My Mobile Photography Studio

For this blog entry I’ll share some behind the scenes shots of my Mobile Photography Studio setup along with a few images from my photo session with one-year-old Brody.

A big part of my business involves creating portraits on location. Most of the time that means being in scenic locations like lakes and parks. Other times it’s an assignment where I’m photographing an office staff in their place of business. But sometimes I’ll get a call that requires a studio environment set up in a remote location. My photo session with Brody was a perfect opportunity to create a full studio environment in the clients home.

Why I bring so much gear with me

If there’s one thing that I always seem to get asked on new assignments it’s: “Why do you have so much stuff”. That’s a really good question, actually. When people visit a portrait studio there’s plenty of stuff involved (most is stored out of sight but it’s there). For me, having additional lighting gear and plenty of equipment to control the light is a big part of working on location. I’ve always believed that location photography is all about solving problems to get my shot. There’s a whole lot of things that are out of my control when I’m on location (especially outdoors). When I’m on an assignment I bring lots of equipment and all of it helps me solve problems.

I have a great space in my office I use as a photography studio and it’s been a great place to create some awesome shots. My studio has plenty of windows for natural light along with super heavy curtains to eliminate all outside light. With all of my flash gear I’m able to create exactly the look I want when I’m photographing people or products. It’s a place where things go smooth because so much is within my control.

But when I got the call to photograph Brody I knew there was no way I was going  to get to use my studio in Northern Virginia. Brody (along with his parents) lives in south east Michigan. That meant that I’d be packing plenty of stuff so that I could handle whatever challenges existed at the parent’s chosen location. Here’s a look at the back of my Ford Fusion packed for a typical location shoot:

the Mobile Studio

When I arrived on location to shoot Brody I spent some time talking with his parents before we decided where we would have our shoot. Because Brody is so young the decision was made to use the basement play area in their home. This let him be in a familiar environment and when the shoot came to an end (kids that age can get tired quickly) it was just a matter of taking him upstairs.

Before I started bringing in gear I took a look at the planned location for the days shoot. Brody’s play area was perfect but I wasn’t thrilled with the busy background. My solution was to go with a white seamless paper background and to use two to three lights. Because space was tight (and I didn’t want Brody to knock over a light stand by accident) I used 53″ wide seamless paper and I clamped my main light to the steel i-beam that ran across the basement ceiling. Here’s a look at the quick mobile studio setup in Brody’s play area:

With the white seemless paper in position (and held in place with 50 pounds of sandbags) I spotted an exposed steel I-beam overhead. It was a perfect way to get my main light in place without using another light stand. I used a studio clamp and one of my boom arms to suspend the light from the ceiling. By using the boom arm I had plenty of movement available to get the 20″ octa-shaped softbox into position. Here’s a closeup of the studio clip, boom arm and softbox:

Next up was to position a rim light. I used a clip clamp to put a hot-shoe flash on one of the stands that held up the seamless paper. To keep the flash from flaring my lens I used a 1/8″ grid. The final piece of the puzzle was a light to soften shadows and light up the background. My solution was to use another studio clamp and my Manfrotto Magic Arm to suspend a hot-shoe flash. I used a small shoot-through umbrella to soften and scatter the light. Here’s a closer look at how that final flash was mounted:

Getting Test Shots and Photographing Brody

With the mobile studio set up it was time to grab a quick test of the lighting. For full sized subjects I use an assistant (or my subject when I’m working solo) but because I was photographing a one-year-old I needed a smaller test subject. Luckily Brody had some stuffed animals nearby and one worked great to help me set the power levels of the three flashes. Here’s a look at my test subject before Brody stepped in front of the camera:

Overall I liked how the lighting was looking but the shadow in front of the stuffed animal told me I had an issue with my rim light. My solution was to move the flash down, aim it more upward and lower the power a bit. Once I made those changes it was time to bring in Brody and begin capturing images.

After my first few shots with Brody I made a few more adjustments to the lights (the rim light was still a bit hot and the background light needed a little boost) and we brought in a few toys for Brody to play with. Here’s a few more shots from the shoot:

Brody was a lot of fun to photograph but like any photo subjet his age you need to be ready for anything. Brody shifted between looking happy to being upset in an instant (and nobody likes a picture of a screaming child). So you have to play a waiting game sometimes as you keep your eye to your viewfinder with a finger ready to push the shutter release at any moment.

And that’s a look behind the scenes of my mobile portrait studio in use for my photo session with Brody. One last shot I’d like to share is a shot showing why I clamped my lights to the ceiling instead of using a light stand.

You see, at Brody’s age an expensive softbox is just a toy waiting to be played with. By clamping my light to the ceiling I had one less piece of gear that could be knocked over. And that meant a much safer environment for my photo shoot.

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