Lighting the Way: Ian Spanier Blogs for Photoflex

By Jacqui Palumbo

Photographer Ian Spanier 

Photoflex has been manufacturing lighting equipment since 1985, and has also provided valuable lighting knowledge to photographers since its inception. New York City–based photographer Ian Spanier says the Photoflex StarLite continuous light he started out with 16 years ago is still in working condition in his collection today. Because he gained lighting knowledge through self-instruction, Spanier sought and found invaluable information through Photoflex’s Lighting Lessons. Now, nearly two decades later, as a professional advertising, editorial and portrait photographer sponsored by Photoflex, Spanier has taken on the role of providing helpful information to others by guest-blogging on Photoflex’s LiteBlog.

Spanier draws from his own experience, and selects topics that are useful to photographers at any level. “I try to write about something that may be of interest to both young and experienced photographers alike,” he explains. 

His posts center on efficiency without sacrificing quality: in “One Light is Enough,” Spanier outlines how he photographed different subjects using a single light. “All too often, photographers these days think they need tons of equipment to make a good image,” Spanier writes in his post. “This line of thinking can get real expensive, real fast.” 

During a shoot with Michael Chernow, manager and co-owner of The Meatball Shop in New York City, Spanier re-created Irving Penn’s signature “North Light” using only a large Photoflex OctoDome. His small OctoDome saved the day on a different shoot for Danskin in which the sun was too strong and his budget was limited. Spanier shot between buildings in a shady area using only one light to achieve the desired look. He also uses the small OctoDome in tight quarters when there simply isn’t room for an elaborate setup. 

Recreating North Light: For this shot, I used a Photoflex Large OctoDome. I wanted to recreate the feeling of North Light, which refers to a style of lighting made famous by Irving Penn. In a literal sense, it’s like using natural light coming from a Northern exposure. I used both baffles in the OctoDome with no silver or gold panels inserted. It’s a very white, diffused quality of light. The OctoDome was nearly tabletop, maybe at a 25-degree angle right above my subject. I was literally backed into the bottom of the OctoDome. — Spanier

In another blog post, “The Two-Minute Shoot,” Spanier shares a lighting setup that delivers rapid, quality results when the clock is ticking. While on assignment for Muscle & Fitness, Spanier was asked to photograph the Florida Gators’ NCAA College Football team during a practice session. The athletes were pulled after training sessions one by one to shoot with Spanier, who needed to take quick shots that maintained a consistent look and quality of light. To achieve this, Spanier set up a small Photoflex HalfDome with a strobe, and a key light above it in a small OctoDome. He finds this setup takes “remarkably” little effort to get a great shot from each subject, and he has translated it to corporate shoots and other projects where time is severely limited.

Spanier hopes that his blog posts will resonate with photographers the way that Photoflex lighting lessons resonated with him. “It’s the little details that count,” he says. “If you can pick up a new trick, or even be inspired to modify an idea from the blog to make it your own, then it has accomplished the right intention.”

A Quick Save: This image for Danskin’s Activewear catalogue is what you might call a “save.” The planned shot, along with a way-too-long shot list for one day, was to have our model jumping rope or holding the jump rope in the middle of a brick-lined street. Outside on a hot summer day, where the sun would not quit, we tried and tried to make it work, but it just wasn’t happening. Working with a limited budget, we were without enough power to get beyond the extremely strong sun, and had no option for overhead diffusion or semblance of shade nearby. We were quickly running out of time before having to move on to the next set, and ultimately had to abandon the shot. As we drove to the next location, I spotted the wall of an apartment building in slight shade of another building. We quickly pulled over and with a Photoflex TritonFlash and Small OctoDome (front diffusion face and gold panels inserted), we captured the look the creative director had wanted from the start. — Spanier

For more from Ian Spanier, visit
To check out the Photoflex LiteBlog, visit



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