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Small Lights Big Effects

I’ve had my share of 90-second portrait sessions with important people who are short on time, and the ability to set up refined three-point lighting in no time flat can be the difference between getting the shot and going home with nothing. Photographer Corey Woodruff, a small-strobe specialist, once drove seven hours round-trip to shoot for three minutes in a small gap between rain showers. He got his shot, in part because of the way he outfits his kit.

"Almost all of my work is shot on location," Woodruff says, "and I often work without an assistant. So my entire setup needs to be portable enough to haul by myself. It also has to be flexible enough to tackle as many lighting situations as possible. After a lot of trial and error, I’ve arrived at a two-bag system that works for about 90 percent of what I shoot."

Radio-controlled triggers are a must for every photographer’s location lighting kit. Placing the flash under the umbrella made this shot possible.

Outfit The Kit

The genius of Woodruff’s system is the way he divides the bags: One is his Always kit, the other is the Sometimes kit. The Always bag contains camera, lenses, small strobes and crucial accessories, whereas the Sometimes kit includes things he only needs, well, sometimes—extra lights, more stands and things that may be a pain to drag along all the time. Studio photographers may not give an accessory’s size and weight a second thought, but for location shooters, no bit of kit goes unmeasured. Consider the following for your own Always lighting bag.

Cold-shoe brackets make it easy to mount strobes to light stands; they usually offer adjustability for aiming the light and an attachment for mounting an umbrella—the exact same umbrella you might use in the studio. You also can find adapters that allow you to affix your small strobe to any number of standard softboxes from makers like Chimera, Interfit, Westcott and Photoflex. While umbrellas pack more conveniently than softboxes, you can still use your favorite big softbox even with a small strobe. Or you can consider small softboxes tailored specifically for use with handheld strobes—like the Interfit Strobies, the Chimera OB2 PRO kit, the PocketBox from Westcott and the Extra Small LiteDomes and OctoDomes from Photoflex.


What really makes a road kit shine is keeping it compact. For that, small accessories built specifically for hot-shoe-mounted strobes really fit the bill. Rogue FlashBenders are shapeable light modifiers designed to affix to a handheld strobe and reflect light (thereby softening or focusing it) in order to precisely control its output. Rolled into a tube, the FlashBender becomes a snoot, and the same piece can be flattened out to become a large bounce that emulates a softbox. (A diffusion panel also can be attached, turning it into a literal softbox, as well.)

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