Corporate Headshots

This is a series of corporate headshots I did for a Vancouver corporate recruiting firm. The photos were all done on location at their office using our professional equipment. When lighting  is set up right, each headshot takes only 5 to 10 minutes per person, which our clients love because there’s minimal impact on their time.

Often times, there’s little room in offices in downtown Vancouver, but we are always able to find sufficient room. Business headshots sometimes take place in boardrooms, and other times it’s in a lunch room, or even an office. We always find a location because the equipment we bring along is compact and can fit into almost any space.

For example, here are a few headshots we did in the office lobby.

Corporate headshot Vancouver

Business portraits in Vancouver

 

Corporate business headshots in Vancouver

 

Metro Vancouver corporate headshots

I was invited to do more corporate headshots for a business recruiting firm in downtown Vancouver last week. For these photos, I used 3/4 lighting in these photos with a hair light behind the subject and a reflector to the subject’s left for fill. I used an Elinchrom Quadra shot through a Westcott Apollo Orb 43″ octa softbox as the main light and the second light was shot through a standard Elinchrom diffuser cap. Some skin retouching was done in Photoshop to improve skin complexion in these head shots. These are a few of the finished photos.

Corporate headshots vancouver (3)

Corporate headshots vancouver (2)

Corporate headshots vancouver (1)

 

Headshot Photographers, here’s how you travel light!

 

Last year, we decided to close up our bricks and mortar photography studio in New Westminster and go completely mobile. We discovered through working with our clients that they often prefer to have a professional photographer visit their office to do head shots. In many cases, it means more business for you as a photographer because they will often book you to photograph a longer list of people.

After doing this a few times with my studio gear, I really started to hate lugging around all that extra gear that is actually meant for a studio and not mobile use in rainy Vancouver. I’d had my share of lugging around heavy lighting stand bags and cases for my monolights, not to mention my camera bag, which was always on the heavier side.

So recently, I said goodbye to my studio equipment and started to build a kit for mobile use. Here’s what I came up with base on extensive research and months of actual in-field use: “The Ultimate Vancouver Headshot Photographer‘s Mobile Toolkit”.

This list is ordered by the level of highest benefit for mobile on-location portrait work. Items near the top are things I can’t live without and things at the bottom are nice-to-haves, but not as critical.

1. Lowepro Pro Runner x350 AW Rolling Camera Backpack

 

Lowe Pro x350 aw rollerThis is bag I really can’t live without. It’s a smaller roller bag, but it carries just about everything I need for a headshot session on location. It won’t carry all my lighting gear, just my Canon flashes (aka. speedlights), but it will take 2 bodies and all the lenses I need. I chose this bag because it can be easily converted to a backpack in case both my hands are busy with other gear. On a recent business trip to Calgary, Alberta I had no problems bringing this on board WestJet. I stuffed it pretty well and my only warning is that it will fit very snug in the overhead compartment. Had I got the x450 version, I’m not so sure it would have passed a carry-on luggage. As a Vancouver headshot photographer, going downtown to do corporate headshots is a real pain the neck from carrying all that heavy equipment from parking lot to corporate office. Having a roller-bag is a real life saver and it just looks more impressive to walk into an office with all your gear stuffed neatly into a small bag, rather than crash in with five camera bags hanging off your shoulder.

 2. Lastolite Reversible Collapsible Background (5×6′  White/Mid-Gray)

  The Ultimate Vancouver Headshot Photographer's Mobile Toolkit 1I can’t believe that I used to haul a full background system around just for a headshot. What was I thinking? After years of filling my car with background stands, poles, clamps, and of course a long roll of background paper, I had enough and picked up a Lastolite Collapsible Background. I have the 5×6′ version in White and Mid-Gray. There is also a White and Black version, but I rarely ever shoot against a black background nowadays. Folded, the background is about 1/3 of it’s size and relatively easy to carry around. It’s still big, but no where near as big and heavy as a full background system.

3. Lastolite Bracketed Stand for Collapsible Backgrounds

 If you do decide to get this background, I also recommend getting the Bracketed Stand. It’s light and collapses to a small enough size to fit into any lighting bag. It will save you time and headaches trying to hang the background.

 

4. Photoflex Transpac Outbound Bag

  This lightstand and umbrella carry bag will carry almost everything a headshot photographer needs. I’ve stuffed up to 4 lightstands, and smaller Manfrotto tripod, a reflector arm, the Lastolite Bracketed stand, Photoflex umbrellas, the Westcott Apollo 28″, and several other small items in this bag (and checked it in at the airport too!). It’s not padded, so you need to add some padding or make sure it’s checked in with the fragile luggage, but man, does this think hold a lot of stuff. In future, however, I will be looking into a bag with wheels, but for now, this one bag takes care of all my on location lightstands and grip needs.

5. Manfrotto Alu Mini Stands

  These are the 6.75″ stands I often use for rim and fill lighting. They work great with my Canon 580EX II flash units and lightweight strobes such as the Elinchrom Ranger Quadra or even Alien Bees or Einstein E640 monolights from Paul C. Buff. I even used it with my bulkier PCB White Lightning monolights before with no problems – although be warned that you can’t use oversized modifiers (e.g. 53″ Elinchrom Octa Light Bank) with these light stands, they are simply too lightweight for that sort of thing. I love these stands because they are small and they click together, make it very easy to carry around three lightstands. If you are going to buy these lightstands, buy them in the 3-pack, you’ll be glad you did.

6. Elinchrom Ranger Quadra RX S Head

  Elinchrom_Ranger_QuadraThese are the bees knees (if you know what that means, you rock!). I love Elinchrom lighting equipment. They are one of the top lighting companies out there. The only other ones that are better are Profoto and Broncolor, but those are the Lamborghini’s and Bugattis of the studio lighting world. Elinchrom is up there with their Ranger series as well, but a little less expensive overall. The Elinchrom Quadras give off beautiful consistent light and have been around for a few years now. People who own them love them for their portability, and at 400ws max, the power output is good enough for most portrait situations, but it’s the overall convenience that draws me to these lights. They are battery powered as well, meaning you don’t need to worry about bringing along a long extension cable – and thus one less thing to worry about! They may seem expensive, but how many speedlights would you need to output 400ws? Maybe four or five? And do speedlights have modelling lights? Nope, they don’t and you need modelling lighting in some low light portrait situations. You simply can’t function without modelling lighting in some office spaces or homes, so the Elinchrom Quadras help solve a huge problem for me on location. And why the Elinchrom S head vs. the Quadra A head? Because for most portraits, you don’t need the extra flash speed.

7. Westcott Apollo-series Softboxes

 westcott_apollo_softboxI love these softboxes, especially my 50″ Apollo, and the only reason they aren’t listed higher is that there are so many good light modifiers out there. Some I’ve tried and others that have excellent reviews, such as the Photek Softlighter II and the Elinchrom Rotalux series of modifiers. I love these modifiers because they help create even lighting and they work with just about any strobe out there (for the Quadra, an umbrella bracket is needed). The Softlighter II does a similar thing, and perhaps even gives off slightly softer light. I’m looking to purchase the Apollo Orb too, so perhaps that will find a spot on a future list.

8. Reikan FoCal Automatical Lens Calibrator

 

If you’re a Canon shooter with a 5D MKII or other camera with fine-tune calibration options, the Reikan FoCal may help you. I say “may” because there are few minor bugs with the system, but in theory, it should help you get better focusing results. I’ve used it and for most of my lenses, it appears to have helped improve autofocus, which saves me a lot of time and frustration. The one major downside is that it only works on Windows computers, so if you don’t have a PC, get a Windows emulator or get something like the SpyderLensCal Focus Calibration Tool or LensAlign MKII Focus Calibration System.

The Westcott Apollo 28″ softbox is a good size for travel and it’s quick to set up thanks to it’s umbrella-like folding design. It will fit on almost any strobe and the light it emits is soft and beautiful.


The Westcott Apollo 28″ Softbox – Build and Quality: B+

 

Westcott Apollo 28" softbox

I‘m going to begin my series of product reviews with the Westcott Apollo 28″ Softbox. There are plenty of other in-depth reviews of this softbox, but like most of my upcoming product reviews, I’m going to review it from the point of view of a Canadian photographer who works predominately on location (e.g. weddings and on-location headshots) and travels with his gear.

So what’s unique about being a Canadian photographer that warrants a special type of review? First off, it’s expensive to buy photo gear in Canada. Us Canucks drool at the low prices our friendly neighbors to the south enjoy, and those tasty store rebates that we almost never get to have. What this means for Canadians is that we have to be super careful about into what type of gear we invest our hard earned dollars. We pay an arm and a leg for shipping, duties, taxes, and it’s not so easy to ask for a refund for items that don’t work for us. Second, there a lot of gear out there that isn’t warrantied in Canada. Some of the gear we buy in the US (often because it’s not available here or too expensive) have USA-only warranties. So any such gear has got to be top-notch. Third, like the warranty issue, some gear isn’t serviced in Canada, or if it is, you’ll need to pawn a limb to pay for the service. For these reasons, and many others, I’ll be looking at camera gear from a Canadian perspective and will provide info about durability and the real costs of ownership.

 

Ok, on to the Westcott Apollo review.

 

I purchased my Westcott Apollo from B&H last spring (2011). I bought it after doing some extensive online research, looking at YouTube videos and watching the photo guys from Lighten Up and Shoot – they seem to be big advocates of the Apollo soft boxes, and the type of shooting I do is a lot like what they do – I decided to take the plunge and invest in a portable soft box for my Canon 580EX II units and my White Lightning strobes.

In addition to the 28″ softbox, I also bought the 50″ one at the same time. Since receiving them, I’ve been very happy with these softboxes. Here’s why:

  • They’re portable and somewhat durable enough for travel. I just did a trip to Calgary where I had to check in my 28″ Apollo in an un-padded lighting bag along with my Manfrotto light stands at YVR and YYC . I made sure the bag went with the fragile luggage and was pleased to find out that the Apollo made it there and back with no problems. The rest of the time, I transport them in the back of my SUV without a bag and sometimes even under some heavy bags, and they hold up fine. Now if you want to “beef up” the ribs of the Apollo, you can check out Mike’s video on how to do that with zip ties.
  • It gives off good light. Apollos are no Elinchrom Lightbank Octa or Mola Beauty dishes, but they do give off good light for a portable softbox. Much of that has to do with the fact that the strobe is bouncing light off the back of the softbox, thereby diffusing the light before it even leaves the front baffle. Most of the headshot photos on my site were shot with the 28″ or 50″ Apollo soft boxes. I especially like the recessed front, which helps to minimize light spill. Without it, I would need to add a flag in some cases, which means more gear to bring and more time setting up and less time actually shooting.
  • It’s compatible with almost any flash strobe.I started with Hensel and Elinchrom units and had to buy two identical softboxes for use with these units. Then when I moved to White Lightning, I had to buy modifiers or get rid of those softboxes because they wouldn’t fit on the Paul C. Buff units. As a Canadian who is tired of paying expensive shipping and duty on everything, I want to keep my purchasing costs down and the Apollos are a good option to help me do that. Because they are umbrella mounts, the 28″ unit will fit almost any strobe unit. Even the newer Elinchrom units. If it has an umbrella slot, it will likely fit. This means that I can go from my White Lightnings to Elinchroms to Canon speedlights with no compatibility issues.
  • They’re price right. Who wants to spend a lot on portable soft boxes anyway? Especially since I don’t know of anyone in Vancouver who fixes broken photo umbrellas or softboxes. Once they do, I say they’re trash – if you know of anyone who can fix these for a good price, do let me know. For about $129 USD, you get a very good portable umbrella style softbox. If you look on Ebay, there are some Chinese knock-offs that resemble Apollos, but you get what you pay for – really. I’ve had my share of poorly-made Chinese knock-off photo equipment and I’m not going back there any time soon. You’ll just have to believe me on this. Westcott is an excellent brand and they make good stuff; pay a little more and you’ll have fewer panic attacks when you’re working.

You’ve likely heard that the biggest complaint is the tilt issue with the Apollos. I must admit that it’s a big issue. There are many home-made solutions online to solve this, as well as adapters you can buy from Westcott and Alien Bees, etc. as a work-around,  but my solution has been to use a swivel umbrella adapter and a light stand with a boom arm. I use a Manfrotto 420B Combi Boom Stand and an Impact umbrella bracket, but there are many types out there and just about any swivel-types will work just fine. This solution adds a bit of bulk to my travel bag, but it’s not so much that I’m complaining.

The overall build and quality is a B+. I can’t give it an A or A+ because of the few loose threads I see on the velcro of the front diffuser and because of the fact that you’ll want to take Mike’s advice and “beef up” the softbox with zip ties. This softbox feels like an umbrella. Perhaps a litter stiffer than a typical umbrella, but it’s nowhere as rigid as a professional studio softbox, nor is the outer material rugged in any way (in fact, the Wescott lettering on mine is already beginning to rub off and one fall on a windy day and I think the ribs are toast). But for this type of softbox, you can’t expect it to be heavy or too bulky. The point of this softbox is to be a light and portable unit you can take almost anywhere.

The real problem with the Apollo is the fact that you can’t reach the controls once you’ve velcro’d the front diffuser. Each an every time you want to make a setting change (presuming you’re on manual mode) you need to open up that front diffuser to reach the controls. This is a real headache.

There are workarounds for this problem too, but I haven’t tried any of them, so I won’t comment here. If you’re looking for an excuse not to buy this soft box, not being able to reach your controls easily would be it.

Conclusion

 

Over the past year, I’ve used the Apollo 28″ softbox for just about every type of portrait shoot I can think of. I’ve used it at weddings, indoors, outdoors in poor weather, I’ve checked them in at the airport, and I’ve piled things on top of it in the back of my SUV. So far, it’s stood up to all the abuse, minus a loose thread here or there. For a $129 USD (+ local taxes, shipping, exchange, and duty, it’s closer to $160 CAD), it’s a good investment if you do a lot of on-location shooting like I do. The Westcott Apollo 28″ softbox is a good size for travel and it’s quick to set up thanks to it’s umbrella-like folding design. It will fit on almost any strobe and the light it emits is soft and beautiful. There aren’t many other competitors out there that make a similar square soft box for this price point, so if you want some to help you make up your mind, I say GO FOR IT!

Similar branded softboxes to check out: