Photographers’ Go-To Lighting Tools

March 27, 2013

Portrait photographer Payam likes the black-and-white T55 Griffolyn, a textile light modifier. 

We asked photographers who shared their Lighting Recipes in our March issue to describe the go-to gadgets they rely on the most. Their selections ranged from sophisticated light sources to simple, lo-fi materials they repurpose to creative effect in the studio or on location.

The Light Modifier Payam Borrowed from Gaffers
Portrait photographer Payam began looking into the tools that motion picture gaffers and directors of photography used in an effort to find “affordable and versatile lighting that is easy to travel with, light and inexpensive,” he says.

He found a textile light modifier called the Griffolyn T55, which is manufactured by Advantage Gripware, comes in 6×6-, 8×8- and 12×12-foot sizes, and has black and white sides.

“What I enjoy about [the] Griff is that you have a very specular, yet matte, white surface that you can use as a nice sourced fill light or as a main light, that has a bit more snap to it compared to matte white surfaces,” Payam says.

“I enjoy being able to place the Griff on a frame or simply attach it to a wall if I need to open up an environment or create an ambient environment.

“The fantastic side of the Griff is that there is a very specular black side to it. The black is a wonderful source of light if your production can afford it, as it sucks up about 3.5 stops. It offers beautiful catchlights, depending on the placement and shape of heads, and it offers a beautiful light fall-off on the subject’s skin….

“Another fun element to Black Griff is that it solarizes whites, so there are a lot of variations this light can offer a photographer all for about $150 for a 12×12.”

Adds Payam: “The most important thing is to ensure that you keep Griff clean and new. I even polish it with Armor All to ensure that it has a nice sheen.”

Lighting Recipe: Payam’s Portrait with an Art Installation

Naomi Harris’s Indispensable Location Gear
Naomi Harris frequently uses lights when shooting portraits and documentary-style photos outdoors. That means she’s frequently previewing her images outdoors, too. “My go-to tool is my laptop hood for shooting outdoors.” She used to drape a sweatshirt to cloak her screen until she bought a hood specifically made to block  light and reflections. “It also protects from elements like rain or sand blowing on a beach. Much easier to take a quick gander at the screen rather than waiting for eyes to refocus under a hot sweatshirt.

“I also never travel without my multi plug adaptor. It’s circular so you can actually plug into all six spots.” The circular design leaves more room around each outlet to plug in bulky chargers than an ordinary power strip. “This way you can plug into all spots and often I get to a hotel room that shockingly only have one electrical outlet in it and I need to charge like 4 batteries as well as my cell phone and laptop.”

Lighting Recipe: Naomi Harris’s Arctic Portrait
Brian Bloom’s Tried and True Lighting Tool
“In the digital age so many people have gotten away from using light meters,” says Brian Bloom, portrait, still life and landscape photographer. “They take a guess, and shoot, then adjust, which is probably fine most of the time. But a light meter can tell what’s happening with light (especially changing sunlight…) and how much light is coming from each source—the ratio of light.”

He has advice for photo assistants:  “Bring a light meter and know how to use it. It shows a respect for the craft. Nowadays, if an assistant shows up with a light meter, you know he/she is the real deal.”

As important as a light meter is to Bloom, he says there’s one other thing he tries to bring along on every shoot. “What I always bring is the understanding and complete acceptance that even with all my neurotic preparation, pre-production, and contingency plans, the shoot will never, ever, go as I have it worked out in my tiny little brain! Never.”
Lighting Recipe: Brian Bloom’s Gritty Boxing Gym

Ondrea Barbe’s Favorite Light-Shaping Gear
Photographer Ondrea Barbe tells PDN that she typically uses a single light source when shooting beauty. She also brings a variety of small tools to bounce the light and bring sparkle to the model’s eye. “On all my shoots I bring small silver cards that I have cut and fashioned for bounce light. I also bring some Profoto light-shaping tools that are pristine silver and not beat up and scuffed (like you can get in studio rentals). Depending on the light effect I want, I will bring hand crafted mirrors, sparkles, and props that can be used to enhance a mood in the lighting.”

Lighting Recipe: Ondrea Barbe’s Luminous Eyelashes

Dan Saelinger’s Favorite Lights and Fill Material
Known for conceptual still-lifes, Dan Saelinger says the sci-fi test tube shot he shared with PDN is typical for his work, because it put to use two of his favorite tools.

“I would say my go-to piece of equipment that I never leave behind are my grid sets. I’m a big fan of multiple points of light. It’s not uncommon for me to have an average of eight or more lights on even a simple shoot. Grids offer me a great deal of control between all the lights and have been really key in developing my ‘look.’”

Saelinger notes that he frequently uses sheets of Plexi, “in particular with one side glossy and one side matte.” He notes, “I’ve found this particular material to be a great way to create a fill light that works in conjunction with the hard grid light I tend to use. I can’t quite put my finger on why—but it gives me a great fill that still feels sharp. It’s also incredible for controlling gradation and fall off on objects. In my studio I keep around 12 different pieces cut to a variety of sizes and shapes, from a 3-inch-diameter circle up to 4×8-foot sheets.” 

Lighting Recipe: Dan Saelinger’s Sci-Fi Still Life