I've been shooting a lot of stuff outdoors in the last couple of weeks, following my usual pattern for this time of year. Things generally look pretty nice outside going into fall, it's that time when the kids who left their senior portraits until the last second start to scramble to get them done, and I am sick of living in a hot, uncomfortable studio. Location shooting is a sort of blessing Traditionally, I would be shooting with a bag full of speedlights for many of these shoots, but this year I am trying something a little different. On many shoots I am using a single Alien Bee AB800 in a 3x4' softbox with a 2 stop diffusion and powered by a lithium battery/inverter.
When I purchased my first set of big lights I kind of jumped all over the Norman pack & head setups mentioned in THIS post. They were rugged and powerful, and people were practically giving them away on ebay (sadly, no longer the case). But they were also very heavy and kind of a pain to set up on the fly. They are still my go-to setup for shooting on white seamless or indoors, but I picked up a pair of the Alien Bees and 2 Vagabond Mini's in June, and I have been giving them workout over the last few months.
Below you can see the result of that single 3x4" softbox boomed overhead and slightly to the left of camera. There are a few reasons for doing this.
The most obvious reason is the light fall off. Josh is on the far left of this photo, his sister Bekkah is on the far right, and their parents Jim and Wanda are in the middle. If I had positioned the light just out of the frame, Josh's shirt would be blown out (it nearly is now) and Bekkah's face would be underexposed to a noticeable degree. By moving the light further back, you get a more even exposure across the frame, but you end up with an effectively harder source (I promise to shoot the setup next time). The other reason to move the light further away that it gives a little more of a punchy look and not as much of a beauty wrap. I would liken this setup to using a beauty dish in close on a single subject, a technique that I like to use very often. The physical size of the light is bigger than a beauty dish, but it's effective size is very similar. The light from this setup is fairly dramatic, but not what I would call particularly flattering. It is best used with full length shots, some subjects may not like the sort of "depth" this light can create on their face.
As you can see, this also scales pretty well for larger groups. The above shot was done with the same light setup and a Tokina 16-28 to fit the group in (I'm standing with my back to a wall). Again, it's not a beauty light, but it does look very dynamic with a very simple setup. You can see that the shadows are pretty hard here, the only fill being the ambient in the scene. I kind of like this look, but you could lighten the shadows by raising the ambient exposure. Alternatively, if you like the darker background, you could use a bare speedlight on-axis to lift the shadows on the face slightly.
Here is a third example, same setup as the other two images. Like I said above, this technique lends itself to a full length portrait the best, it is possible to do a shoulder length image (we did just that on this shoot) but you have to be mindful of the contrast on the face if you are going to try it.
More to come. -J.H.