Magazine Article


Light Up Your Portraits

Text & Images by Bill Frankes

I always use flash for portraiture for the same reason: to create a mood. In darkroom terms, I use the light to burn and dodge, leading the reader around the image, emphasizing what's important and subduing less significant elements.

A photographer's style is the culmination of his vision. Over time, a photographer's vision, integrity, and message will endure. I want mine to be about the content, with a very light nod to the technical.

Content means not only the pure elements of the subjectas in black and whitebut also the color, texture, and shade, which are, in large part, controlled by the light.

Good to Go

Australia's Stephen Bradbury during 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City

I work very quickly, with minimal setup and shooting time, so I need the light to be elegant, and precise. And I have to work it out so I can move rapidly. Almost all of my work is done on the road, so my lighting equipment must be durable, relatively compact, and easy to travel with.

Because I have so many things happening so quickly, I need the gear to be simple, straightforward. It must allow me to get the information from my mind to the recording medium with a minimal amount of complication. I'm using the strobes to amplify or modify existing light.

In my mind I can see where I want the light to go, and how I want it to look. But there is nothing physically there until the strobes flash and that happens so incredibly quickly, I can't actually see in real space what is in my head. Modeling lights are a simple directional representation of the direction of the light, but nothing more.

I need the lights to be consistent, reliable, and predictable. It is incredibly important to be able to deliver what you previsualize, because once you start shooting other considerations will preoccupy youwhat the subject is doing for exampleand you simply can't afford to worry about technical details at that point.

Quality Not Quantity

With all of that in mind, I use the Elinchrom Rangers for my portrait work. They're light, flexible, and have plenty of power. I use the Elinchrom light modifiers, principally the Octabox. The Rangers, in combination with natural light, and a variety of reflectors, give me plenty of options, as well as economy of motion in both my working and traveling environments.

Play by Play

Ran Morriset (bottom) was shot in the foyer of his home. We were working at noon, and there was basically no light at all in the hallway. A Ranger on the front porch, with a polished sport reflector angled slightly upward, covered with a 1/2 CTO gel, and pointed in through the window, replicated late afternoon sunlight and turned a flat, empty situation into a portrait where his warm and engaging personality comes shining through.

The Down & Dirty Linemen Camp (right) in Southern Florida was shot on a bright, hot, contrasty August afternoon. To correctly render such a wide range of tones, distances, it took two Elinchrom Ranger packs outfitted with standard reflectors to provide the "raw" directional light that makes the image so strong.

Stephen Bradbury (p.46) was shot in Salt Lake City during the Winter Olympics. We blocked off a street and used a Ranger at minimum power into a shoot through Octabox. We used a 1/4 CTO gel to warm him up, and made a 1/2 second exposure at 5.6 to capture the ambient. Bradbury, an Australian gold medal winner, had won gold the night before so I wanted to place him in Salt Lake City. His hair and the Mormon Tabernacle spires paired up nicely.

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Sports Illustrated photographer Bill Frakes ( has many prestigious publications and commercial advertisers among his clients, including Time, National Geographic, People, Fortune, Life, The New York Times, Nikon, Nike, Coca-Cola, IBM, Kodak, and Reebok.