If you read the previous thread about the Strobist workshop, then you’ll recognize some of what follows.  This all came out of the last hour or two of the workshop, when a group of us decided that by staying inside, we were missing out on the best stuff.  In the end, we have to thank the smokers – it it wasn’t for them these photos wouldn’t have been made.  They must have stepped out the back door of the conference room a dozen times during the day, lighting up on the loading dock, before somebody finally realized that the it made a kickass stage to work on.

It started small, just a couple of us out there with a single monoblock strobe & softbox, swapping the PocketWizard between cameras and sharing exposure settings.  While one of us was shooting, another played the role of Voice-Activated Lightstand and held the strobe aloft.  We got our model up on the lid of a rusty old dumpster and shot him against the brick wall, and then really lit a fire and shot him against the sky.

This is the sort of thing that we’ve all read about on the Strobist site, but I think all too many of us have never actually done.  Well, we did it.  The whole thing was trial & error; plug in the settings, blast off a shot, and chimp to see how it worked.  We just figured it out as we went, although in retrospect, the setting was practically custom-made to our needs.

Being behind the building, the loading dock was in mid-afternoon shadow, which made it much easier to overpower the ambient light with a strobe.  We put the models against the blue sky and shot at or near the max sync speed, f/11-f/16, ISO 100.  (The range in f-stops helps determine the lighting ratio between the model and the sky.)

The trick to this kind of work is, keep the light close to the model.  I mean CLOSE – as in, just barely out of the camera frame (this is where a VAL comes in real handy).  The closer it is, the more light is reaching the model without dissipating out into space.  With the monoblocks we were using, the power was at about half the entire time; with Speedlights, a full-power punch was needed.

And as you might expect, a single model evolved into all three of them out there, in the cold, poor Joe with his shirt off, looking incredibly badass.  They didn’t take a lot of prompting, changing poses every few shots, usually to something even better than the one before.  This is the part that I find the most amazing – take a look at these shots:

One was taken with an AB + softbox on a stand.  The other was taken with my Speedlight ProKit 6 reflector on a hotshoe-mounted 430EX Speedlite, shooting at full power.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t see a whole lot of difference between the two.  At the time I was being impatient waiting my turn in line, so I threw the ProKit & flash on just to see if it would work.  I’m blown away at how well it worked!  I think that if I had stuck it on a lightstand and fired it off-camera, the difference between the two would have been almost impossible to see.

And frankly, if you can’t guess which photo used which lighting setup, I’m not telling!

This is the kind of shooting that lies at the heart of the Strobist concept, and it was an incredible thing to see a whole group of photogs squeezed onto that tiny loading dock, models balanced on a dumpster, and everyone taking turns and rocking the light.  It goes to show what a single strobe can do; it goes to show what a simple, even ugly, location can be made into.

It also shows what you can do with a group of great models.  These are three really fine folks who aren’t a fraction as mean as they look in the photos.  In fact, it became hard for them to keep a straight face with some of the poses, and there was a lot of laughing.

And the stinkin’ dumpster has probably never seen that much love!

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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