A guest blog post by GPP favourite, Martin Prihoda.
Famed for his use of Big Lights Far Away to overpower the sun when shooting outdoors, Canadian born Martin is an advertising and portraiture photographer living and working in Mumbai. He is a regular contributor to Vogue, GQ, Harper’s Bazaar and Elle and maintains a growing advertising client base both in India and internationally. Oh, and he also gives awesome workshops.
Check out his tips for a taste of what's to come on Big Lights Further Away – his forthcoming photo tour of Rajisthan, India – more info
Tips for Dramatic Lighting Outdoors
by Martin Prihoda
I use Profoto gear. I find Profoto versatile, rugged and powerful. Specifically I use the 7b battery pack series. I started off on the original 7b and though the batteries are heavy, its indeed a workhorse and I’ve carried them to various distant parts of the world. The subsequent packs are lighter and therefore easier to carry around. Of course if you’re trekking through the Himalayas or the Rajasthani desert, you’re going to need help so plan on a few assistants!
I use 1200 w/s lights as I find this is the minimum power I need to shoot against the sun at 3-4pm, depending of course the time of year and where I am in the world. Often if I’m not using an ND filter, I’ll be maxing out at 1/160 f16-22 on the 5d mark 2 at 50 ISO.
As far as modifiers, I find a 3x4’ softbox to be great. Its not as hard a light as a beauty dish but not so big as a large softbox which will act like a kite on a windy day. The softbox can be positioned and feathered in various ways to give more or less contrast.
Pocket wizards are a great reliable trigger and I get a lot of use out of them. It would be a shame to trek all this gear out to the middle of nowhere and find that your $5 ebay triggers from China have failed.
Here’s the thing with this style of lighting: you can get great imagery but it takes time. Most photographers can get away with snapping an image off and walking away but not with this setup. You have to pull the gear out, set up the packs, test the triggers, setup the softbox and test the light. For this reason I tend to try and isolate my subjects, talk to them, explain what I’m doing, keep them engaged. There’s a need to work quickly, you don’t want a crowd to gather. Crowds get excited and if your gear is strewn everywhere things could go sideways.
It helps to know the gear inside out. At this point I pretty much know what setting on the pack will give me what light and a certain distance so its just a case of communicating with my assistants.
Once I have everything ready I’ll take a basic natural light shot. In this shot I’m looking to see what the ambient light is doing, specifically what is happening in the background. I’m not interested in my subject at this point because more often then less they’ll be a silhouette. Once I have the ambient background to where I want it I simply adjust the power on the pack to illuminate the subject. I can usually get this in 2 or 3 shots but when you’re starting out, it may take longer.
Once I know I have the shot I call it and move on.
A high quality ND (Neutral Density) filter is a great tool to have with you. If its bright outside and I want to shoot my subject with a shallower depth of field, to make them ‘pop’ even more I will need an ND filter. An ND filter is basically like putting sunglasses on your lens, it buys you up to 3 or 4 much needed stops. Lets say I’m shooting with a 70-200 2.8. If its a bright day and I want to shoot at 2.8 and still be within my sync speed of 160, I will be letting way too much light into the camera. I’ll either have to stop to f8 or so, or I’ll have to forgo the strobe and shoot natural light....or I put on an ND 8 and that will filter out excess light, allowing me to shoot 2.8 at 1/160.
Shooting a subject outside with strobes at the shallow end of a good lens can give you a very powerful portrait.
Give it a try!
Want to learn more, get amazing portfolio shots AND a once in a lifetime experience?
Check out Martin's Big Lights Further Away photo tour of Rajasthan, happening this November from the 21st to the 28th Nov. Book Now - only a few spaces left!!