5 Pieces of Gear to Conquer Any Crappy Lighting Situation

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As a professional photographer, from a high-end fashion photographer to a high-volume portrait and wedding photographer, we share the same major hurdle: capturing the perfect light with minimal gear. Light is the most important element in photography, but it’s also the most variant. As professionals, we are often thrown into less-than-ideal lighting conditions and expected to find perfect light in a matter of minutes. Through my experience, here are the top 5 essentials — my lighting survival kit — that help me handle even the crappiest of lighting situations.

Editor’s Note: This is a guest blog post by Lindsay AdlerIf you want to learn more about her lighting hacks and lighting techniques in general, check out her and Erik Valind’s free creativeLIVE workshop August 12-14. Also be sure to follow Erik on both Twitter and Facebook.

1) Five-in-one reflector (32 inches)

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Photo by Erik Valind

A reflector is key to any photo shoot, no matter where you are. Whether you are using natural light or hard studio lighting, a reflector provides necessary shadow lighting and details to your subject. The five-in-one is especially useful as it comes with the right reflector for every scenario. The translucent surface helps counteract harsh sunlight and hot studio lights. The silver is great for capturing and reflecting ambient light, even when there is not much light available. The softer gold (silver gold mix) is perfect for warming a shoot up a little, particularly if shooting near the end of beginning of the day. And of course, the white is crucial for bouncing light and producing a neutral lighting environment. White is a natural looking fill that is often the most flattering of options for portraits.

2) Off-Camera Flash

© 2012 Erik Valind

If you take a photo using on-camera flash in a less than ideal lighting situation, you may have overpowered some of the bad light, but you’ll still be left with a flat, boring photo. An off camera flash remedies that situation. It balances and brings out those features that separate a lit photo from a well-lit photo. Off camera flash is also key to adding a dramatic flare to your photo. Just make sure your system gets you some flexibility to get the flash off the hot shoe!

3) A Flash Modifier (Rogue Flash Bender XL Pro).

You need to be able to bend, shape, and refine light. Having a flash modifier, such as the Rogue Flashbender XL pro, will give you the ability to make minor adjustments that make a huge difference whether you are using it on camera or a strobe. If makes the light source larger, broader and softer, creating significantly more flattering light on the face. It’s also a durable piece of equipment, which means you can fold it, curve it or create most any shape that you need.

4) Flash Gels (Recommended: Rogue color-collecting gel kit)

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Why do we use color correction gels? When searching for the perfect color balance, gels are your best friend. Without them, it’s extremely difficult to stay consistent with your colors. With them, you can get the right color balance even if you are in a terrible light location, such as a gymnasium with fluorescent light.

5) A Gray Card or Expodisc

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Photo by Erik Valind

There is no such thing as a perfect camera. We still don’t have one that can understand light like the human eye. That said, if you want to get crystal-clear whites and top-notch light, you have to find a way to fool your camera into seeing things like you do, and for better understanding what your camera is seeing. A grey card provides you a convenient color-balancing tool for you to be able to color correct the scene in post by providing you a neutral point. An expo disc, on the other hand, will allow you to create a custom white-balance in camera so no post-processing will be needed to achieve the perfect white balance!

Lindsay Adler is a professional portrait and fashion photographer based in New York. Her editorials have appeared in dozens of publications internationally including Bullett Magazine, Zink Magazine, Fault and more. She regularly contributes to a variety of major photo publications including Professional Photographer, Rangefinder Magazine, and Popular Photography.

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.