On the street with an off-camera strobe

Los Angeles' "Arts District", a large neighborhood of abandoned warehouses and industrial lofts, just East of Downtown, has blossomed into the visual center of the film and graphic-arts world (and is rapidly gentrifying with condos and cafes). Many of its walls are covered with highly creative murals - most put up illegally, before City Hall finally acknowledged their artistic value, and repealed the regulations that criminalized outdoor wall painting!

We took a short walk, just before sunset, and shot some test photos, for a future workshop, in front of a few different murals. It was a very fast, "guerilla-style" shoot - a photographer, a model, an assistant, and the photographer's wife (and "behind-the-scenes" photographer). We had very little time, and wanted to keep moving, while lighting the model with a strobe, to have the attention focused on her (as well as to bring color and shape to the light!). We chose the lightest/smallest pro strobe at hand - the Photoflex Triton Flash - at 300 watts about 6 times stronger than a speedlight, but weights only a couple of pounds, including its lithium battery!

Without the strobe, the light on the street at sunset was open shade - flat, from the top, cool in color and low in intensity.

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We put the Triton Flash at the top of a very handy Lite Reach pole, even with its lithium battery pack and a 5' OctoDome it weighted only a couple of pounds! My assistant simply kept a constant 5' distance from the OctoDome to the model - hence, all our exposures were at F8.

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We started with the shutter at 1/125, and, as it got darker, gradually dropped to 1/60, then 1/30… all at ISO 200, and a custom white balance.

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We modified the effect of the available light, by first using a blue gel inside the OctoDome (hence, pushing the ambient light to very warm), then switching to an amber gel (hence, making the ambient light very blue). 

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read more about the artist behind this mural

read more about the artist behind this mural

A hand-held, off-camera flash, in manual exposure, kept at a constant distance from the subject, gave us a constant F-stop (and also bypasses the city ordinance requiring a permit for the use of any tripods or light stands!) We balanced the available light, for the background, by slowing down our shutter speed, as necessary. We changed the color of the ambient light by gelling the strobe, and custom-white-balancing the camera to the color of the strobe, hence, pushing the background in the opposite color direction. 

Simple, fast, and effective - with no more than a few minutes at each mural, we walked around a couple of blocks, and got all our shots, within the last hour of daylight.