Why is it that lighting seems to freak us photographers out so badly?
I’ve 100% been guilty of this- I used to call myself a natural light photographer because it made me feel like I had permission to ignore the need to learn off-camera flash (OCF), but eventually, it caught up with me. I’m still trying to put my finger on exactly why it scared me, though- I think I was intimidated by the possibility of adding elements of math and science to an art form. Mastering natural light had taken long enough, the thought of adding in another light source? No thanks.
When I moved from weddings to branding, I realized I couldn’t cling to that old excuse anymore. I’d learned how to use basic OCF for wedding receptions, but anything more complex than lighting a dance floor, and I was out of my depths. But branding and weddings are so different in so many ways, and one of those differences is that light is secondary to your set.
With brand sessions, you might find yourself shooting in a space where the natural light isn’t amazing, but because it’s the client’s office, you have to make it work. You can’t always move to better light with brand sessions- your set takes precedence, and you have to be able to adapt your light to follow.
Because if it hasn’t happened to you yet, there will soon come a time when you arrive on set for a brand session and find yourself wondering “where on earth is all that natural light I was counting on??”
And when that happens, you’ll be glad you have these essentials in your camera bag!
These days, I bring OCF with me to every single shoot. That doesn’t mean I USE it every time, but I have it, and I know how to use it to make practically any corner of any room work to my advantage, instead of being limited to just the preexisting “perfect pockets” of natural light. Check this shoot and this shoot to see a few examples of work I’ve shot with OCF!
Here’s a list of the lighting gear *every* brand photographer should have in their bag for every shoot (even if you don’t think you’l need it!):
This is the cheapest piece of lighting gear you’ll ever buy, and it’ll also be one of your most-used pieces of gear, too. I’d be lost without mine! The scrim inside the zip-off reflector surfaces is like a portable cloud, and is SO handy when you’ve got hot spots of sunlight on set and need to soften them without moving your client!
The larger the light source, the softer the light- popping even a small white umbrella overtop of a speedlight will make a huge difference in the quality of your OCF! Want even softer light? Get an even bigger umbrella :). The smallest size I recommend starting with is a 43″, which you can find at pretty much any local camera store. Check out the Westcott umbrellas- they’re inexpensive, which means when you inevitably break one, it won’t also break the bank.
This’ll give you an even softer look than the translucent umbrella, and you can use this setup to imitate a softbox if you don’t have one/don’t want to buy one just yet. You’ll just need to understand that your light will spread a little more than with an actual softbox, meaning you have less control over which parts of the photograph your light will affect. You can purchase either a white or a silver reflective umbrella- white’s my favorite, but silver has the benefit of adding a bit most contrast if that’s something you’re looking for!
a model between 2′-3′ will set you up nicely! If you find yourself needing to use OCF on a regular basis, just spring for a softbox instead of the umbrella + diffuser. The extra control is handy, AND you’ll lose less power because the softbox allows the flash to point directly at the subject, instead of pointing the light away from the client into the umbrella- the further your light has to travel, the more power & intensity it’ll lose, so if you’re shooting with smaller speedlights or a less powerful strobe, I’d probably opt for the softbox instead of the umbrella + diffuser setup.
Psst- want to learn more about lighting so you can deliver gorgeous results every time, no matter the location or the forecast? Check out my brand new course, Lighting The Brand Session!