ON LOCATION HEADSHOT SETUP
WITH LYNDA J. CHAN
My location kit and why I use it
You’ve got a call for an on-location shoot–what to pack? Travel light, or take the kitchen sink? If you travel light, what if you need that something you didn’t pack this time (pass the Advil for my head now please)? If you take it all, well, you have to pack it all, carry it all, pack it all back up and carry it all back (pass the Advil for my back now please). I have five kids–I face this problem a lot in life. I’m a photographer as well, so let’s double down on that, shall we? What I found is that sometimes, I need to do one, and sometimes, I need to do the other. And darn it all, there’s this little thing called a budget. So there are some things I have learned to consider in making that decision, and I’ll share those with you.
My name is Lynda J. Chan and I am a headshot photographer in Orillia, Ontario.
When it comes to lighting, it seems we can never get enough. After all, we photographers love to explore light, so when there’s a new light modifier/shaper/source/etc., we tend to want to try it out. So then we have more to choose from, there will always be a “should we pack this too?” But you probably shouldn’t take it on your shoot until you’ve really tried it out, so that’s one problem solved: leave all those ones at home (for now). What do I like to use? I have a Profoto L white parabolic umbrella. It is versatile, and easy to set up. And of course, well-constructed and beautiful. That’s my go-to, and for when I have to travel super light. It’s a good start for groups as well as individuals, easy to use with continuous or speedlights.
Second to go in the bag is the Profoto M translucent umbrella. These two items have me covered for key and fill lights for a wide variety of shoots and situations that could come up. Add a couple of lightstands for them, as well as the diffuser for the white parabolic.
Also very versatile is my Westcott Omega Reflector. You can shoot through the middle of it, change up the colors easily, even use it to block light. Loads of fun. Folds down easily, too. Sturdy and well-designed by someone that I hope they gave a raise.
I use two Canon speedlights, the 600EX II-RT and the 600EX-RT, along with the Canon ST-E3-RT transmitter. These give me what I need for both headshots and groups. I also use the Flashpoint battery pack for faster recycling time.
I also adore continuous lighting, because I can see what I am going to shoot in realtime. If I think there might be some opportunities for more creative work during the shoot my two Westcott Solix’s are probably coming along for the ride, as well as my Light and Motion Stella light. I find these are good for everything from headshots to portraits and smaller groups. Although they don’t have the same output as the Canon speedlights.
I also sometimes use the speedlights for lighting my backdrop (you pretty much need to for white–save time in post!).
Travel Cases & Bags
I love ThinkTank, and have the Streetwalker, as well as a couple of Retrospectives. I also stumbled into owning a fantastic Lowepro bag that has been a workhorse for me. My camera and lenses typically go into the Lowepro, and my flashes and battery pack, touchup supplies (anti-matte gel, etc.), and other odds and ends go into the Retrospectives. I transport my light stands in a long carry bag that came with my 10′ backdrop stand that stays set up in my little studio. Then the umbrellas, X-Drop, and tripods go into their bags, and my laptop has its dedicated bag. I know that’s a lot of bags but I do it for the workout value. Ok, no, I don’t. I will at some point soon be getting a cart that many of my headshot colleagues simply rave about. I will just have to update my writeup then, and let you know how much I love not carrying 10 bags all at once.
For my backdrop, I use the Westcott X-Drop, and I take all three color types with me, white, black and grey. Even if they say, we only want white. Ok, sure. But hey, wait till you see what black looks like too! I might not shoot on all three for every shoot. If I’m pinched for space, I just take the white and then adjust my exposure for grey and black. If I think there are opportunities for some variety, I take some of my “Kate Backdrops.” I had a friend grommet them to fit the X-Drop stand.
I use basic low budget light stands that I collected over the years. Some are more sturdy than others. The sturdy ones travel with me on location and I use the HurleyPro H2Pro Weight Bags to weigh them down. Before I got the waterbags, I was despairing of spending yet more money that wasn’t a new camera or lens–but I did need something that helped keep that big Profoto umbrella from tipping!
I don’t use a tripod as it makes me feel limited and awkward. Said I before I got my Feisol with ballhead! Now it goes with me everywhere–I just love it. I will never forget when I first set up the Feisol for a shoot–it was a simple on location photo booth for a charity fundraiser. I felt different. It was substantial. Professional. I was going to be shooting groups, quickly. My camera and lighting were set up, and I could focus my attention on arranging the groups and getting great expressions out of them, quickly. Instead of feeling limited and awkward, I felt freed up and fluid. And I love how I can quickly adjust the ballhead. Do I still sometimes shoot without it? Yes. But getting a great tripod made a huge difference for me. I have one, and it’s onboard whether in studio or on-location. Did I mention how much I love my Feisol?
I tether with all things TetherTools. I love seeing what I just shot on a larger monitor. I can pay attention to details, which I would miss because, oh, I don’t know, they’re practically microscopic on the back of my camera. I can coach my client better with their expressions, because they can see their own expressions much better, and even compare some on a monitor which can display several at once. The cables are well-made, a wonderful don’t-trip-over-me orange (especially important on location), and have a lot of useful, thoughtful details, like their jerkstoppers. This company is constantly working to not only make excellent gear but designs that help with your workflow in a shoot.
Once in a while, I’m in a situation where I can’t tether, and I miss it. It’s not the end of the world, but it does make me feel like I’m at the ends of the earth #lifebeforetetheringisagony
You might find you just have one kit for location work. I prefer to think in terms of how many opportunities I may have at a job for creativity, or how tight it looks like it will be (a half hour for 20 headshots isn’t giving much creative time–go simple). It also depends on how I am getting there. Am I flying? Less gear. Driving my car? How much of my studio can I fit inside? I would say the most important thing about your kit is: have a solid go-to setup, but have a resourceful mindset with it to expand according to the situation.
Thank you so much for hopping in and reading! Hopefully, you picked up some useful ideas for your own kit!