Six Good Reasons for Photographers to Lug Around Lights

Ever wonder why some photographers carry around so much gear?

I’m not just referring to the shooters you see at sporting events — the ones with multiple camera bodies hanging around their necks. I’m talking about the ones who bring along assistants with dollies, all manner of light modifiers and even their own gasoline-powered generators.

The reason is that for most photographers who take their craft seriously, control of lighting is paramount.

Photographers often don’t have a chance to do much reconnaissance for an assignment. Instead, they are told a time, the name of their subject and how much time they have to shoot. In these situations, I tend to load up everything and the kitchen sink.

I expect and plan to light. If I don’t have to, it’s a big bonus.

So why light? Here are six reasons:

1. Control the clutter in the background.

When you have a lot of clutter which you can’t lose in your viewfinder, either by changing your shooting position or removing it from the scene, flash is often a good solution.

In this portrait of a cycling team, taken outdoors, I overpowered the ambient light with my flash to create what looks like a studio shot.

It was actually taken outside in a cul-de-sac. There is a bare bulb strobe behind the coach in the foreground and another on the left lighting the coach.


2. Control the depth of field.

If you photograph home interiors, most of the time you are working with small apertures and long exposure times. So in addition to a sturdy tripod, having multiple flash units can be a way to reduce those long exposures. It also can help you control contrast by filling in the shadow areas discreetly.


3. Take the guesswork out of exposures.

At a wedding ceremony, lighting the entire reception hall enables you to shoot with different focal length lenses from any part of the room in virtually any direction without worrying about camera shake. If the room is lit well and evenly, your exposures will be consistent and predictable. This frees you to concentrate wholly on focusing the lens and picking out those special moments.


4. Capture or arrest fast action.

Selectively lighting just your subjects draws attention immediately to them.

Compare this picture of tennis player Jim Courier, taken with available light, with the one I lit below it, of teachers wrestling in chocolate pudding for a fundraiser in a high school gymnasium. Can you see how the flash froze the very drops of the airborne pudding?



5. Create special effects.

Flash gives you another creative tool to add to your arsenal. Manually firing the flash repeatedly makes motion studies, like this one of a young gymnast, more interesting.


6. Add some pizzazz to an otherwise dull event.

When called upon to photograph mundane events like groundbreakings, even the most hardworking and professional of photographers will be hard-pressed to come up with something engaging.

Adding your own lighting, as I did in the second shot below, can dramatically change the “look” of the event.



It is easy to get lost in the technical aspects of photography, especially when you work alone. Since not all of us can afford a “voice-activated light stand” — or what we generally refer to in the business an assistant — it’s a good idea to arrive early to set up. That way when your subject arrives, you can dedicate all your attention to them.

11 Responses to “Six Good Reasons for Photographers to Lug Around Lights”

  1. Nice article. I started using portable lights about a year ago and I always have at least one with me.

  2. As far as multile camera bodies goes, it is easier to grab a camera with a different lens then to changes a lens, take a chance of dropping the lens, take a chance that the electronics in the lens might not make contact, or get dust inside the body and on the sensor. As for lighting I used to drag poratble studio lights when I shot weddsings. But since most bridal couples do not plan for space for me to set it up, towards the end of my wedding career I stopped thaking the lights and backdrops with me. I hope this helps.

  3. Not just lights, but a load of other necessities.

    Like a hardhat.

    Man, the stuff I carried when I worked at the paper.

  4. #7 - It impresses the client! 😉

    I carry 4 speedlights, stands, Justin Clamps, Umbrellas, and all the hooha to go with it.

  5. I completely agree with the premise of all your statements. But I'm just not sure you're making the most of the "Control" aspect of the light in your examples.

    I am fighting to learn control over light myself in both available and site produced light. This seems to be the case in a LOT of the flash tutorials I've found.

    Is it just me? Below I clarify what I mean in each example.

    1) The bike team photo just seams blown out and there's not enough attention to the amount of light hitting each subject and the angle it's hitting them.

    2) Can you clarify how this relates to DOF? You don't touch on aperture just exposure, and I don't see how that's critical when you're working on a Tripod. But your shot here is nice and clean. And the balance of light is great, especially for capturing the atmosphere of the room.

    3) Looks Great, No Comment.

    4 & 6) sure, you capture the moment and add "pizzazz", but the off camera flash that spills into your scene just seems unprofessional to me. At least for the purposes of this article. Unless you're just trying to articulate the location of your other flash units.

    5) I'd like to hear more of the technical side of this multiple flash exposure. It looks great especially if it was all one shot. For instance, how did you get the cycle time of your flash to go off in time to capture each moment in the shot? Or was this multiple flashes triggered remotely?

  6. I miss lugging around just a Leica M6, 35mm 1.4 Summilux ASPH and some fast film. Using flash is hard, hard work. Try lugging gear 1900 meters underground in a Colombian emerald mine that's 99 percent humidity and 125ºF! I'll take a modern DSLR and a fast prime any time.

  7. Great article! I'm just starting to learn, and this is great advice. I will have to play around with various lighting, and see how it goes!

  8. I am doing most of my shootng while travelling, either on a bicycle or while climbing mountains. So zero flash. Check for examples, I thnk it makes me a more creative photographer by not using any light, it will be a good practice for everybody.

    And I need to be more creative with editing 🙂

  9. I agree with Ryan Seimens comments ( all of 'em)
    the "Preach doesnt support the Practice"
    This is a lame blog. - You're just misleading readers into getting the right information.

  10. I'm trying to use less light. Not because I can't carry it but since The Strobist appeared everyone is shooting that style. My stuff stands out because it is different. As has been noted, there's a lot wrong with the last frame in terms of lighting.....

  11. In the wedding industry you never know what the weather is going to do. we prefer to shoot outside but nothing lights up the inside of a church like a good light kit.

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