The Magazine Shoot

The last few months I’ve went “at it” hard in my lab (garage studio where I create and perfect new stuff. Now I’ve come out thinking I’m Batman!). Well, I’ve finally come out of “the cave” with something good! Its a MONSTER – 2 part article – about how I created the light for my first published magazine fashion shoot. This time I’m going to give you some insight as to the thoughts and planning that went into the shoot instead of only a simple diagram saying, “Here! Now go do it, PUNK!”

Recently, I was on a shoot at the infamous Smash Photo Lab in Long Beach CA just to keep up my chops and practice some new theories I had about hard light. When I was done “Mr. Cool” himself (Bill Shutt – Owner of Smash Photo Lab) told us we should check out this little hole in the wall hut that had recently been erected on some abandoned property. I, the adventurous type, and my creative visionary cohort Kevin Shannon went out to see what all the hoopla was about. What had Mr. Cool’s hair on end? To my surprise it was a federal inmate cell sized tool shed that was littered with graffiti, busted wood, broken nails, stripped floors, giant spiders and every other horror imaginable to befall a small structure!


Here’s the best part! It measured a massive 11 feet high, 8 feet wide by 6 feet deep! It was like 1/3rd the size of my garage studio! I wouldn’t even have room to put a gear bag inside while I shoot! But guess what, for all its negatives, the place had more character than anything I have seen since watching an old Friday the 13th horror flick!

Now, firmly intent on photographing the very soul of this set, I set out to plan my lighting scheme(s) to go in and come out happy!

Just a little side note: having a creative visionary to help you spot out things like this and plan a shoot is ultra critical! Kevin was instrumental in the look and style of the shoot. He said keywords that I was able to translate into my lighting. New guys, serious word of advice: find another photographer and BE friends! Bounce ideas and share! Look at my sharing, 30+ thousand a month! It makes everyone better!

Here were my challenges and my proposed solutions:

CHALLENGE:  [br] How to get wide angle with my APS-C format Sony A700 DSLR?

SOLUTION: [br] Invest in the Sony 18-70mm F3.5-F5.6 DT Kit lens! It would be the widest lens I owned.

CHALLENGE: [br] How to get a very moody lighting in such a microscopic area?

SOLUTION: [br] Use a small light source like a parabolic reflector.

CHALLENGE: [br] How to prevent spill light (which has to be considered since I’m inside a such a small area) from ruining my images?

SOLUTION: [br] Grid, flag or feather my light source to ensure minimal spill.

CHALLENGE: [br] What tools would I need to perform the tricks and do something totally different.

SOLUTION: [br] 16″ Beauty Dish (the sleeper hit of 2008), Alien Bees Ring light ABR-800 (totally unexpected since I dont yet own one!), Gels, Grids, 42″ Reflectors, 1 Innovatronix Tronix Explorer 1200 and one Tronix Explorer XT, 2 Britek BB-200’s stands and the new love of my life, 6 Elinchrom Skyports & the most important tool…my Polaris SPD-100 light meter! Yes, I overpacked but I used approx 75% of my bags contents!

FUTURE CHALLENGE: [br] Extreme overcast with a 60% chance of rain!

FUTURE SOLUTION: [br]Get punked and go home if it rains!

My decided lighting objective: Create a very moody lighting effect that didn’t destroy or overpower the light that was already in the location. My primary thoughts were to get a parabolic placed and suspended directly overhead in the same location area as the large hole in the ceiling. This way, the light would make “more sense” as opposed to coming in with a diffuser and pray for balanced exposure and just play it safe and “fix it in photoshop”. Besides, I knew that ever since Kevin and the MUA were talking about some cool makeup concepts – I really made sure I broke my own norm!

Shoot Day

With rain clearly in threat, I reluctantly call off my assistant for the day. (Sorry again Mrs. Land.) Because of over packing I am embarrassingly the last to arrive. The MUA had already begun the magic of applying a severe coating of “Pancake Makeup” to Kevin’s face. Under the clock of 2 hrs to play we were given a heckuva gift to test out … the Paul C. Buff ABR-800. Now, I will make an honest confession Totally honest. This was the absolute very first time I had used a ring light! The closest thing to it was placing an 84inch Photek Sunbuster umbrella directly behind me in a 1200 watt Profoto head (studio rental) to simulate the effect. My understanding of a ring flash comes from 100’s of post all across the internet from Dave Hill, David Hobby, David Tejada (The Davids rule, I know!),, etc. So I could from a technical point of view, say what I should expect from a ring light. So here we go:

Setup 1:

Setup 1

Setup 1 Diagram

Beauty Dish high in a diffusion sock into the ceiling!

Here I set the dish as high as I could (about 11ft) into the ceiling to allow the light to be high enough to place the model in the beauty dish’s optimal focal point (the best distance for your size beauty dish-remember, this is highly objective). I set the diffusion sock on the beauty dish to soften the light and allow the light to spread out softly. At the opposite corner I placed a 42″ 5n1 reflector (gold side up) to softly fill shadows were inherently dark because of the use of such a small main light small because of the lights size and distance. I chose the gold side so that some complimentary warmth would be added to the skin.

The key to this simple 1 light setup (That’s right, 1 light!) was to get the dish high enough overhead to allow the light to spread out wide enough to light both my scene and my subject. (Dont miss that lil Elinchrom Skyport radio receiver on the flash just above the dish and sock in the picture). This simple combination creates some moody yet controlled light. The dish creates a circle of light with a dramatic falloff while the reflector softly fills the totally dark areas of my model.


Setup 2

Setup 2 Diagram

Beauty Dish with Ringlight fill!

Starting with the same setup as before the only difference this time is I added the almighty RINGLIGHT for fill light!! The last thing you guys should have done is let me out of the cage with a ring light! Which ring light you ask? The Alien Bees ABR800 of course! Why you ask? ‘Cause its CHEEEEEAP! In a few images I used a 42″ disc reflector (gold side) on the floor to catch some of the light and bounce it into the models shadow side.Here’s the dire important part. Make sure your ring light does not equal nor overpower your main lights output and viola… instant hit! Fine detail and deep imposing drama all in one image!

I have gotta admit it, my ring light training lasted all the better of 90 seconds! Paul C. Buff created a marvelous tool! (Check out the review here on!) I give this thing a serious P.O.C. Endorsement! Why? Its easy to figure out, lightweight, packs a good amount of light, being able to use it with a standard photo umbrella, with it being an expandable SYSTEM (not just single use tool) with the optional 30″ & 56″ moon unit diffuser tools make this the ONLY ballgame in town worth your $399.00 (as far as ring flashes go)! (By the way, my cheap cap on lighting equipment is $400 for any single piece of lighting gear… SO HA!!)


Setup 3 - Applying Makeup

Setup 3 Diagram

Constance Foe: The M.U.A. from heaven! Here she gets our third makeup change all tidy for some really wild outside shots where we’ll be going for an edgy “who knows what but it was fun having the local kids stare and stop” shots! Be sure to check out more of Constance’s work at Model Mayhem.

Side note: This girl has been through MUA schools and is a trained professional. Look at the magnificent jump in image quality and polish by combining a real model and a real makeup artist together with good light. Its the unstoppable force called a team! The polish that a professional makeup artist has is very valuable, new guys. Spend a little bit of money after you read all this good info on and get a makeup artist to work with you once in a while. The touch she lends cuts out loads of Photoshop time, and also makes it soooo eeeeasssy to get a great image when you walk in with a polished looking subject! Hire Constance now before she’s back on another movie set (Blatant PLUG!).

Yes the model wore a wig. Yes there is a fake $10 art and craft store crow in the shot… yes that is your mothers old TV set!

I put away the ring light finally because it has a very low value (to me) when there’s not lots of stuff nearby for all those crazy shadows to fall and paint over. Time to go outside!

The magic here happened because we had the patience to wait for the ambient light to die down a lot when there was heavy cloud outdoors. This is naturally a great setup for dramatic backgrounds. The second piece of magic is that since I am using a hard light source, shadows will be deep and dark creating drama. Then, by overpowering what little daylight was already there, I was ultimately able to create a dramatically dark backdrop that we could do no wrong in front of!

As for the lighting. Just two! My 16″ Beauty Dish about 12 feet away from my subject to just cover him with hard light and a small Britek built BB-200 slave at half power about 12 feet away from the the rear (off to the far left side). Lighting Recap: Thick Clouds + Subdued Ambient Light + Hard Light Source + More light on subject than background = dramatic possibilities! With the the minor addition of $90 Britek BB-200 about 12 feet away, I was able to sculp this creature into something great while separating him from the background better.

Okay people there you have it! Awww, don’t gimmie that he didn’t go cheap cause of that ring light thing. Grab this ring flash adapter for $199.00! Then you’ll have no more ring flash excuses! So grab those brolly boxes if you don’t have a beauty dish! Grab those Cybercyncs if you can’t get a Pocketwizard or Skyport! Grab your computer and bulk up on your Prince of Cheap tutorials then… GET TA SHOOTIN!

Here’s the spread in the online magazine

Special thanks to:

Bill Shutt , Smash Photo Lab

Bill of Smash Photo Lab in Long Beach, Ca… Special thanks to ya man!!

Check out his website for rates crazier than he is!


Sony Alpha A700 w/ Vertical Grip

18-70mm Kit Lens

24-70mm F2.8 Sigma Lens

Alien Bees ABR-800 Ring light

16″ Beauty Dish (Wait for my review. I’ll even tell you where to get it!)

SL-400 [400 watts @ $180.00]  (Wait for my review. I’ll even tell you where to get it!)

Britek BB-200 Flash

Elinchrom Skyport Transceiver/Receiver

Innovatronix Tronix Explorer 1200

Innovatronix Tronix Explorer XT

42″ 5n1 Reflector

Published by David Griffin

The Prince of Cheap I am a "Jesus Freak" and a DIY photography junkie! I'm also the *second* cheapest man alive... but only 'cause my Dad is the first!