My Lightweight Lighting Essentials Kit

This lighting kit contains all the essentials to create the 3 basic lighting styles I teach in my workshops: Large Window, Medium Diffused, and Crisp & Direct. With this setup and a little education, you can create amazing lighting in any situation, indoors or out. The kit uses speedlights exclusively, as they are super portable, powerful, and extremely versatile. Optionally, you can use 2 speedlights behind some of the modifiers to double your light output. 

Note: this page will be updated as I find newer and more betterer options ;-)

 This is the full Kit. See below for details on each item.

This is the full Kit. See below for details on each item.

My Lighting Notebook. Knowledge is king! 101 lighting setups shown and explained so you know exactly how to use all this stuff.

 

Westcott Scrim Jim 4’x6’ kit on B&H. Perfect window light anywhere. Fire your speedlights through it or diffuse the sun. 

 

Westcott LunaGrip 5-in-1 Kit: Designed by Kevin Kubota. This is my main tool for the most useful lighting style, medium diffused. Comes with collapsible 5-in-1 reflector/diffuser. Similar to a 40" soft box, but easier to pack, faster to setup, better in the wind, and more versatile. Use also as a perfect flat reflector holder with the silver/white cover. I use two of these – one as a main light, and the other with reflector for fill.

Rogue Grid for speedlights. Give your speedlight a soft spot light for dramatic lighting and controlled beam spread.

 

Gorillapod Focus for holding speedlights and attaching them to just about anything or anyone.

Cullman CB 2.7 mini ballhead for attaching your flash to the Gorillapod, or a lightstand

Sticky Filters for Flash. Instantly gel your flash for color balancing or groovy effects.

Singh-Ray 77mm (Thin Mount) Vari-ND Variable Neutral Density Filter. These are optional, but really cool for creating some dramatic lighting effects outside with flash. When you want to combine flash with sun, these are more efficient than using high-speed sync on your speedlight.

Westcott Light Stands Simple, basic, affordable. With some simple clamps, two of these will hold your Scrim Jim straight up. You can get dedicated clamps for the scrim if you anticipate holding the frame up at different angles. 

 

Kupo tilting adapter for attaching your LunaGrip to a light stand or handle. Technically, you could attach it without the tilt adapter, but then you have less flexibility for positioning. 

Lastolite Extending Handle. A handle is much more mobile than a light stand, assuming you have a handy assistant to hold it. I love using a handle because it enables me to move around more, perfecting my light, and getting a wider variety of images in a shorter amount of time. 

Yongnuo Nikon starter 2-pack (includes on-camera controller and one flash transceiver): 

2-pack Nikon additional transceivers for extra flash units: 

 

For Canon, order below models. Not sure why B&H doesn’t have the Canon starter set same as Nikon. 

Yongnuo Canon on-camera controller (need one of these and also transceivers below for each flash): 

Nikon SB910 Speedlights These are my favorites so far. There is a new Nikon SB5000 that I haven't tried yet. These lights have much more power than any of the generic brands.

 

Optional, but will come in handy eventually:

Triple Flash holder for combining speedlights to increase output or decrease recycle times.

Bolt battery pack for speedlights give 1400 full-power flashes with 1-second recycle time! Pow! I love this pack because it's very compact and light. Make sure to order the appropriate cable for your brand and model flash. Nikon cable here. Canon Cable here. You can even charge your phone or tablet with this and the USB adapter cable.

Dramatic One-light Lighting, without the Drama

Don’t you love it when you have one shoulder bag of camera gear, and you arrive at a brand new location to create a dramatic portrait, the existing light sucks, and you have 5 minutes to figure out what you’re going to do, set up and start shooting? And there is a crowd of people watching you? Yah, I actually DO love it!

This situation is not uncommon for wedding and event photographers. It is also common for me, when I go to teach at trade shows. Fortunately, with the right gear and a little knowledge of how to use it, you can confidently create a beautiful portrait anywhere. I really do believe that…anywhere.

At WPPI, I was doing presentations in the Westcott Lighting booth. I was demonstrating our new product, the LunaGrip, but the results I’ll talk about could also be achieved with a large soft box, if you already have one.

To create a “dramatic” portrait, you generally would use lighting with more shadows, to shape and emphasize your subject’s features, and to create the mystery, or drama. Shadows can be used for good, or evil! For them to be flattering, they should have soft transitional edges from light to dark. It should be gradual, without harsh lines.

To create this with just one light, the key is to use a diffused light source that is fairly large in relation to your subject. For lighting a single person, a 40” round diffused light is absolute beautiful. It should be positioned about 2 feet from the subject and the subject should be posed so that their face is turned slightly towards the light, creating short lighting. This is generally best for one-light setups and also very flattering to most faces.

I use my LunaGrip because it is very compact when folded (fitting in the side of my shoulder bag), and sets up in less than a minute. A speedlight mounts behind it and I have an instant, perfectly round, 40” soft box.

I kept my subject – the lovely dancer, Jaylene, about 10 feet from the background so that it would stay deep black. Also, instead of mounting my LunaGrip on a light stand (which I could have done) I asked an innocent bystander to hold it for me, allowing us to easily follow Jaylene’s face movement, keeping the lighting pattern optimized (maintaining short light shaping).

With this simple setup, we could do close-up headshots, 3/4 shots, and even full-length portraits. This single light setup is great for full-length images because there is a natural and gradual light fall-off from head to toe – keeping emphasis on her face while still shaping her body and revealing detail in her clothing.

Finally, I added a second LunaGrip, this time with the silver reflective cover on it, as a fill light. I placed it directly under the model’s face, secured on a light stand. I placed my main diffused LunaGrip directly above her face, forming a V-shape or “clamshell” type of lighting. I placed my camera in the narrow opening of the V and voila! Beautiful, softer light with amazing catchlights in the eyes.

The point of this demo was to illustrate how little gear you actually need to create professional, beautiful lighting. With a single diffused main light, roughly 40” in diameter, you can usually forgo the traditional fill-light or reflector on the opposite side of the face, simplifying your setups. The key is in bringing the front edge of the light source forward, and towards the lens, as much as possible. When done correctly, the spill light wraps the subject and shapes with beautiful shadows.

Do you have any favorite single-light setups? Share them with us and I appreciate any feedback!

 The single light works perfect for a dramatic headshot.

The single light works perfect for a dramatic headshot.

 For a 3/4 pose, we still kept Jaylene facing the light, but turned her body slightly away. We moved the LunaGrip just a bit further away as well and the shadows become more dramatic.

For a 3/4 pose, we still kept Jaylene facing the light, but turned her body slightly away. We moved the LunaGrip just a bit further away as well and the shadows become more dramatic.

 For the full-length image, a single light source about 40" in diameter works beautifully when placed just above head height. Notice the emphasis on her face, with a gradual and natural fall-off towards her feet.

For the full-length image, a single light source about 40" in diameter works beautifully when placed just above head height. Notice the emphasis on her face, with a gradual and natural fall-off towards her feet.

 For this close-up, we placed the diffused LunaGrip directly above and a silver reflector mounted LunaGrip just below her face. You can see a wee bit of its shadow in the bottom left. 

For this close-up, we placed the diffused LunaGrip directly above and a silver reflector mounted LunaGrip just below her face. You can see a wee bit of its shadow in the bottom left. 

 The Westcott LunaGrip is a patented product I designed for them and it never leaves my camera bag! It is available at:  www.LunaGrip.com

The Westcott LunaGrip is a patented product I designed for them and it never leaves my camera bag! It is available at: www.LunaGrip.com

Zombie warrior portraits and speedlight tips

Caution: This post contains some graphic content. Viewers of the Walking Dead rejoice. 

A friend of mine is a bad-ass chic. She is a black belt in Karate and practices various other forms of self-defense. When she asked to do a portrait session, I had a feeling it wouldn't be jeans and a button-down shirt. "I want to be fighting a zombie. It could get messy." she said.

"I'm in." I replied. 

 The authentic props really help make the images awesome

The authentic props really help make the images awesome

For any story-telling, or life-style, type of portrait, half of your success comes from appropriate props, location, and the ability of your subject to be "in character". Wendie came through on all accounts, allowing me to satisfy my zombie fantasies while laughing out loud all afternoon!

The lighting was simple – a single Westcott LunaGrip powered by 2 speedlights. I rigged up my prototype 2nd flash bracket on the LunaGrip because I would be battling full afternoon sun and shooting at f2.8 or so. Currently, the LunaGrip supports one flash unit, but it already has a mounting location for a second flash bracket, which is currently under R&D. (I created the LunaGrip and it is produced in partnership with Westcott)

To photograph in full sun and use a flash at f2.8 or wider you'll require a shutter speed that is very high, such that high-speed sync may not allow for very much flash output. My solution is to use a neutral density filter instead, lowering my shutter speed to 1/250 or slower, which gives me full output from my flash, besting HSS by a stop or two. Even with this trick, I'll occasionally need a second flash to combat the bright sun. 

With both Nikon SB910 speedlights mounted in the LunaGrip, I used a sync cord splitter to allow me to use just one wireless transceiver for both of them. If you use transceivers with a locking PC type connector, you can use a cord like this:

 In addition to this splitter, you'll also need (2) M-M locking PC cables to attach to each flash.

In addition to this splitter, you'll also need (2) M-M locking PC cables to attach to each flash.

If you use PocketWizard, or similar units with the headphone type connector, you can use a standard headphone splitter to share the signal, like this:

You can't transmit TTL signals when you use a splitter, so it works with manual mode only. If you want TTL control of your flash units, then you need to use a transceiver directly on each flash.

The goal of my lighting was to create soft fill-light and to offset the harsh sun on Wendie's face. For some of the poses she wasn't facing the sun, so we needed to create our own flattering and directional light. The idea was to keep it natural looking, as if it was just the sun, but more controlled and flattering. Not that zombies and zombie warriors need to look all that glamourous. It’s important to add that key light to her face to identify her as the heroine of the scene. Even when the sun is properly positioned to illuminate the face, the fill from the LunaGrip helps to soften the shadows and allowed me to reduce my overall exposure by 1-2 stops for more drama.

For most of the images, I set my lens to f2.8 and my shutter speed to 1/200th. I then used my variable ND filter to reduce the ambient light from 5-6 f-stops more – which is the equivalent of setting my shutter speed to 1/6400 - 1/12,800. Uh, that's not even possible with my D750! Thank you, ND. Even if I could set me shutter speed that high, the HSS function of the flash would reduce the light so much that it would hardly be effective. The ND allows for full power flash output.

To finish the images and give them an end-of-the-world feel, I used some vintage presets from my Vintage Delish and PrimaPorta Lightroom preset packages.

Creating a story with your portraits does require more work. Not everyone wants to put forth that effort – be it photographer or client. When I get a chance to work with a client that really wants to go all out like this, I get really excited! Have you created a fully themed portrait session lately? If not, I highly suggested planning one as it will re-invigorate you like a good run through the park being chased by the undead. If you have done one, share it with me!

 Safety first! All weapons were verified safe by a professional. 

Safety first! All weapons were verified safe by a professional. 

 Thank you Crystal for lending a hand.

Thank you Crystal for lending a hand.

 The sun was an edge light and fill, and the LunaGrip gives me a clean and directional main light.

The sun was an edge light and fill, and the LunaGrip gives me a clean and directional main light.

 Stop! I'm un-armed!

Stop! I'm un-armed!

 She's really a super nice gal! That's just acting.

She's really a super nice gal! That's just acting.

 No zombies were harmed in the making of these portraits. She how happy and healthy she looks!

No zombies were harmed in the making of these portraits. She how happy and healthy she looks!

 My helper, Angie, found another good use for the LunaGrip! It was hot out!

My helper, Angie, found another good use for the LunaGrip! It was hot out!