Illustrating the dramatic impact that even a subtle change can bring to a photograph, commercial lifestyle photographer Corey Rich spent a day working out with cross-trainer Del Lafountain to capture a series of high-impact shots of the towering athlete as he muscled through several hundred kettlebell repetitions. Ultimately, despite an extended sequence of well-executed, meticulously composed shots, only one final image stood head and shoulders above the rest. Interestingly, while Rich’s original concept was to capture the athlete at peak form using high-powered Profoto strobes in the controlled environment of the gymnasium, the final most successful shot is composed of natural lighting with a bit of fill from a Litepanels 1×1 Bi-Color LED panel. Rich says that, as a photographer, it’s important to stay adaptable at all times, even if it goes against your original concept.
"I went into this shoot feeling like, ‘Oh, this is going to be a great opportunity to use strobes, to use Profotos,’" laughs Rich, "and you can see in the first experimental shots that the Profotos look pretty flat and pretty boring. First, I was trying to do this with bare strobes, and it looks like I tried softbox strips on each side, then I moved the strips to 45º angles to flatten the light, and finally I ended up eliminating one strip to see if I could create more directional light. Then I had that epiphany, which is, ‘Wait a second, what’s so appealing about this location is all of this natural light pouring in from the windows, the daylight!’ And that’s when I took that step back, and I said, ‘Okay, hang on, the biggest attributes to this photograph are the big flag in the background, the natural light that’s pouring in through the window and then this very appropriate subject for this setting, the CrossFit athlete. Sometimes, that’s what it really requires—to distill it down to ‘what’s working’ and ‘what’s not working,’ and then eliminate the elements that aren’t working and capitalize on the elements that are."
Rich says that they had two Profoto 7b power packs with six or seven accompanying Profoto strobe heads. "The daylight coming out of Profotos and the quality of light to come out of the Litepanels, they’re both best in class in my opinion," he says. "Beautiful daylight and an incredibly fine shape to the light. We have a variety of light modifiers for Profotos, and we have another set of modifiers for our Litepanels kit. I find that they actually work quite well in tandem. For me, it’s a scaling situation; there are plenty of jobs where a set of four Nikon Speedlights will do the job. I mean they’re actually perfect—there’s less output, they’re very mobile, and it’s very easy to work with Speedlights. I can put them in my rolling bag and take them on the plane.
"We have a variety of Litepanels in our kit, from little Cromas to big 1x1s and video lights," Rich continues. "But the instant we start bringing Litepanels, we’re committing to traveling with a lot of luggage. When you step up to Profotos, you have a lot of cases going on the plane with you. Case in point is this series of images. I shot these in South Lake Tahoe, California. There’s no rental house for Profotos within a 150-mile radius of this town. Most of my shoots are even more remote than Lake Tahoe, so I’ll bring them if I need more power and more control. The continuous lights, of course, they come out when shooting video or I know I need to bring the ambient room light up."
Rich says that after he had honed in on the available light pouring in through the gymnasium window as his base for exposure, he decided he wanted to supplement the beams of light through use of a commonly available smoke machine, which he had picked up on a lark during Halloween. An assistant fanned the smoke as he shot, and for several similar-looking exposures, the position of the smoke in the frame became the deciding factor between a good shot and an excellent shot. He also added fill since he abandoned the strobes in favor of the natural light in the gym.