out of the predictability of studio lighting. Among the requirements is a level of physical energy—whether it’s trekking up and down ocean cliffs, chasing the elusive combination of background and natural light, or running up and down stairs of an indoor location to ferry your light heads to the next room. But this energy also translates into enthusiasm that increases creativity. Beyond the obvious appeal of visual variety, the anticipation, excitement, and pressure of going on location compels the photographer to perform more highly. With more invested in arranging the logistics, traveling, and moving equipment around, there is a higher sense of commitment from both the model and the photographer to make the most of a location shoot.
Once you’ve grown accustomed to the studio, with every light aimed exactly where it was last time, try venturing out on location. All the same kinds of problems you solved when you first set up your studio are back again, only in less ideal circumstances. You might deal with too much bounce or a ceiling too low to get the lighting angle you want. In the images on these pages, a bare-tube strobe on a high stand solved the problem of fill lighting for the large background. Overcoming the challenges of lighting on location is part of the fun.
Be prepared for a lower percentage of good shots on location compared to working in-studio, due to the challenges of lighting in unfamiliar surroundings, working with limited equipment, and under time constraints. However, the shots you do get can be amazing in ways that you could not have created in the studio.
The first consideration for location lighting is whether to use available light or to bring your own lights. Available light typically means less control over the angle and quality of light and less overall brightness. An advantage of available light is that what you see is pretty much what you get. A disadvantage, if the light is limited, is that you may use an aperture and shutter speed that don’t give you as crisp of images as you would like.
With portable studio strobes, you can achieve the action-stopping durations and depth of field that you want. With studio strobes, you will need to decide on a power source. Portable lithium ion battery power can provide standard household voltage to run an plug-in strobe. Another option is a pack-and-head system that uses a dedicated portable battery source. If you plan to rely on plug-in power, bring heavy-duty extension cords; these are less likely to trip breakers than thin cords.
If you are borrowing or renting equipment for a location shoot, request instructions on using it, and ask questions if any of the controls or labels are unfamiliar. Ask the location owner or manager about the building’s wiring (is there a modern breaker box or is it old?) If you have high-powered lights (1,500WS or more) make sure you know where the breakers are and try to plug each light into it’s own circuit. Whenever possible, test your equipment before heading to a location, and bring spares of anything that is lightweight; this includes batteries, radio transmitters, power cords, and other small cables.
The above is an excerpt from the book, Figure Lighting.