Magazine Article


Taking Your Light to the Next Level
Using 'Gunlighting' as a fast, portable hot-light solution

© John Solano

© John Solano

© John Solano

© John Solano

© John Solano

© John Solano

John Solano wanted to add a different style of lighting to his event coverage, something that would add a twist to his images. What he ended up designing, along with fellow photographer Brian Marcus, was a completely new lighting apparatus. "Two of the most important things that make a 'professional' are our lighting skills and the speed and smoothness of our photo sessions," he says.

Solano noticed that most photographers depend upon on-camera flash most of the time. "Flat, soft light has its place," Solano says, "but for all the images of the day, it becomes boring." He suggests, "When you start to mix your technique with different lighting styles, that's when it gets interesting--available light for shooting outdoors, strobe lighting for portraits, ring lighting, and Gunlighting using hot lights."


Solano wanted to be able to bring in a hot light when and where he needed to, "but it had to be fast and furious; dimmable, focusable, and portable."

"Sometimes I have just minutes to shoot all of my portraits," he says. "Of course, I use strobe, with portable softboxes, indirect on-camera flash--but those options can be boring. What do you do when you want drama? What do you do when you've shot your bread-and-butter photos, but you want to reach for great imagery and only have a three-minute window?"

Solano's answer: Gunlighting.

He'd been using flashlights for a while but didn't like its inconsistency. "The pattern of light wasn't flattering," he explains. "There was usually uneven light and too narrow of a diameter of light with a real hot spot in the middle--or else it was too broad and the image looked flat." With no readily available solution, Solano finally decided to design his ideal light source.

Solano explains that the Gunlight allows him to light his subjects in a way that flashes or strobes simply can't do. "It's a tool to add to your arsenal of techniques," he says. "I find myself using it during very short portrait sessions at weddings. This is a constant light source, turned on and off by the user at the click of a button. This hot light is a portable light. Hurrell used this type of lighting, to capture Hollywood starlets and leading men in the '30s, but Hurrell used hot lights in a studio setup."

What makes a hot light such a great solution is that it allows you to see exactly what the light is doing. "You can make your lighting change before you take even one picture," Solano says. "It gives you total portability, allowing you to move around on the fly.

"When you're in a time crunch, you're still expected to come up with stellar results," Solano adds. You need a tool that can be dynamic, and a full studio setup won't work when you need to change locations on a moment's notice: "Sure, you can flash everything--from the first image in the morning until the last one at the end of the evening. You'll always get an image, but with safe, boring light. Anyone can do that."

Using the Gunlight

Solano shoots with the Nikon D3, which, along with the Gunlight, is a match made in heaven, he says: "The D3's low-light capabilities are fantastic."

Solano currently has an assistant use the Gunlight with his direction. His vision calls for a future design that will mount on a stand and offer a remote option for photographers who work solo.

"I find myself using this light throughout the entire day--during preparation, shooting the dress, tuxes; for details in a ballroom; and more," he says. He also uses it for portraits (up to three people). "The Gunlight brings a Hollywood look to your subjects--Rembrandt lighting is attainable instantly, because you can see what the light source is doing," he says.

The Gunlight--unlike anything on the market today--gives you a focusable light spread, which means you can control the diameter of the light. And it's an even light from edge to edge with no uneven hot spot. "Any photographer can benefit from a great photographic tool," Solano says. "That's what we do--use tools to capture great images for our clients. The tool can't do it for you, but the right tool really makes life easy. It's allowed my décor photos to rise to another level. The ability to paint with light is amazing."

When shooting with the Gunlight, Solano's camera is set at ISO 50 or 100, with an aperture around f/16–f/22, which gives him 15- to 30-sec. exposures. Since his camera is usually on a tripod, he's able to use his light to fill in the shadows "and bring the scene to what my eye is seeing, detail in the shadows, and well-exposed highlights," he explains. "I believe people looking at my images see a difference," he says. "They may not be able to put a finger on exactly what it is, but they know when they like it."

The website for the Gunlight is not yet online. As more information is released, we'll report it here. [Studio Photography and apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, and thank you for your patience. --Ed.]