Travel Light and Don’t Mind the Weather; Exotic Location Shooting Tips with Andre Rowe

I recently went an assignment on to the Bahamas, namely the Great Abaco Island. Having asked the proper questions such as to the travel arrangements and weather predictions, I knew what best to plan for. We would only be a small number of people, traveling by small commuter plane, taxi, ferry, golf carts, small boats, and by foot. To add to that, we may or may not have still waters, calm winds, or constant sunlight during the day. So, with this trip, I faced two very familiar “photographer” challenges that I did manage to overcome quite easily. The two challenges were:

· How do you travel “with” lighting in a lightweight manner? This is to further ask, how specifically does one accomplish the task so as to make single trips all “single-handedly”?

· How does one prepare and plan to shoot in cloudy/ seldom-sunny weather? Which then begs the additional question as to how does one “not” make the weather seem cloudy?

How did I manage to travel in a lightweight manner? Well, it starts with knowing your limits on how much weight you are able to carry “on foot” over reasonable distances. My capacity is about 50 lbs. – 60 lbs. when properly balanced. The next step is determining what you “must” have with you at all times, and trim the weight of everything else that is in excess of those needs. Besides the obvious camera and camera-related items (all of which I keep in a backpack camera case), I must have a power pack, at least one lampbase, lightstand, modifier, and tripod.

This is all that I brought and worked with:

* Nikon D3

* 85mm f/1.4

* 24-70mm f/2.8

* 80-200mm f/2.8

* Sekonic L758DR lightmeter

* Mobil Pack

* Mobilite 2 Lampbase (x2)

* Pulso Adapter for Mobilite 2

* Transmitter RFS

* Generic 3ft. Octa Softbox

* Manfrotto STACKER lightstand

* Gitzo 5 Series Systematic Carbon Fiber Tripod

* Tenba TTP34 TriPak case

My total camera case weight was less than 20 lbs carried on my back. The Broncolor Mobil “kit” had a total weight less than 35 lbs. considering that there were two lamps included (one of which I actually didn’t use). The Mobil kit comes in it’s own lightweight attaché style case that easily fits into any airline overhead compartment. The Tenba TriPak had a total weight of about15 lbs. due mostly to the fact that the Gitzo tripod was a 9 lb. (total weight) carbon fiber tripod and the Manfrotto lightstand was a lightweight “fold-flat” aluminum design weighing only 2.5 lbs. The 3 ft. Octa when collapsed also fit into the TriPack with a total weight of 3 lbs.. My total carry weight was about 60 lbs. in all, easily enough fit on a golf cart, small boat, and carry on foot.

How does one prepare and plan to shoot in cloudy/ seldom-sunny weather? The first thing to do is not panic. I heard the story of one photographer who fly in from out of town to work on a catalog down in the Florida Keys during the rainy season. Unfortunately, he was stuck with clouds all day, and rain all evening. He was unable to use his reflectors of which he depended upon. He was also resistant towards using a dedicated flash for fear of cheapening the expected results. He panicked, and told the client that the shoot could not happen due to the weather. On the flip side of that, I actually live in Florida, and have done numerous shoots during cloudy/rainy weather, and have always gotten unique & attractive results such as this cover shot of Wakeboarding Magazine.

So what do you do when the clouds set in and linger? Grab your lightmeter, take an ambient reading of your scene (with greater emphasis on the background area), and prepare to soften your light source with a softbox, umbrella or direct bounce). The most assured thing to expect when conditions are cloudy is that all of the shadows within the image area will be extremely soft and or diffused. With such insufficient light so as to properly use a reflector, you are left with strobe lighting as a wonderful alternative. The intent now however is to keep all of the shadows produced by your strobe to an extreme minimum, mirroring the shadows in the scene. The use of my softbox was one important factor in achieving that shadow-diffusion, however, it was my initial ambient reading that was truly the key.

I wanted to use only enough light from the Mobil kit to not only illuminate my subject, but also enrich the scene with color by way of the light itself. We all know how dull and lifeless a cloudy scene can be, well that all changes when Mobil kit comes out. I meter my subject for the proper Mobil light intensity, and I lengthen my shutter speed to allow for greater influence of the ambient light. Here is an example:

The ambient when cloudy measured 1/250th @ f/4.5 at ISO 200. This is also the same as 1/60th @ f/9.5 at ISO 200. I therefore only need enough light from the Mobil kit to change the 1/250th @ f/4.5 at ISO 200 reading to 1/250th @ f/6.3 at ISO 200 reading. This is a specific increase of 1-stop on the aperture, which under those conditions equated to approximately 60% of my exposure being the Mobil kit. I would then lengthen my shutter speed by changing my exposure to 1/60th @ f/9.5 at ISO 200 WITHOUT adjusting the light output. This change alters the light ratio to approximately 30% of my exposure being that of the Mobil kit. Under this condition, I have both increased my image saturation (which diminished the dullness of the cloudy day) and still maintained softened shadow detail.

Now another interesting point to note, or even a “tip” if you will, is to consider keeping your subject in the shade when using the Mobil kit on a cloudy day. This is recommended despite the fact that there is no direct sunlight to begin with. This action has two benefits:

* The first is that you will have total influence over the light illuminating your subject. This is very important due to the fact if you decide to drag the shutter for an extended period of time (2+ stops more than necessary) just to brighten your scene, then at least you will still retain some control over the light illuminating the subject.

* The second is that should the ambient light within the scene change during your shooting (i.e. the sun pokes in and out), then at least the light on your subject will remain constant.

Here are a few additional tips to consider when shooting on a cloudy day with the sun poking in and out of the clouds:

· Try to keep your scene as open as possible to record as “much” natural light as you can, especially when the sun is actively moving in and out.

· When you know that you the sun is gone, meter of the ambient and expose only for the ambient. Keep your power pack levels to a minimum.

· Also, when the you know that the sun is gone for an extended period, and when you are using lamps, keep your scene as tight as possible, so as to have your lamps illuminate your scene as well as the subject(s).

· Avoid wide-angle lenses on cloudy days. Wide-angle lenses allow the viewer to survey more of the image than may be desired. So if the background scene is dull or dark compared to the subject, then the image may seem depressed.

· If you are shooting at a comfortable shutter speed, and have the patience to do so, wait for the sun to break when shooting. With a power pack, you will only need the least amount of natural lighting to keep a proper balance throughout your exposure.

· Even though you may be using a power pack, you can still control it’s influence on the shot by merely bouncing it off of the surroundings. This often solves two recurring issues: 1) Addressing the harshness that comes with direct light and 2) How to seamlessly blend artificial light with natural light.

· Whenever your meter tells you, overexpose by up to 2/3 of a stop. If it’s cloudy, clipping in non-existent shadows is a pointless concern.

Andre Rowe

Andre divides his time between NYC and Miami. Andre kicks off a traveling seminar series starting in the North East this month. For more information please email us at

2 replies
  1. cepi rusli
    cepi rusli says:

    Thanks Andre for sharing your comprehensive knowlage of lighting technical aspect. great photowork ! Cheers from Jakarta-Indonesia

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