Setting Up a Portable Location Studio

Posted March 16th, 2015 by   |  Flash Photography, Photography  |  Permalink

This week I’m shooting about 250 portraits for Harbor Covenant Church. I’ll share more of the results of the photo shoot in a future blog post, but in the meantime, I wanted to show how I set up the studio with this time-lapse video. My goal for the photo shoot is to produce a bright white background for each of the portraits. To do this, I used a white muslin backdrop and lit it with four slave flashes in umbrellas. These background flashes are set to produce about 1.0 to 1.5 stops more light than the Profoto D1 monolights I’m using for the people in the foreground.


I’m triggering everything optically, which is another way to say that all the flashes are set to fire when they see a flash pulse from the main camera. For the Profoto D1 monolights, I’ve set them to trigger using the IR mode. For the Nikon flashes, they are all set to trigger in SU-4 mode. On my Nikon D800 camera, I’m triggering everything with a Nikon SB-700 flash set to manual output so that when it fires, everything else fires. All slave flashes are set for manual output and I metered everything using my trusty old Sekonic L-358 (no longer sold).

Location studio portraits

Some of the early shots from the location studio. Nice white backgrounds and lots of happy people!

Here’s all the gear I used to create the location studio.

Profoto D1 Monolights

Tether Tools Aero Tether Table for 15″ MacBook Pro

Gitzo GT3542L Mountaineer Carbon Fiber Tripod

Manfrotto and Creative Light light stands

Creative Light Back Light Stand

Nikon SB-910

Nikon SB-900

Nikon SB-700

Impact Background Studio Stand

White muslin backdrop 10’x24′

Apple MacBook Pro 15.4″ Retina

Adobe Lightroom 5

Location studio

An overview of the on-location studio I set up at Harbor Covenant Church using six flashes to produce a white background.

Announcement: The Nikon Creative Lighting System, 3rd Edition

Posted February 24th, 2015 by   |  Flash Photography  |  Permalink

Cover Design 2312 U1 Hagen Nikon CLS 3 new

Great news. I’m now able to officially announce the release of the 3rd edition of our best-selling book, The Nikon Creative Lighting System, 3rd Edition: Using the SB-500, SB-600, SB-700, SB-800, SB-900, SB-910, and R1C1 Flashes.

There are lots of updates in this 3rd edition. Here are just a few:
– New chapter for the SB-500 flash
– Updated content
– Instructions for new Nikon camera bodies such as the D750, D4s, D810, D610, D7100, D5300, D3300, and more.
– Updated photographs, figures, and tables
– New how-to examples

The 3rd edition is slated to ship May 30th, 2015 and we are taking pre-orders on Amazon at this link:

The Nikon Creative Lighting System, 3rd Edition


The Nikon Creative Lighting System – 2nd Edition

Posted March 14th, 2012 by   |  Flash Photography, Photography  |  Permalink

Our newest book, the 2nd Edition of the very popular The Nikon Creative Lighting System, is about to hit the shelves. The update includes brand-new chapter content on the SB-700 and SB-910 flashes. Of course, the book also has excellent chapters on using the SB-600, SB-800, SB-900, and R1C1 Flashes. At almost 300 pages, the it is chock full of detailed information that will help you understand your Nikon wireless flash system.


The Nikon Creative Lighting System book was designed to help Nikon flash users wrap their heads around the amazing capabilities of Nikon’s new breed of flashes. The writing style is simple and straight forward, while still providing detailed instruction on setting up features such as wireless mode, SU-4 mode, TTL BL mode and much, much more. One entire chapter is dedicated to setups in the field, showing you flash and camera settings so you’ll be able to duplicate the results for yourself. There are 17 chapters covering topics such as flash operation, camera settings for flash, flash theory, batteries, beeps, buttons and everything in-between!

Order an autographed copy here: Out There Images Book Webpage

Here’s a link to the RockyNook press release: The Nikon Creative Lighting System


Are You Ready? Acting Fast and Responding to Your Customer.

Posted September 14th, 2011 by   |  Photography  |  Permalink

A pastor friend of mine says that we should always be ready to “preach, pray or die.” These are wise words and I think about them often. The statement implies that no matter where you are, you should always be ready to perform. He tells a story of a young American couple working for an NGO in India. They went to a church service there and the congregation asked them to lead the church in singing songs. Neither of the two Americans had ever led music before, but they just smiled and said yes. They were ready and willing!

Us photographers should also always be ready to give our 100% and produce excellent results at a moment’s notice. Here’s an example that happened to me a couple days ago where someone needed a photo job done ASAP.

On Monday of this week, I received a phone call at 12:30 pm from a friend, calling to see if I could take some head shots for her daughter. They were working with a talent agent to get a modeling job for a new product advertising campaign, and needed some images for her file.

The conversation went like this:

Mother, “Hi Mike, do you have time to take some head shots of my daughter?”

Me, “Of course. When?”

Mother, “Today about 2:45 pm.”

Me, “Umm … ok. I have a little bit of time this afternoon. What are they for?”

Mother, “They are for an advertising job that my daughter is trying out for. We need to create an 8×10 and send it to her agent.”

Me, “How quickly do you need the final images?”

Mother, “The agent needs the head shots by 3:30 pm.”

Me, “Ok. See you at 2:45!”

So, I quickly set up a studio in an open space of my home where we would shoot the images. I decided to use a Lightbox, umbrella, reflector, small diffusion box and a combination of black and white backgrounds. You can see the studio setup below. I used the Nikon Creative Lighting System, so simply set up Nikon SB flashes in each of the light modifiers. The Commander flash was a SB-900 and the remotes were SB-600, SB-700 and SB-800 flashes. I decided to use a Nikon D7000 with Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 for the portraits.

Impromptu studio. Lighting includes Photoflex softbox, Photoflex 42" umbrella, Photoflex reflector, Harbor Digital Design Ultimate Light Box and a bunch of Nikon wireless flashes (SB-600, SB-700, SB-800 and SB-900).

Impromptu studio. Lighting includes Photoflex softbox, Photoflex 42" umbrella, Photoflex reflector, Harbor Digital Design Ultimate Light Box and a bunch of Nikon wireless flashes (SB-600, SB-700, SB-800 and SB-900).

The mother and daughter arrived right at 2:45 pm and we talked quickly about what they needed for the photos. They said they were after simple backgrounds and just needed head shots, not full-body shots. We shot the first group of images with a white background and kept the daughter’s hair down.

Young model and white background.

Young model and white background.

A few minutes later, we changed the backdrop to black and had the daughter put her hair up for a different, more youthful look. In all, we took about 40 shots with the white background and 40 shots with the black background.

Model with black backdrop.

Model with black backdrop.

After shooting 80 pictures, we ran to my computer system to download the RAW files and make quick selections. I used Photo Mechanic for rating/selecting images and we all agreed on one image to send to the agent (we chose the image with her long hair and white background). Next, I brought the picture into Photoshop to quickly retouch her skin and face, then I cropped it as an 8×10 and sent it off via email at exactly 3:30 pm.

Whew! 45 minutes from start to finish. We made it just in time.

Sanne’s Art

Posted April 29th, 2011 by   |  Photography  |  Permalink

A few weeks ago I worked with local artist Sanne Beavin to photograph a series of artwork she created for Lent, Holy Week and Easter. The art depicts Jesus’ last week before crucifixion. The entire series of paintings is beautiful, yet powerful. Working with Sanne to take the photos was a great deal of fun and we were able to share these images with people all around the world.

Sanne preparing the art presentation.

Sanne preparing the art presentation.



Jesus' hands being nailed to the cross.

Jesus' hands being nailed to the cross.

Because this blog is all about photography, I thought I’d share a couple of quick photo tips and behind the scene shots.

The artwork was fairly large and required quite a bit of space to shoot properly. I brought my big muslin backdrop and stands, but in the end, it wasn’t big enough! I wish I had a 30′ wide by 30′ long muslin. Since I didn’t have a huge muslin, I had to shoot everything very tight.

Lighting equipment was simple and straight forward. I used two Photoflex umbrellas and two flashes. In this case, I used an SB-800 and an SB-900 remote. I used my SB-700 flash as a commander unit on my camera to trigger the remote flashes. I also set the flashes to fire with Manual output. One was set for 1/8 power and the other was set for 1/4 power.

I used a very simple lighting setup consisting of two strobes in umbrellas.

I used a very simple lighting setup consisting of two strobes in umbrellas.

Setting the power on the flashes to a consistent output (i.e. Manual 1/4 and 1/8 power) meant that I could shoot anything in the scene without worrying about TTL changing exposures from shot to shot. For example, the flowers below were shot at exactly the same settings (ISO, aperture, flash output) as the artwork above. Locking everything down in manual mode is frequently the best way to shoot large projects like this.



I used a Nikon D700 camera set for ISO 800. White balance was “flash” and my lens was the Nikon 24-70mm f2.8. Most of the photos were taken at an aperture of f5.6.

The most important piece of equipment was the tall ladder! Fortunately, the church had one in a back room so I didn’t have travel back to my office to pick one up. Since the artwork is so big, I needed to get into a higher vantage point in order to photograph the pieces and keep apparent distortion to a minimum. If I photographed from a low position, the art would have keystoned and looked a bit funny. Thank goodness for serendipity!

The ladder was essential to getting many of the photographs.

The ladder was essential to getting many of the photographs.

When photographing flat artwork, dealing with reflections is generally the hardest part. Often times, the solution to removing the reflection is to move the camera angle ever so slightly. The other solution is to move the position of the lights up, down, right, left, forward or backward. It can be a delicate balancing act in a complicated scene like this one because moving the lights for one piece of art will impact the light on the other piece of art.

You can see in the two photos below that changing the camera angle by a smidge will make a big difference in the amount of reflection in the image.

This image had a reflection on the upper right corner.

This image had a reflection on the upper right corner.

Changing the camera angle ever so slightly removed the reflection from the image.

Changing the camera angle ever so slightly removed the reflection from the image.

Check out these other links for more information on Sanne’s art and the story behind the story.

Sanne’s Arwork You Tube Video

Tacoma News Tribune Newspaper

Kitsap Sun Newspaper Article

Sanne Beavin

Sanne Beavin - Artist

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