“What lighting equipment should I have?”

It takes more than lighting equipment to make an image.

I recently left my teaching post as a photography lecturer, to concentrate on making images for financial service organisations. Last week, I got an email from a former student of mine that goes to the heart of what had been a series of thoughts about how I make images for clients of Financial Services Photography by Michael Wayne Plant.

The question was.

“Hi Michael,

It’s AXXXX from the “Developing a Photography Project” course.
How is your freelance photography going?
I’m going to start my portrait photography business. I’m planning to take portrait pictures for start-up companies, on location.
I would like ask you for your advice. What do you think what lighting equipment should I have?

Thank you.


Now, at first I thought how cheeky to be asking me this,  just as I’m re-establishing my own professional practice. But on reflection, I thought about it for a while and realised that what is to some is a simple question is actually quite complex. It goes to the heart of why it can be difficult being photographer. To give you an analogy it’s a bit like asking what car should I buy, because in asking this question, I do not know about budget, aesthetic preferences, taste, etc in other words what type of image do you want to make, what type of location, so on and so forth. I could have answered this was giving my former student list of equipment that they should rush out and buy, but that doesn’t really answer the question/s that are being asked by this question.

Now the reason why I am turning this into blog post on this website is that, it is something not that dissimilar to the process that I explored when deciding on what my aesthetic style I would use in my work. So let’s explore that process a little, so that you can understand the reasoning behind what we’re doing with our photography here for www.photofinance.org

The first part is what lighting equipment should I use? My answer is simple, whatever lighting equipment that will enable you to make the images that you have in your mind’s eye that will suit your clients (or potential clients) needs. That lighting equipment needs to be, reliable, dependable, easily usable, if you’re going to locations transportable and you have access to electricity or will you need to use battery power.

My solution to this question is quite simple, I have Sony battery-powered portable flash, which I can use on location with various light modifiers, however this may not reliable enough as it relies on batteries, especially when I’m photographing where I need to be able to make lots of images in a short space of time. Consequently, I need to work with lighting equipment that uses mains powered electricity. My solution to this was to buy a new monobloc studio light (like this Profoto studio light) that can go into a rolling camera case (like this by ThinkTank the added advantage is that I can also include my camera inside as well). The photographer also needs to think about what sort of lighting modifiers they will use. This is important because different types, will give different qualities to the light and some are more portable, others are quicker to set up and they all alter the light quality created by the studio lights.

For a professional photographer, some things should be important as an example; I think it is important to be efficient with your clients time, dependable with the images you’re making and these images need to be repeatable, when you’re working with multiple subjects. Often when you’re looking through photographers portfolio and you see something you like, you will want to be able to have something similar for your own image needs, so it is important that photographer can recreate the lighting and mood of the images in their portfolio or website. This consistency will only be achieved if they are working in similar ways each time. It helps if the photographer is familiar with lighting and is using similar lighting to be able to recreate with different participants and/or locations, images that reflect what they show in their portfolios.

The Second part is? Probably best answered by asking the question; What type of images do you want to make? for Financial Services Photography by Michael Wayne Plant my answer is simple, I aim to make images with the least amount of intrusion into the working environment, while respecting the security of the work place. I also aim to fulfil the image requirements of both my subject/s and the organisation/s for whom I’m photographing. I make editorial style portraits, because of my background in fashion, beauty, advertising and editorial photography. Because of my experience, I am able to direct my subjects, to enable them to relax within themselves, while in front of the camera. This for many people, especially someone not used to being in front of the camera, is actually the hardest part of being photographed. It is also in my opinion, the reason why so many people feel that, they are incapable of having a good photograph made them most of use do not know how to relax in front of the camera. We all have our own insecurities about some aspect of our physical appearance, it is a good photographer who seeks to understand what these are and to minimise them, within the photographic portrait. With experience of making portraiture, photographers develop strategies and techniques for working with subjects and overcoming insecurities that we all have to produce images, we can all be happy with.

At the moment the images that I have in the various portfolios on this website are still works in progress, as we develop connections within the financial services industry and create new images, we will be updating these portfolios.

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