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
This 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)
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
These 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.
I 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.
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.