The Mobile Studio notes

March 04, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

The Mobile Studio

The relationship light: The exposure triangleIntro

Understanding this is the true foundation to exposing an image. With the balance of aperture (f2.8 is a lot of light through a large hole results with less in focus or depth of field and F22 is a small hole for the light results with more in focus), Shutter speed (more speed = freeze’s subject but less light, less speed = more light but could result in motion blur) and ISO (light sensitivity, higher number the more sensitive).

When you think of these things, there are just like a relationship. One person is all about speed, the other person wants to make sure things are still in focus. ISO is like the credit card, if that number gets too high, no ones happy.

All three need to be in balance to properly expose a scene. You scene (or photographic vision) will depend on what your shooting.

Sports photography requires faster shutter speed (unless motion in implied)

Landscape photography requires detail from a smaller aperture (unless artistic vision is implied)

Portrait photography requires sharp subjects. Shutter speeds to match focal length (rule of thumb, shutter speed is twice the focal length 200mm=1/400). 

All these things change with the photographers vision and other “gifts” from the camera companies like image stabilization.

Photography does not exist without light

Common “Lighting setups” in photography:

Rembrandt, triangle created from the shadow in the nose and cheek. Split and Broad light, split is 50% face light, broad is over 50% face to camera. Butterfly (paramount) light, small shadow under nose, carves out cheek bones, very nice for women. Clam shell is butterfly with an addition fill/light source from under chin. Loop where butterfly and Rembrandt almost meet. Shadow remains open from nose to cheek.

All faces are different and require your photographic decisions to achieve your look. This is your art. If you don’t want to remember the names of the lighting set up’s, don’t! You do however need to understand how to position the light and you subject in order to achieve your photographic vision.

Are there rules to lighting

Light comes from above, light should match suns direction, try not to “underlight” a subject. Unless that is your intent.

When do these “rules” matter? Can you break these rules?

What’s a rule if you can’t break it?? 

Make the photo yours, its the photographers decision to light, to compose and make adjustments based on elements at the time, location.

Don’t aspire to shoot like “_______”. Learn how “______” achieves their look (lighting, pose and composition) and adjust to your happy place (and more importantly your clients)

Don’t ask people what are your settings? Instead ask what are you (personally) wanting to achieve.

About me

Locations of my shoots:

Gym’s, Clients homes, business places, some large but mostly small, outdoors, parks, garage’s.

Times of shoots

What is the weather? Do you have a backup plan?

What do I bring to my mobile studio?

Camera, usually 2 bodies

Lens must bring:

24-70 (24-105)


Would like to bring: (I shoot Canon but other companies have close to or equivalent)

Headshots for full portraits and couples 135 f2.0 100mm macro f2.8 or 85 f1.2. 

Environmental portrait, groups 50 f1.2 or 35 f1.4 Large groups 15 plus people 15-35

Tripod?? Yes! Just bring it! Even if you leave it in your car. Tripods are so useful for any type of photography. It’s a place to safely leave your camera while adjusting posing. It can be used for getting a “plate shot” for later use in photoshop.

Laptop or Tablet?? Family sessions and other run and gun, no.

Headshot sessions as you can utilize Lightroom or other programs to help select your clients “keepers”. It can also be used for coaching in regards to expression and gesture and posing. Quick edits can also be made while being tethered to Lightroom upon import.

Backdrop or other background:

What is your job? My family sessions are usually outside so I wouldn’t bring one, but in the case that there was a chance I was required to shoot inside I would bring one. 

What is your plan when things don’t work? To often the client will have a vision but not understand what is required to photograph that vision.

Headshot session in an office? Savage background. Group shot for professionals? Larger backdrop.

When shooting multiple subjects to later photoshop the clients together. In these cases be aware of camera position and subject positing (background distance, aperture, camera height) as this will make your life easier in photoshop later.


Lighting recommendations:



32” Octa

48” Octa

Strip bank



Indoor Family


Not recommended





Outdoor Family





Yes but more power may be required














Yes but more power may be required (outdoors)







Yes but more power may be required


-3 People


Yes but not optimal



Yes but more power may be required


Groups 5-





Yes but more power may be required


Groups 5+

Yes (X2)




Not recommended 


















What you chose is dependent on what are your requirements and what can you carry. This is where your kids paper wagon comes in really handy! See link here

Gear Pros and Cons:

Speed lights: 

Pros: Light weight, very versatile, some modifier choices

Cons: Lack of power, not as durable, battery power is not good so battery packs are  recommended (I use Godoy PB 960)


Pros: Power to handle mid day sun, Many modifier choices, Heavier duty construction, good battery life when equipped 

Cons: Heavier weight, expensive, medium to heavy duty stands required, non battery units require power source in the field

Modifiers, where do you start??

Umbrella’s are a great inexpensive and come in many different sizes. You can shoot through them or into them. They can be shallow or deep in order to focus the light.

Westcott Orb is very inexpensive and can be used with both speedlights and strobes. You can also purchase things like the triple threat to add more speedlights. It’s super light weight and packs down very small. I can pack a Orb and two strip boxes with grids in a bag that is smaller than one 48” soft box.

That said...

Just like anything else, if you want more quality or control you need to sacrifice something.

Better quality of light and more durability can be achieved with better quality equipment.

Soft boxes that have been constructed for strobe’s usually have heavy duty material and mechanics that will last longer and manage a more commercial lifestyle.

They also have (in most cases) two layers of diffusion. This can give you different options when lighting a subject.

Other things to help you stand out from the crowd:

Multi light setups, gels, study and understand light temperature and how to match existing lighting (home or office) with the use of gels.

On location shooting:

(What do we look for?)

Look for backgrounds: Textured, blurred for cinematic, environmental?

Look for separation from subject to the background. More separation required for the smaller aperture. This will be dependant with relation to your gear (Lens).


Where is the sun?

Too much sun? Find open shade to shoot. Not blotched by leaves. Use the soft box as a block for the sun and find a darker background. Lighter would lead to a more high key style.

Use the sun as your rim light.

You can also use the reflector to bounce the light onto your subjects. This may cause uncomfort to your clients due to consistent bright light in their face. Worst case situation, have clients close their eyes and open them just before you click the shutter.

Who’s in the shot?

Looks for places that don’t have a lot of pedestrian traffic. This saves time in photoshop. But mostly, clients don’t want an audience. Their nervous enough already, they don’t need to feel any more out of place. Always be polite to people. How you treat others (outside of the client relationship is just as important) highly impacts your professionalism.

Get the important shots first!

Family shoots and weddings too, The kids only have a short attention span. Get the classics and other must have’s. Give the kids a break, have them run around if they need to. Once you have the shot, reassure the parents that you have great photos so they can relax as well. If the parents are worried about Jonny’s pants and Suzy’s hair, the photos will show!


Head shots, when working directly by yourself, don’t waste expressions. Have your client just sit in and not to worry about the camera. They can check emails or watch a video on their phone. At this time your just fine tuning your lights. Your best expressions are going to be within the first few frames.


Flash and strobes

Flash or strobes are usually a hard light source, its hard because of the size relationship with the subject. It’s controlled by a power setting. The light turns on as the shutter is open while the image is being exposed. It’s primarily used to illuminate a subject how ever it can also be used to freeze a subject. When a flash or strobe is triggered (depending on the power setting)  it has a timed duration (T stop), This duration is measured much like a shutter although much faster. This flash duration depends on the strobe/flash and how its built. Usually, the higher the power emitted from the flash, the longer it takes to complete the flash cycle (the light turning on and off). Why do you need to know this? Motion can be captured causing an un sharp image. Although you may not see this in the camera display as it is very small, it can be found in post while editing. Now on the other hand, the lower the flash setting, the faster the flash duration.

How can we use flash duration to benefit us? 

Having a strobe that can still shoot high power along with a higher flash duration can freeze the subject. You can sometimes slow your shutter or increase your ISO to allow for more ambient light in the scene. Speedlites tend to have a longer flash duration at higher power. It’s sometimes better to use multiple flashes at lower power  settings to freeze your subject. You can also use this to your advantage for images taken at night to capture a city scene. Expose for desired look of the scene, then use the flash to illuminate and freeze your subject. Rear curtain sync can also be used for these style of images.   

Flash is most powerful when kept within sync speed. Usually 1/200, some cameras less and some more. How can we control this variable?

Variable neutral density filters are a huge asset to control shutter speeds and keep it below sync speeds. Quality matters with things in front of your lens. Don’t buy inexpensive filters.

I use Polar Pro VND filters (Peter McKinnon) and they have not caused any issues with image quality. I’ve purchased cheaper version’s in the past and the image quality was so bad that I could not use the photo.

A 600 RT flash looses almost 2 stop’s of light as soon as you exceed 1/200th of a sec.

What is High speed sync, and high sync?

While shooting higher than your camera’s speed, along with a  flash compatible with high speed sync (HSS), the flash or strobe fires multiple times during the shutter exposure. The flash duration is incredibly fast and creates a consistent light across subject. This method uses a lot of power and this is the reason why so much light is lost when exceeding sync speed. TTL can be used. In some brands of strobe’s you can also switch from TTL to manual to fine tune your light. 

HSS is like a strobe at night club in the 80’s


This representation Can be seen at Elinchrom’s website, it helps visually see what happens during HSS

High sync (HS) works the complete opposite to HHS. The flash duration is very long. The flash bursts just as the shutter opens and lasts for the entire shutter cycle. You can also adjust the flash to optimize power. This method uses much less power and because of that, the power can be used to push the light further than HSS. TTL is not an option. Gradation is evident with HS but can be minimized by adjusting the timing of the flash (ODS on Elinchrom ELB units).

HighSync is like stadium lights turning on, slow and powerful.

Inverse Square Law

What is the inverse square law??

Intensity = 1/ distance 2

In physics, an inverse-square law is a physical law that states that the farther away an object is from an effect, or a physical quantity causing an effect, the less change can be observed in the object. (Wickedpedia)

What the heck does this mean???

Don’t get scared of the math or physics behind this. Simply put into two main rules:


  1. A light source increases or decreases intensity 4 times when the distance is doubled.
  2. The further away from the subject, the more spread the light will be.


How does this help/hinder us?

  1. Having the light source closer to the subject allows us to darken the background to add attention to our subject and take away distractive objects/subjects within the scene.
  2. When lighting subject(s) with a greater power source, this allows us to move the light source further back as this will result in more even lighting across subject(s). Be aware of the size of your light source while doing this as the further away the light is  from the subject, the smaller the light source is in relation.
  3. This is really helpful when using a backdrop as we can use these “laws” to control the light on the backdrop. We can make a white backdrop grey and even darker if your equipment is powerful enough. 


Other things to think about in regards to lighting a subject:

Utilizing modifiers and distance to subject, a light source that is struggling to keeping up with the ambient light can be placed closer to the subject. This is where we can now utilize a tripod and use a “plate” shots. Expose and compose your image, take the shot using the modifier to light the subject(s). You can take multiple images, lighting different subjects on each photo. Then take your “plate” shot. This will be the photo that won’t have the modifier in the shot. You don’t even need the subjects in the shot providing you have locked you focus. Be aware of light “falloff” and consistent light source placement when using this method.


Thanks so much for attending my photowalk and hope to see you next year at WPPI2021


Keith White






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