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Professional Portraits: Moving Beyond Headshots

Lesson 16 of 32

Location Gear: What you Need & Why

Gary Hughes

Professional Portraits: Moving Beyond Headshots

Gary Hughes

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Lesson Info

16. Location Gear: What you Need & Why


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Lesson Info

Location Gear: What you Need & Why

We're going to continue our lesson into professional portraits with the second sexiest topic, gear people, we are gonna go over a lot of the stuff that I use. Now before we get started, probably the most important thing I wanna say is that no piece of equipment is going to make you a better photographer. That's just the bottom line. Any instructor who says go buy all my stuff and you can shoot what I shoot, is telling you something that's probably not accurate. Photography has to start right in here in your brain and you have to know your stuff to be able to do it. But I will tell you that sometimes really good gear can make your job a lot easier. And my entire philosophy of equipment is find the absolute easiest thing to do the thing that I wanna do. I always like to say if you wanna find the easiest way to do something, find the laziest person and ask them how to do it. And they will have sourced the fastest, most efficient way to do the thing. So I being the laziest person I know, h...

ave found a very efficient way to do everything. When I go on, I have two sets of equipment here. One set of equipment is what I would typically take on a location shoot for something like a professional portrait, and then the other, you'll see these large soft boxes back here, are stuff that I would use when shooting in the studio for professional portraits. So most of this is stuff that I actually have although I did not bring it myself, but it's the closest approximation. So I will also tell you the gear and when if possible I will also give you alternatives that you could use. I don't recommend necessarily that you rush out and buy something just because an instructor told you, but I will tell you everything up here is stuff that I actually use and I actually love and it actually makes my life easier. So balance that and do with it what you will. I remember the very first lens I ever bought, and my parents were both photographers, and I got a 50 millimeter 1.8 Canon and if you know that lens, it's a pretty inexpensive lens, it's plastic whatever, it's pretty great for the money. And I shot like crazy with it and then I said dad, what lens should I get next? He goes learn how to use that one and then get another one. So that's how I feel about equipment. There are a lot of photographers that love to collect gear, and for a lot of us most of that ends up sort of sitting in the bag. So use what you have. You know the thing that I use the most for my photography when I'm not actually being paid for it, is my phone. And I tend to get some really cool pictures because you have to be able to see light and understand it, so over the next few lessons I'm not only gonna show you the gear that I use but I'm gonna show you how I understand and use light. And we're gonna shoot and show you how that I will work in difficult situations, and I will show you the sort of least complicated way to do it and then I'll show you, we'll add a light, we'll add a light, we'll add a light. So we will do a ton of really cool stuff, but I want you to understand is the simplicity of it. That the most important thing you can do is get the job done and get it done well with the least amount of equipment possible. I don't like to carry things, I'm very opposed to carrying things, I don't like holding things, I don't like having a bag with me. So I wanna use equipment that's gonna be as compact as possible. Now for the first five or six years I was in business, I had like 16 bags, every light had its own bag and I had just stuff all over the place and it took two or three trips to get from the car to the job, and I think that, remember in the other lesson we talked about finding bottle necks in your work flow, and one of those things is getting to the job, getting your stuff unpacked, setting up. That can be, I've actually gone to shoots where I've spent more time setting up and breaking down than I do actually shooting. And that happens quite a lot, so one of the things I like to do is try to break down as much as I can, that set up and break down time. Because one, it's really the most annoying part. You wanna get to the shooting, you wanna get to the fun part. And two, some of us don't necessarily, we like to work by ourselves, so I like to give people equipment that you can take and work completely by yourself, you don't need an assistant to work with you. And then other stuff, we're gonna have a lot of options that if you can have someone with you when you're working. So I will kinda try to run the whole gamut. But let's get to it and actually talk about stuff. So the first thing I wanna talk about are my two favorite pieces of equipment in the world. These are my bags. Now no matter what size job that I do everything that I need to shoot with can fit in these two bags. Both of these will go great when you travel. This one will check normally at an airport, it does just under oversized baggage. And as long as you pack conservatively, you can take this anywhere you go. And there's a couple of cool features, this is a Photoflex Transpac and you know, I'm not like sponsored by Photoflex or anything, I just really like this bag. And I think it's not that expensive, maybe like 130, 140 bucks. And what's cool about this is, check this out, the inside of it is red. Why is that the coolest thing in the world? 'Cause everything photography is black, and when you're going in there looking for a little adapter or a piece that's this big and it's jet black with a black bag it's gonna make it really hard to find it 'cause sometimes you don't always have the best light where you're working. So a bright red inside is actually a really cool thing for me, I dig that a lot. And it's got like roller blade wheels that are really durable, and I haven't destroyed it yet which is a good sign because I'm really hard on my equipment. So what will fit in here? This is pretty cool. I take this with me, this is my SweetLight Systems three by four reflector kit. It will fix on any normal light stand, it's easy to put together and as big as it is, you take the rods out and you roll it up and it's about that big, and it fits right in that bag no problem. So as big as this looks, this'll fit very easy and take up almost no space inside that bag by the time you collapsed it all. It'll fit on the stand or it's got a handle if you're using an assistant. I use this on commercial jobs all the time. I use it on professional portraits, I use it on headshots. What's really cool is for those of you who like to have a light or a reflector underneath doing beauty lighting or bounce, oh I swear this stuff works, boom, you can make it really easily flat right underneath someone so it'll bounce light up into their face, which is really cool. And since it works on any light stand, you don't have to go out and buy a bunch of extra stuff or cross beams or anything to go with it to make it work. It will fit on pretty much anything that you already have. Does that make sense? So these things come in several different types as far as the reflectiveness of it. I would recommend to not get the brightest super bright one if you haven't used reflectors a lot. Softer silver is really, really good or even you can get these with white and you can get multiple pieces of what's this called, material, multiple types of material for it. (audience laughter) I know, my brain doesn't work. So that is a really cool tool and super compact. Basically whenever I buy a piece of equipment now, I go will it fit in my go bag? The reason I call it a go bag is for the first probably six years I was in business, if I had a job on location I would have to break down stuff in my studio and take it. And so one of the first big benchmarks of success for me was to be able to have and afford enough equipment so that I could not have to take anything out of my studio when I go on a job on location. That was huge for me, okay so, and I'm also the cheapest person in the world. So I don't like to buy new stuff, and so lazy and cheap is gonna be a perfect recipe for the go bag. So one of the few things that I think I have spent pretty good money on that I'm really happy with are gonna be these stands. These are from Manfrotto, and these are really, really cool and portable. They fold up flat and wait for it, I said wait for it, we're gonna get to those lighting modifiers in just a minute they're really compact, they actually have air pressure in them so that they're not super clunky, they're really durable. They don't have a bunch of little bits that can fall off of 'em and let's see if I get this right, oh other way, I do know how to use this stuff, they stack together, that's pretty cool right? And so when these will go in my bag and they take up very little space and they expand to as tall as eight feet which is really cool. And they have multiple sizes. So when I go on location I take three of these with me, and I find that you can stack as many as you can stack onto 'em, but I find about three light stands will do the trick. And I usually bring one other tiny one for a reflector or a light that I put on the floor, but these are my go-to. So they're really compact, they stack really well, and they are light and portable and very durable. The other thing I wanna point out too that if you are sitting there at home asking yourself where do I get all this stuff there, if you RSVP for the course on the course page there is a whole gear guide with links to everything. So you can check that, all you gotta do is RSVP for the course, you don't have to buy it, just RSVP for the course. Alright so let's talk about modifiers. I use a few different ones when I go on location. This is the whole center of my universe right now, is the speed light. There are a couple of reasons I love speed lights. They're small, for what they do they're relatively inexpensive and you can get all different kinds. And almost everybody has at least one or two of these lying around. And so I kind of built my location photography around using speed lights, because I didn't wanna have to buy anything else 'cause I use these you know when I was a big wedding shooter when I first started out and so you're always bouncing this around, bouncing it off walls, bouncing it off the ceiling, use the little bounce card, and as I learned to use it a little bit more I found out how incredibly versatile these are. And as I teach I find that almost everybody has a couple of these. Who in the audience has speed light or two or three? Pretty much everybody, alright. Okay so you don't have to go out and spend a ton of money on a bunch of new lights, when there are so many options you can use with these. For the most part, I find that these will do just about anything that you can get the bigger ones to do because it didn't use to be that way. The cameras, the ISOs are really, really good now. You can go to 800, 1,600, 3,200, 6, and it doesn't really matter. But the lights aren't as powerful as some out there, and some if you get the other brands like the Yongnuos and the Phottix, and they might be a little less powerful but for the most part if I need more power I usually just add another speed light (laughing) which doubles the power, that's pretty good math right, okay cool. So what I've done is I started out using shoot through umbrellas, that was like my go to thing because they're really, really cheap and they're really durable and they're really portable. And what I found was when you're using speed lights you can get the job done and I did for years just shooting primarily with shoot through umbrellas. And when I would teach I would tell people look, you can have really expensive soft boxes and modifiers but a shoot through umbrella will do really nice light for you. But when you really get into it, once you sort of start to level up and you wanna shoot a little more complex stuff, or you wanna use a larger aperture value, greater depth of field, you need to get more power out of your lights. And the one thing that a shoot through umbrella does is it eats up a lot of light, it wastes a lot of power. So that's when we really need to go into working with different lighting modifiers for speed lights. And so this is kinda my newer one, I really like this guy right here, let me hold this for the camera. And there are many kinds like this, there's a Rapid Box and there's a Firefly and there are a ton of different ones. This is called the Speedbox 70 from XP PhotoGear I think imports it, and one thing I really like about it is that it's not super expensive. It's got steel rods, so it's really durable and it's also super portable. Wait for it, you ready? Ready, poof. And it folds up, you don't have to take the baffles out. And it just goes into a bag and it squishes up really easy. The other thing is with these cool adjustable rods, no matter whether you use a Vivatar from the 70s that's a potato masher or you use a new sleek small speed light, it adjusts and it will fit any speed light that you already have. So if they come out, if you have a Nikon SB series and they come out with a Nikon SB five million and it's twice as large, then it'll still work you can just make that adjustment. So that is, and it also has a really cool, one of the big problems I find with using speed lights and light stands is that they weren't originally really intended to use them for all the stuff that we use them for now, so the hot shoe mount can be really careless, with a lot of 'em there's like a little one that pinches it from the sides that it can snap off and fall, I can not tell you how many speed lights I've sent to repair because I snapped the bottom off of 'em. So you wanna make sure when you buy something it's got a really good stable hot shoe mount, and that's what I love about this one is it has a terrific slide in hot shoe mount that's just as stable or more stable than the one on your camera, so I really dig that a lot. Not sure what these retail for, not terribly expensive, couple a hundred bucks. But this is a really great light source for just about anything you wanna use when you're lighting, maybe an individual, up to three or four people, this'll be fantastic. Now the difference that you're gonna get between something like this, somebody might call it an octobox, technically it's a dodecahedron, I guess, but is that it's a little different than using the traditional soft boxes that some of us are used to. Before we go onto my next thing, I wanna show you that you put this together. When we talk about saving time, you just pull the rods into place which when you're on the go, durable, inexpensive, versatile and puts together really fast, and breaks down really fast which we already showed you. So I'll put that back on the light over here on my Manfrotto stand. Now here's the next thing when you're using speed lights, what's the biggest problem with speed lights? Batteries, right? So I use these, these are the Phottix battery booster packs for Canon. Canon makes their own, they're fine, these are fine. Nikon ones are fine, they're all fine, they pretty much do the same thing. There are two different kinds that you can get from Phottix. There's one where the unit itself is a rechargeable battery and you plug this in and then recharge it. I use this kind right here, it takes double A batteries. So I use all double As and I use rechargeables, and I have shot a job probably 500 head shots all on rechargeable batteries and it's fine. I did a job a couple weeks ago where I did 150 portraits in a day for a large office supply company, and I didn't change batteries one time. So the reason that I use speed lights is because I never know what I'm gonna have in front of me. One, I don't take a ton of extension cords. Those take up a lot of space and they're heavy and they're always tangled and they're a pain in the butt. But I do a lot of event location work, conventions, and sometimes I don't have a plug. You wanna take all of your expensive studio strobes out there, set 'em all up and then realize that you've got nowhere to plug into or you have to use half a roll of gaff tape which is extremely expensive, I don't know when the last time you bought gaffers tape was but, you use a 300 foot extension cord and a whole roll of gaffers tape or you can just use speed lights and get a couple of these guys and they will do almost, especially if you're indoors, there's really no reason that you can not do what you need to do with speed lights. You can set up a whole speed light studio. So these are pretty cool, I just stick 'em right over top of the stand, boom. Is that enough, did I hold that still long enough so you guys can see the front of it? Good, okay. And then we put that back on top. What's funny is I'm gonna show you like look how easy it is and then I'll collapse something and destroy a piece of my equipment. Alright and it'll slide right in there, hopefully, oh I adjusted it, let me just make an adjustment. So no matter what size speed light you have it should go right, it should go right in there, boom. And you're good to go. Now what's the other cool thing about this is now once I've got this setup, I've got my power pack, which by the way these things are really easy to plug them in the wrong way on the Canon system. I don't know how the Nikon system is, but if you plug 'em in the wrong way and you push it in too hard you'll break the whole thing. So don't do that. Good pro tip for you guys. Okay, one of the things I really like about this is that you don't have to take the baffle out and what's really cool, we got a good view here, it's got an inner baffle and an outer baffle. So this could be a really cool if you want a light that's a little more punchy or you're not getting quite enough power then you need a little bit more, maybe you're shooting outside, you can just take that inner baffle out or the outer baffle and you're gonna get almost, you'll get a whole stop back most of the time. And so in terms of photography, one stop is double the power. So if you need F11 and you can only get F out of this light, you take that inner baffle out and you'll get a lot closer to F11 pretty much dead on. So it gives you a lot of options, gonna give you really soft light that's gonna look really good even though it's a relatively small light source, 27 inches. But as you will learn according to the inverse square law, that the closer you get a light source the bigger it becomes relatively. So I will use this a lot pretty close to the subject. However one of the ways I like to shoot to get the softest light possible is I like to feather the lights a lot. And a dodecahedron box is, it has smaller edges as you can see so it's a little less precise. So one thing I will have with me set up pretty much exactly the same way, is I will have my Larson signature 24 inch square box. Used this in the last class for the head shot course, and this I will use for individuals really only or if you back it up it makes a really good light modifier if you're shooting a duo or something, you just need a little fill light outside. I wouldn't try to light an entire group with this, but what's cool is you have really great square edges. You know how the soft box was designed, it was designed by photographers and engineers that were trying to figure out how to make window light without a window. That's basically what they're for. So what they did was they basically started putting large sheets of material in front of parabolic lights, and what that would do, you'd diffuse it and you'd get it but it wasn't quite there, because it wasn't portable. And so you needed to be able to move it around the studio and taking a 40 foot sheet of parachute material isn't exactly something that's mobile. So what happened is it eventually came down to creating the soft box, and then you would have a soft box that the baffle would do all the way out to the edge like this. And what happened was it was close, but no cigar. Then an engineer realized, a photographer realized, that windows have a window sill and so that's why you have this lip around here. And it also doubles as, for a lot of soft boxes, you can put in a honeycomb grid or all kinds of different, you can put in different kinds of bogos and scrims or whatever you wanna use. But basically it's why you have it recessed, it's because now you have a little lip to work with. And so you're gonna get a little more of that beautiful, soft window light. And the result is this guy and now they're really small which is cool, so. But I really enjoy the lip and the straight edge. And what it enables me to do is to shoot across. When I use this soft box I'm using it for an individual and I will never really point it directly at the person. I find that a small light source even close, something this small, can give you pretty hard shadows. And you can fill it with reflectors and stuff but I really like to have a soft quality of light. And I find that when I use the light that comes off the edge of the soft box, I get a lot more pleasing results. So what I would typically do is I will shoot the soft box across the person like so. And so the light that comes off the edge, think of it this way, when I'm shooting with a soft box like this, I typically want the light that comes out of this bottom quadrant right here. That's the light I really want on the face of my subject. The rest of this light yeah, it's gonna get wasted. But I'm shooting pretty close and so I would say on average when I'm using speed lights, the most power I have to use is probably about an eighth to a quarter power. Do you know how many times you can fire a speed light with a battery pack at an eighth power? Like a thousand. So I mean you could do quite a lot of work just with a speed light and a soft box. So when I need something that is a little more precise I will use this guy right here. And this doesn't quite pop up and break down as easy as the XP, but it does fold up pretty small and it takes an extra maybe a minute or two to put together instead of 20 seconds. So it is a trade off, you do lose a little of the accuracy but they both put out beautiful light. And they're both really portable. What you can also do is you could definitely use an umbrella of inexpensive 20 30 dollar umbrella from any camera store, from Adorama or anywhere else that you wanted to buy one from. And you would get similar results if you use the light correctly. But an umbrella especially a shoot through umbrella will waste a lot of light, and so you don't necessarily, when you need a little more power you're gonna need something that's a little more focused so like a bounce umbrella or a soft box like this. And there are tons of these options out there, these are two that I love and I use all the time. And I think that they're pretty neat. And you'll get, see how light they are, they're really portable if you need to make an adjustment. And again all of that stuff folds up super easily and fits in the go bag. I love my go bag, alright cool. And with that and this, and I also have backgrounds that will fit in there. I didn't bring it with me but it is on the gear guide for the course page. Because again remember, cheapest guy in the world, I don't wanna pay oversized baggage fees (laughing) but I have the Westcott X-Drop background system, that is basically an X frame that holds a cloth backdrop and it folds up to about the size of a party sub with the background and everything, and that'll fit right in here too. So I actually end up putting a lot of stuff in the top here, extra battery packs, all kinds of stuff. But that's the go bag. And I will fit, if you go to my Instagram page you can see a job that I shot in Vegas a couple of months ago and I laid everything out in a grid and took a picture of it and showed you everything that'll fit in a go bag. So that's, and I can get everything I need in there, it'd be just under 50 pounds which is pretty awesome so you can fly with it if you need to.

Class Description


Professional portraits go beyond the standard headshot. With the age of social networking upon us, businesses often have the need for environmental and editorial portraits. Not only will you understand individual portraits, but you will also learn to execute large group posing for corporate clients. By adding these to your client sessions, you can add to your business plan AND widen your target client outreach. 



Gary is super knowledgable, yet down-to-earth and relatable. I love how he explains the exact gear he uses but also describes ways to accomplish the same look using DIY and less expensive alternatives. The segment where he demos a live shoot in multiple, difficult lighting situations is worth the cost of the class alone! Bonus: He's super funny. He could probably double as a comedian on the side, but I digress. This class was informative, funny, and very practical for any photographer that wants to increase their profit and expand their business into the professional world. He gives all his prices and workflows so you can get up and running in 2 days! :) Awesome class overall, and it's a great sequel to his professional headshot class (which I also bought and loved.)

Richard Blenkinsopp

I love Gary's straight teaching style, and appreciate him demonstrating with regular people, not models. This is the real life of a regular photographer! I wish Creative Live could show more from the photographers viewpoint, so that when he's posing and moving lights etc, we see exactly what he's changing, and can analyze why... not sure how they'd achieve this in a live environment though. Loved his going around to less than ideal locations and finding the place that works. My favourite course on Creative Live so far.


Gary makes taking editorial portraits look simple and fun. I want to start shooting heads! I love Creative live and Gary is really doing a great job. I got to buy the class next. Thank you.