Before & After with Lighting Setup

While a photo may look great–seeing the before gives you a peak into what a professional photographer brings to a project.

Tesla Service Center – 1875 Greers Chapel Road, Kennesaw, GA 30144

With a smartphone camera anyone can get the photo of the before, however, it is the skills of lighting and editing that a professional uses to transform this into an “Eye-Popping” photo.

I shot this photo with my cellphone to show the setup. All four strobes are set to full power.

I first shot this photo when I arrived.

Tesla 1875 Greers Chapel Road, Kennesaw, GA 30144

I was not a fan of that tree.

Tesla 1875 Greers Chapel Road, Kennesaw, GA 30144

I like them now both for different reasons. I will let the client choose the angle to use.

Before & After Examples

Chase Bank, 4241 Roswell Road, Atlanta, GA 30342 Six Strobes were used in addition to the natural lighting. [NIKON Z 6, 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, Mode = Manual, ISO 400, 1/4, ƒ/8, (35mm = 24)]

What does it mean to see someone in a better light?

This is an expression of seeing something in a different perspective. For example, you always thought someone was a bad person, but after talking with them, you now see them in a different light. (Now you see them differently, and actually think they are very nice) 

It is an Idiom

The two words of Better & Light together give us a new meaning in language.

Chase Bank 4241 Roswell Road Atlanta, GA 30342

Without the extra light on the building you are missing the “WOW FACTOR”.

Chase Bank 4241 Roswell Road Atlanta, GA 30342

Even waiting for the dramatic sky and lights on the building were not giving the same results that I do with my “Dusk” or “Dawn” architecture photography. If you notice the street lights in the photo I had to fix the one on the left that wasn’t on in the final image. Again another thing I do to help my client’s work to be seen in the “Best Light”.

Chase Bank 4241 Roswell Road Atlanta, GA 30342

The key to Dusk and Dawn photos is that everything isn’t getting equal amounts of light like you get during daytime. If you want your photos to be more dramatic, be sure the light is where you want it and not just everywhere evenly.

Chase Bank 4241 Roswell Road Atlanta, GA 30342 Three strobes are helping with the lighting. [NIKON D5, 14.0-24.0 mm f/2.8, Mode = Manual, ISO 400, 1/8, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 19)]

Now the differences between these photos is much more than just lights. More than 30 photos were taken of each angle. Different exposures and capturing different light. Then after some minor editing I am selecting 3 to 5 photos that are blended in PhotoShop to give the results you are seeing.

Lidl Building – 670 Whitlock Ave – Marietta – GA 30064 5 strobes used in this photo [NIKON Z 6, 14.0-24.0 mm f/2.8, Mode = Manual, ISO 400, 1/15, ƒ/8, (35mm = 14)]

So when I arrived just before Dusk I got this photo below.

Lidl Building – 670 Whitlock Ave – Marietta – GA 30064

I asked the manager if they could move those pallets. Again I took 30+ photos and after minor editing picked 5 photos that I blended to get the final image.

Is Good Enough going to make you Competitive?

Today, so many people use their cameras on their phones and tend to say it is good enough. That lets you get these before photos I am showing here.

Can you continue to get jobs and projects with “Good Enough”? Can you pay your people good salaries with “Good Enough”? Can you pay yourself enough for a comfortable lifestyle?

Hire a professional photographer whose portfolio shows they can put your products in the best light. Doesn’t your work deserve it?

One Reason You Hire A Professional Photographer

Tony Messano who is a creative director and designed my logo said to me one day that what he hires photographers for is to take his vision and make it better.

With today’s phone cameras they are good enough to get some great photos. The question is what does the pro bring that you cannot get with your phone?

George C. Griffin [NIKON Z 6, 14.0-24.0 mm f/2.8, Mode = Manual, ISO 100, 1/5000, ƒ/2.8, (35mm = 14)]

One of the biggest things that a professional photographer brings is their ability to “Write With Light”. That is what the word photography is about–Writing With Light.

The coining of the word “photography” is usually attributed to Sir John Herschel in 1839. It is based on the Greek φῶς (phots), (genitive: photo’s) meaning “light”, and γραφή (graphê), meaning “drawing, writing”, together meaning “drawing with light”.

By adding light to help enhance the light on the statue of Dean Griffin at Georgia Tech I was able to to make the statue look different.


My friend Dave Black, Nikon Ambassador and professional photographer, says, “Look for something ‘Different’ not necessarily ‘Better’”. Dave had discovered through his career that when something is “Different” the audience will stop and look.

Dean Griffin Statue. [NIKON Z 6, 70.0-200.0 mm f/2.8, Mode = Manual, ISO 100, 1/2000, ƒ/2.8, (35mm = 200)]

One more thing other than light is composition that a trained eye brings. Notice in this photo how Dean Griffin looks like he is looking down and even has depressing look to the photo.

Dean Griffin Statue [NIKON Z 6, 35.0 mm f/1.4, Mode = Manual, ISO 100, 1/2500, ƒ/1.4, (35mm = 35)]

By just changing the camera angle and perspective I make him look more authoritative and a leader.

By the way, the client called me needing help with their cover of their annual report. They wanted a photo to be “Iconic” about their foundation. They raise funds to help students get an education. I knew that Dean Griffin established and managed an emergency loan fund to assist students with financial difficulties, and he started, with his own funds, Georgia Tech’s Central Placement Office. After his retirement, he operated a job placement service for alumni over forty.

I proposed the Statue of Dean George C. Griffin for their cover. I mentioned I had done something similar of S. Truett Cathy for Chick-fil-A. I sent them this photo of the statue of Cathy in front of the Original Dwarf House in Hapeville, Georgia.

Truett Cathy Statue at the Original Dwarf House [NIKON D750, 35.0 mm f/1.4, Mode = Manual, ISO 50, 1/4000, ƒ/1.4, (35mm = 35)]

They were originally looking at real people. The advantage of going with a statue of someone who is no longer here, but embodies that core values of the institution is it then becomes “Iconic”.

Stanley’s Compact Lighting kits for the road

This is my lighting gear for travel when flying.

  • (2) Manfrotto 5001B Nano Black Light Stand – 6.2′ (1.9m)
  • (2) Interfit Metal Umbrella Bracket with Adjustable Flash Shoe
  • (2) Cowboystudio 33 inch Photography Studio Translucent Shoot Through White Umbrella
  • (2) Neewer TT850
  • (2) Neewer 433MHz Wireless 16 Channel Flash Remote Trigger
  • (2) ThinkTank Strobe Stuff
  • (2) MagMod flash modifier system
  • Gitzo GT0531 Mountaineer 6X Carbon Fiber Tripod Legs – Supports 11 lbs (5kg) & Manfrotto ball head
  • ProMaster XC525 Tripod
Just keep it simple.

When Shooting Video I just bring in my suite case these two lights.
I also just bring one extension cord to use with the lights as well.

There you have it a simple light kit to travel the world shooting stills and video. 

Lighting Assignment: Combining Studio Strobes with Available Light

Nikon D750, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 2500, ƒ/10, 1/50

This last shooting assignment I have given my class this week is to take a studio strobe out and make a photo where this is complimenting the light already in the scene.

Before they shot in the field I did two different shoots. This is the second shoot I did with them where we left the classroom and I showed them how to talk to folks and get them to pose for an environmental photograph. This is an environment that tells us something about the person.

Here we are showing the guy doing his job as a barista in the local coffee shop.

Nikon D750, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 2500, ƒ/10, 1/60

I first made this photo of him working and showed it to the class. I showed them the light on the subject just didn’t make him pop. As he continued to work I took another photo with the studio strobe to make him pop.

Nikon D750, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 2500, ƒ/10, 1/60

The setup was like this for the shot:

I put a 10º Grid as well as a neutral density filter on the flash and it was still pretty bright. I used the grid to keep the light from going everywhere and lighting up too much in the scene.

Then I just had him turn and look at the camera for the very first photo.

Nikon D750, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 100, ƒ/4, 1/500

We heard sawing nearby so we went to check it out and see if we could get another person in their work environment. Here is the first photo.

Nikon D750, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 100, ƒ/11, 1/80

After adding the flash I took this photo and adjusted the shutter speed to where the background wasn’t blown away.

When I first talked about the assignment we walked outside the studio and I did these photos to give them some understanding of the assignment.

Nikon D750, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 100, ƒ/10, 1/250

After making this photo I then added a flash.

Nikon D750, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 100, ƒ/10, 1/250

Then I added a CTO Gel which is an orange colored gel to the light. I then took a custom white balance and shot the photo again.

Nikon D750, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 100, ƒ/22, 1/250

I also underexposed the background by 1 1/2 stop by turning the strobe up in power but keeping everything else the same. This meant I had to then close down the aperture from ƒ/10 to ƒ/22. This made the background darker since the light didn’t affect it.

Nikon D750, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 100, ƒ/18, 1/250

I then added a CTB to the light and then did a custom white balance. This is a blue gel and by correcting the white balance the background went orange.

Make this your assignment as well. Here are the directions that I gave to the class:

Mixed Lighting
The goal of this assignment is to demonstrate when you are out of the studio you can use your strobes to improve an otherwise dismal situation.
Whatever you choose, you must provide 2 photos. 
  1. Photo without strobes. In other words your subject needs light to make it look better. You want to make this the best exposed as possibly you can do. (exactly the same as with strobes)
  2. Photo with the strobes.
Some Blog Posts to help get your juices flowing and walk you through the steps:

  1. 20% for proper exposure
  2. 20% for focus
  3. 20% Showing rules of composition
  4. 20% Demonstrating each technique
  5. 20% for expression

Location Lighting Tip – Arrive Early

I had a major executive head shot the other day. We were to shoot in four locations with multiple outfits.

All the locations were onsite at the corporate headquarters. Thus I had to set up all the lighting on location.

I think I may have left a couple things as far as my lighting gear, but pretty much everything I owned came with me.

I arrived several hours ahead of the time the executive was to show up.

I setup  each shot and had my assistant stand in the place of the executive.

These are just a few of the many test shot I took. I am not posing my assistant for the best photo, I was wanting to see how the light looked and compositions with the lenses I would be using.

Here is a quick walk through for each location:

  1. Composition first – I want to test before I set up any lights the lens for a shot. I am looking for being sure the background is wide enough behind the subject to work. This might require me to move back and forth as well as moving the subject back and forth between the background and the camera.
  2. Custom White Balance & Test Shot with Available light – You would be surprised how often you don’t need to do a thing but just click the shutter and everything looks great.
  3. Test for aperture – how much depth-of-field do I need. With one person I can shoot pretty wide open, but if you start doing group photos you need more room to work.
  4. Review the image for the 4 basic lights and evaluate as to which ones may need help.
    1. Main/Key
    2. Rim Lighting
    3. Background Light
    4. Fill Light
  5. Going one light at a time that I will add I shoot a test shot and then make adjustments until I get the desired look.
  6. Repeat until all 4 light values and color temperature is all set for the look I am trying to achieve.
  7. Pull up the images on my laptop whenever possible to see the best image. LCD on the back of a camera just doesn’t do justice for fine tune evaluating of images.

Problems I often encounter

  • Lens Perspective and Location – sometimes the only way to get a background, like a company logo on a wall, into a shot has me shooting with a super wide angle which isn’t flattering to the subject. Better to have test shots to show a client to steer them to another location. Sometimes you just cannot back up enough do the a room to make it work.
  • Lighting gear gremlins – I have had some strange things happen through the years. 
    • Plugged lights into the walls in a classroom and then all of a sudden they just started flashing. Apparently when they wired the room the polarity wasn’t correct and caused the strobes all to flicker. If I unplugged on them from one side or the other of the room no problem. Fixed it with extension cords.
    • I had a transformer in a light blow once and smoke came out of the light. 
  • Radio Remote Triggers not working – Sometimes I just need to replace the batteries and other times there are radio signals or the structure of the building is interfering with the signal. Changing channels, running long sync cords and many other solutions I have had to dream up at the last minute.
  • Lens Failure – I had oil in the lens get so hot from sitting in a car that it got all over the aperture and had it stuck wide open. Had to use another lens.
  • Flash damaged by airlines – This happened recently when I flew to Chicago. Had to not use that flash and adjust accordingly. Luckily I had more than just one flash.
There are many other problems that have occurred throughout my career. The point is simple–Arrive Early.
If you run through all the scenarios before the client arrives then the odds are now in your favor. Arriving just in time to do a shoot and just go with the flow can make you look bad in front of the client. 

One light is often better than too many

Nikon D3s, 14-24mm, ISO 400, ƒ/5.6, 1/500—Off camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900.  The Flash is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash. 

I have been going through my files getting ready for next week when I teach lighting to photography students in Hawaii.

One of the tips we will be discussing is learning to not light everything. Here in this photo I just used the existing light and the camera is set -2 EV  and then added strobes which are zoomed in to just light the subjects. The strobes are set around +2 EV.

Nikon D3s, 14-24mm, ISO 400, ƒ/3.2, 1/400

Here is the same photo without the strobes. See how the strobes make the subjects “POP” and help saturate the colors.

Click on diagram to see it larger

This is the lighting diagram for the top image.

Nikon D3s, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/250—Off camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900.  The Flash is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash. 

By underexposing the background I am saturating the colors of the sky. Then the flash is helping light  the subjects to be properly exposed and drawing your eye to them.

Nikon D3s, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/250
Click to image to see larger

With no strobes these photos just don’t “POP” like I want them to do.

Nikon D3s, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/4, 1/200—Off camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900 & Nikon SB-800.  The Flash is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash. 

Now here is an example where by using two lights on either side of the subjects starts to create what I call an “unnatural” light setup. Now they look like this is a painted background and they are on some cruise ship where you get your photo made.

Nikon D3s, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/4, 1/200

If you want your photos with light to truly “POP” remember to not light everything. Use light sparingly for more dramatic photos.

Seeing the light vs Creating the light

Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/500

Are you impressed with my photo of Jack Sparrow? The way you get this photo is no different than shooting any concert tour or theater production.

Set the white balance and get a good exposure and then wait for a great moment.

Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/2.8, 1/200

Now just like everyone else at PhotoShop World like me most likely took the photo above and this one below.

Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/450

Someone else found all the props, the model, the backgrounds and then even set up all the lights for me. All I had to do is set the white balance and the right exposure. The models would even stay in a pose for minutes at a time to help anyone with figuring out a “moment.” So there are no “kudos” for this photo if you are showing it as your work.

Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/2.8, 1/105

Everyone with a camera is going crazy shooting photos that if they showed to any art director and if they get hired to shoot the same photo themselves most likely wouldn’t have a clue on how to make it happen.

Photography is writing with light and when you had nothing to do with the light you really did very little with the photograph, especially in these situations where without the lights there is no photograph.

Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/2.8, 1/250

What can you learn from these set up situations?

  • Find interesting subjects
  • Find interesting settings
  • Use light creatively, by not lighting everything equally in the photograph
Fuji X-E2, 55-200mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/5, 1/140
While we all will continue to shoot stage productions and concerts, remember if you are a photographer showing your work around and you have nothing that shows you know how to create photos like this from scratch then they can hire any photographer to shoot the photos.
Learn how to create these photos rather than just getting them properly exposed.

Great Photos Often Start With Dramatic Subjects

Fuji X-E2, XF 55-200mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/5, 1/105

How can you go wrong with a fire eating subject? Well if you miss the exposure maybe, but if you get a well exposed photo of something average and then something more dramatic you get the idea of why start with a more interesting subject.

Fuji X-E2, XF 55-200mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/5, 1/140

Look for things like this Luau in Kona, Hawaii for example.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 640, ƒ/4.5, 1/100

For this Fire Knife dance I photographed him at Truett’s Luau in Fayetteville, GA.  So, you don’t always have to go to Hawaii to get your photo.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 640, ƒ/5.3, 1/3200

Now later I photographed the same guy the following day, but this was outside in the sunlight. This should help you see how much a location and lighting can help a situation or not at all.

Personally I think to make your photos better, don’t light everything. This is why when they turned off all the stage lights and let the fire dancer be center stage that the photo is more dramatic than in the bright sunlight.

Without flash. Photo by Clara Kwon

With off camera flash. Photo by Clara Kwon

In these two photos you can see how Clara Kwon had no flash and then by adding flash helped to make the subject “pop.” She is not lighting everything and the rest of the scene is slightly darker which helps the subject stand out.

Remember to pick interesting subjects and try your best to put them in the best light.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 200, ƒ/22, 1/13 with two Alienbees B1600 with CTO being triggered by Pocketwizards

Simple High Key Head Shot

Let me walk you backwards through this process. This is one of the potential retouched photos. I used the software program Portrait Professional to do the touchups. You may not like any of the touchup, but I wanted to show you often you may make some touchups for various reasons. This software will helped speed up the process.

This here below is the photo after shooting it and doing very minimal adjustments in Adobe Lightroom.

I really like working with a white background. To be sure you white background remains white the general rule is 1 to 2 stops brighter than the subject. I find it is best to slightly angle the background so that it is not acting like a mirror and creating a flair in the lens.

Camera Perspective

For this setup I chose to use more of a copy stand setup with two large soft boxes on either side of the camera. Straight above and slightly behind the subject is a hair light with a 30º grid pointing down onto the back of her head and shoulders.

Top View

Here is the diagram of the setup.

I put two mono-blocs on the background duplicating the same angles as the soft boxes on the subject. Again the background is 1 stop brighter than the subject.

Side view

With this setup the model can change poses and move side to side with similar light. This let the subject play with expressions and body positions without have to change the lights every single time we moved the model.

I started with the stool and found that the chair gave the model more to work with and feel more relaxed. Each person is different so you must together work to find those poses and expressions that bring out the best in the model.

High Key Dodge Viper Photos

I decided to go back to the Dodge Viper and shoot it on purely high key.  Here are some from this mornings shoot.

For these last few I turned the 30″ x 60″ soft box long side front to back rather than side to side which helped get rid of a black line that you may see in the photos above.

You can see the black line I got rid of by putting the soft box in essence further behind by turning it vertical verses horizontal.

Here is the result here

By the way the size of the car here is something for scale

My photographs of a Black Dodge Viper

Nikon P7000, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/640

I just wanted to have fun, so I decided I would photograph a Dodge Viper.

So I rolled the Dodge Viper into my studio.  Here are some shots.

Nikon P7000, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/640

Nikon P7000, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/1000

Nikon P7000, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/1000

Nikon P7000, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/1000

After doing different shots with blue gel I switched to red and reshot the photos.

Nikon P7000, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/1000

Nikon P7000, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/1000

Now how did I make all these photos?  Well first I was walking through Sam’s Club and saw the Dodge Viper and decided to buy it on the spot. Yeah, I spent a whole $12.95 for a model.

The Setup

I just moved the soft box further from the background and more in front of the car for the very first photo and did similar with the first red photo.

My suggestion is to play with something like a car and try to photograph it in different light.  I also highly suggest buying a black car verses a lighter color car if you want to learn how to light.