Shooting portraits on location is something I do a lot, and think a lot how to do in the most effective way. Of course, I want it to be as good as possible, but I also want to work faster and carry less equipment (those two things are very connected).
For most lighting setups on location I have a standard list of lights and stands that I bring along. Most of the times, I only use about half of all the things I pack.
Since I bought my two Profoto A1, there is now a mini-kit available as a good choice when I do quick assignments. If I know that the portraits are to be taken indoors, two lightweight lighting stands (Manfrotto Nano or similar) plus the lights and umbrella will suffice.
Use the environment
Sometimes, a white wall can be made into something more interesting, and sometimes you are in luck. On this assignment, the client had some kind of plastic decor made of blue plexi glass on the wall.
One Profoto A1 camera left as main light with a small umbrella (white inside) and the other laying on the floor to create a blue pattern on the wall. Very quick and very simple.
TTL first, then Manual
For portraits like these I usually start with just having the main light on, TTL activated for a rough reading of everything. Often this will put me quite close to the exposure, but a little adjustment will still be needed before everything is as I want it.
Being satisfied will the main light, I turn the second light on (a simple thing to do from my Remote on the camera). This changes the portrait a lot, so most of the times I end up making more changes to the lighting ratios to balance the light and shadows nicely.
Use the same relative placement
One smart little trick to work faster on location is to remember the distance from the light to the model’s face. If you will get that right, not much is needed in terms of adjusting the exposure or light settings. Maybe just a little, but you will end up pretty close on your first try.
When I work for magazines, I always try to deliver a few portraits with large areas left “empty” for text and headlines. As with covers, the layout people always like low contrast and clean space for this.
In this case, it was very easy to do portraits like that. Stairs made of dark stone, a person dressed almost only in grey or black, and a face in the middle. To make it just a bit more interesting, I had my second light act as rim light and also light the stairs just a bit.
The white wall camera right provided the fill I needed for the shadows on his head not turning completely black.
15 minutes later
I had the portraits I needed for the article and it was time to pack up my mini-kit and get on to the next assignment.
My back is grateful that not every portrait job involves large bags, heavy lighting stands and big battery lights.