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Light Your Subjects Quickly, With Little or No Help
How to Make the Most of Any Lighting Situation


Image 1
Image 1
D.J. LaDez


Image 2
Image 2
D.J. LaDez


Image 3
Image 3
D.J. LaDez


Image 4
Image 4
D.J. LaDez


Image 5
Image 5
D.J. LaDez


Image 6
Image 6
D.J. LaDez



After 20 years in the photo industry, I still learn more about photographic lighting all the time, often during lighting demos for professional photographers. Having worked for Lumedyne, Inc., since I was a teenager, I've had many opportunities to learn from photographers from around the world.

I've been shooting primarily travel and people photography for the past 15 years. My lighting seminars are directed at wedding, portrait, sports, fashion, and press photographers who need to work quickly, with little or no assistance.

I created the following lighting examples shooting with my Canon after I finished a car shoot at the beach for a custom paint-and-body shop. I had used three kits and a nine-yard diffuser to light the cars and models, but all of these examples were created with just one 400ws Lumedyne kit and a small light modifier. We triggered the system wirelessly with PocketWizards. White balance was set to Daylight. I used my Tamron 28-75 Di lens at about 75mm.

None of the images have been retouched or adjusted, other than rotated for print, after the high-res JPEGs were created in-camera.

Full Sun Shining Directly

Images 1 and 2 show our model with the full sun shining directly on her face. In Image 1, there's enough light to get a proper exposure, but it creates harsh shadows. A diffuser panel over the model would have helped, but that would have required one or two people to secure it on this windy afternoon. Also, the correct exposure under the diffuser would leave the background much brighter.

Instead, I added 100ws of light and shot at f/16 at 1/400 second to maintain rich background saturation and create separation between the model and background. I used a small 19-inch Photoflex Octibank on the Lumedyne head because the light is fairly close to the subject.

Had I used a five-inch reflector alone, the line between the lit and unlit parts of her face would have appeared too sharp, even artificial. To avoid that, I would have kept the light closer to the camera's angle to avoid casting side shadows. I didn't need a larger light modifier because the sun was already providing the bulk of the illumination. My light was adding highlights and filling in shadows, so the moderate-sized modifier was no problem.

Sun Shining from Behind

For Images 3 and 4, we moved so we would have the sun shining behind our models. This is, by far, my preference for the sun's orientation, but sometimes Mother Nature and my schedule don't cooperate.

With the sun behind my subject, she was able to keep her eyes open more naturally and I had better control of the lighting on her face. I wanted the sunlight hitting the model and the background from behind to be a highlight, so I opened up to f/13 at 1/200 second so it was slightly overexposed from behind.

Because the light on her body would come mostly from the flash, I diffused the Lumedyne head with a three-foot Octibank. With the flash about eight feet away from my model, I needed 400ws to provide ample illumination for full-length and closeup shots.

With a natural transition from highlight to shadow provided by our diffused off-camera light and the highlight from the sun, we created dimension and separation without casting a strong shadow onto the background in Image 4.

When the light is even further from the model, the "depth of field" of the light reaches further beyond the subject. As the light is moved away from the subject, the size of the light source should be larger to maintain the same gradation from highlight to shadow.

Dramatic Side-Lighting

The worst possible lighting situation is where the subject has dramatic side-lighting from the sun. Still, there are ways to compensate for the far-from-ideal conditions. I used the light sand, white rocks, and my unlit OctoDome to reflect sunlight onto the dark side of the model, but we still had strong shadows from the direct sun. I was shooting at f/16 at 1/200 second. By flashing the Lumedyne at 100ws through the Photoflex OctoDome, the flash acted as the fill light, softening shadows.

In Image 5, by using 200ws—one f/stop more flash power—the flash becomes the main light and contributes dimension with highlights. This is possible with half the available power of the eight-pound portable flash kit (16 pounds with large stand, clamps, and three-foot light box), where the weight is low on the stand and doesn't require someone to hold it, even in a moderate breeze.

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