I am planning to make a series of photos of passers-by at different locations. The idea is to ask people who walk by at, say, a music festival, a pedestrian zone, a park, or similar places to pose for me for five minutes. I want to emphasize how different these people are by having the same, neutral background and light in all the pictures. The style I'm going for is similiar to the portraits by Thomas Ruff: White background and rather diffuse light.

Example image: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/93/40/80/9340805a954a153b55cb78f056984c2b.jpg

This would be easy in a studio, but I need to be able to put up my equipment at public places, which makes studio flash lights impractical. Using backdrop paper rolls might also be complicated, since they require setting up two tripods and I think even very slight wind could make them unusable. Obviously, with strong wind or rain, it's probably impossible to do anything, but I would at least like to get similar and reproducible results in sunny or cloudy weather. Being able to also do this at night would be a nice plus. I will have an assistant with me who could do things like holding a softbox.

So to summarize, I am looking for a light setup that can do the following things:

  • Can be operated outside and in public places.
  • Allows to shoot portraits and upper body photos.
  • Creates diffuse light and background with little structure.
  • Is as independent as possible from weather conditions.
  • Can be done with two people.

I'm aware that a setup that does all these things at once probably does not exist and that I will have to make some compromises.


2 Answers 2


You can prepare a booth.

There are some portable booths on the market, but you can construct one using PVC tubes and either white or black cloth.

If you use translucent cloth you can use it as source light.

But the truth is that you can easily overpower the sun using two Speedlight with softboxes (not umbrellas so you do not turn them into parachutes) as you can put the lights very close to your subject.

Assuming a ISO 100, at 1/200 sync speed, lets say you need f8 in the shade. With the flashes I'm pretty sure you can go to f22 or f32.

In extreme cases you either use a couple HSS flash or the neutral density technique. Just carry enough rechargeable batteries.

If you have direct sunlight on the face you can simply use an umbrella to eliminate the direct sunlight.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you, there are interesting points in your answer. I will think about your ideas. \$\endgroup\$
    – Roman
    Mar 4, 2017 at 10:36

This is certainly possible, even by yourself with the help of a hand truck/dolly if need be. You can use portable battery powered studio strobes such as alien bees and soft box's or umbrellas. As simple or complex lighting a set up as you like. In some locations you may be able to use a small portable generator.

You could use use one of those pop up canopy's like the vendors at farmers markets use, 10'x10 or 12'x12'. It is a shelter from weather by design and Costco is a good place to get one. They have adjustable legs for height changes. The opaque roof would diffuse bright sunlight and some have side panels that could help eliminate too much ambient light bleeding in from the side.(or add gobo's or other light blocking material as needed.) Wind is an issue with these but you can stake them down or tie them down to heavy objects and if it gets too windy you would not be shooting anyway. You could hang the background of your choice from the struts of one side of the canopy or light stand if you have them. Depending on your lens and portrait cropping you may be standing outside of the shelter so an umbrella attached to your tripod (use a tripod) would keep you and you camera sheltered.

Spring clamps and gaffers tape are your friend, you should always have plenty of both in your location bag.

At minimum take a lot of water but I would take a cooler full of a few adult beverages and water for myself and a variety of water and whatever for your "volunteer subjects"

This is essentially a portable studio and i see no need for compromises.

I suppose if your criteria is as little structure as possible then you may have to compromise and not use a shelter and just use light stands, you then have to work with and/or around the sun with reflectors and diffusers.

  • \$\begingroup\$ As you assumed, little structure is important. It's not easy for an amateur to get permission for setting up things like generators or canopys in a park or pedestrian zone. At least that seems to be the case where I live (Munich, Germany). \$\endgroup\$
    – Roman
    Mar 4, 2017 at 10:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ The generator is is unnecessary I just put it out there as an after thought. The battery powered alien bee's would be perfect. You did not specify that you would need to get permission. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alaska Man
    Mar 4, 2017 at 12:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, I should probably have mentioned that permission might be an issue. I thought this was obvious from saying I wanted to operate the setup in public places. At least in Germany, it is not allowed to even sit on a chair and play guitar in a pedestrian zone without permission. \$\endgroup\$
    – Roman
    Mar 5, 2017 at 0:49

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