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Alternative Photographic Lighting on Location

written by: Caroline Thompson•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 2/25/2010

The location photographer is limited with what they can carry to a location shoot. Many times a photojournalist has to improvise for bad lighting and tight spaces. In these situations, there are photographic lighting alternatives that can create great light in difficult situations.

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    Lighting Situations

    Event photographers, photojournalists, sports photographers and even some wedding photographers spend more time shooting on location than in the studio. Many location lighting situations are not always that conducive to taking great pictures. Multiple lighting sources from tungsten bulbs and natural daylight make for uneven color and light and contrasty images. Using flash is, many times, the only option for capturing an event image. Flash is harsh and creates strong shadows, not to mention is uncomfortable for the person being photographed.

    There are lighting options that are light, easy to travel with and create natural looking pictures.

    • Ring flash
    • LED handheld lighting
    • Flash soft box
    • Bounced flash
    • Remotes
    • Reflectors

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    Ring Flash
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    Ring Flash

    Pros

    • Ring flash is great for capturing people on location. It reduces the harsh lighting conditions and gives a soft natural look to people.
    • Event photographers can use these for close ups of couples or individuals.
    • Great for environmental portraiture.
    • Natural looking portraits.

    Cons

    • Ring flash does not work well with groups.
    • There is the problem of having to keep removing the flash unit for larger groups.

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    MicroPro LED Light
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    MicroPro LED Light

    The LED light is new for DSLR camera work. One manufacturer that makes on-camera LED lights is Lite Panels. This light can either be mounted onto the camera or hand held. This is great for dark rooms and areas where space is limited.

    Pros

    • Heat Free
    • Natural Light
    • Softer Portraits
    • Able to use on or off the camera
    • Run on AA batteries
    • Long life
    • Can use gel filters with the LED lights for effects
    • Work in dark lighting situations

    Cons

    • They are expensive costing around $400 to $500
    • Limited lighting area
    • For accurate results, a light meter is needed
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    Soft Box for Flash
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    Soft Box for Flash

    This is a miniature soft box attachment for regular flash units. They look just like the large studio versions. They produce an even soft light.

    Pros

    • Soft natural lighting
    • Economical
    • Easy to pack in a camera bag
    • Reduce harsh shadows
    • Easy to use

    Cons

    • Cannot use on large groups
    • Can make images look flat
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    Bounce Flash

    When all else fails, using the flash and bouncing the light off the ceiling is a good alternate to direct flash.

    Pros

    • Softer light than direct flash
    • More even light
    • Can cover a large area
    • Control over direction

    Cons

    • Ceiling must be 8' or lower. Bouncing flash will not work in large cavernous buildings
    • Coverage area tends to fall off near the floor
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    Remotes

    Using remotes can produce some great effects and tame difficult lighting situations. This is using two flash units. One is the master and the other is the slave. The master unit is set and sends a signal to the slave place at a different location.

    Pros

    • Versatile
    • Even lighting
    • Dramatic lighting
    • Mini studio lighting
    • Can create background light or effects
    • Can be used with gels
    • Can be placed at various locations and triggered when an action happens. These are great in sports. A slave unit can be placed under a basketball hoop and triggered when the player makes a jump shot.

    Cons

    • Remotes take time to set up and meter
    • Metering is necessary
    • Not good for situations where there are large groups of people because of the time and space limitations
    • They have to be in line of sight to trigger
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    Reflectors

    Reflectors are light, easy to pack and versatile. They can be used in tight spots and take no time to set up or use. Every photographer should have at least one, if not more. For a DIY option, read How to Make a Rigid Reflector for Under $30.