Portable Off-Camera Lighting Setup for Tough Outdoor Photography Locations

Unfortunately for the more adventurous photographers among us, most lighting equipment was not made for hanging over rushing rivers or balancing on rocks, but Zach Gray shows us how to get the job done with a minimum of sketchiness:

Locations come in all different shapes and sizes, some of which are difficult to get to or have no stable ground for setting up lights—or both. That’s when a bit of improvisation, an assistant or two, and a nice, portable softbox on a monopod can really come in handy.

How to light next to a raging river

On this shoot, Gray uses a Westcott 43” octagonal Apollo Orb and a 400-watt flash to make his foreground a stop brighter than his background. The Apollo Orb is particularly useful here because it doesn’t require an adapter ring. You simply open it up like an umbrella, place the light inside, and attach the included diffusion panel. It’s large enough to give a nice, soft light, but not so large that his assistant will go sailing with a light gust of wind. (Of course, doing this in particularly windy situations is another story.)

river-side portrait

A Few Pointers

  • To shoot at only one stop brighter than the background, Gray is shooting with an ND filter, allowing him to stop up significantly. He’s also making sure that his background is as evenly lit as possible (i.e. avoiding the sky).
  • While many folks already use an 85mm lens as their default portrait lens, it’s particularly important here as it helps to, in Gray’s words, “compress the background and squeeze everything in.” Of course, you could go with a zoom here, but even so, you’d probably still find that your best images will be near the 85 mm range.
  • Not all light stands come with a monopod version, but as you can see, in situations like these it’s quite handy.

All in all, it’s not a bad setup. Just stay out of the wind, watch your step, and try to keep the spray from hitting your gear!

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