Creative Lighting – Shooting with Speedlights


Electrical Engineering Workshop

This was what greeted me for the Electrical Engineering course at Washington County Community College. It was a mock-up of rooms where students do their practical training.

I thought long and hard about this shot. How do I inspire students to sign up for this course? Do I really want to show a bunch of students running wires along the 2x4s?

ELECTRICAL WORKSHOPAfter going through numerous visuals mentally, I decided the best approach would be to use the switchboard as the focus of attention. All new houses must have a switchboard. So, a shot of a student wiring up a switchboard would be something the targetted audience can relate to.


This is the inside of the mock-up room. The visual I had in mind was to make the shot look as though the student was working in a basement or a house under construction. Lighting in this situation would be pretty basic because the house is not fully wired. Normally, a bare bulb at the top is installed as a temporary measure.


My initial test shot above was made with just two flash lights, one at the top and the other at the left. There were two issues I had with this image. Firstly, there was a strong shadow on the switchboard. Secondly, the student’s face was too dark.

Final photograph of Electrical EngineeringWCCC ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING

Image Rights – Michael Chua

This is the final shot after I adjusted all the flash lights.This was exactly what I had in mind when I visualized the image. Once I saw it in my head, then it’s only a question of execution. If I don’t see the shot, I cannot shoot.

Lighting with SpeedlightsSPEEDLIGHTS

In the 80s, there wasn’t such a term like Speedlight. Battery powered flashes were either those mounted on top the camera or the larger handle mounted ones commonly used by press photographers. Nowadays, every battery powered flash is called Speedlight.

I don’t shoot with speedlights only. In professional work, I use very powerful flash lights like my Bowens Quad studio generators. The Singapore Airlines In-flight Service shot was done in my studio using the Bowens Quad system. I needed powerful flashes then because I was shooting on slow 64 ASA transparencies (Kodak Ektachrome Professional – EPR 64).

With this Electrical Engineering shot, I actually started out with a Balcar U-head taped to the beam above the student. Did a test shot and found it was too powerful, even with the Balcar power pack reduced to minimum. To speed up the shooting session, I decided to shoot with speedlights at iso 400.

I replaced the Balcar U-head with a small Vivitar 285 and adjusted the power output to about 1/16. The Vivitar 285 is seen strapped to the top beam with a yellow tape in the Lighting Setup photo above. That was my key light.

The next light was a Sunpak 611 fitted with an orange gel. This flash light was positioned behind the student but aimed at the right switchboard. The reflection of this light created the golden glow. This reflection is very important because it makes the eye focus on the main subject – the switchboard.

The final flash light was the fill. I placed a Sunpak 511 just to my right, shooting through a white umbrella. To get the right lighting balance in the final shot, I adjusted the power output of each speedlight with their power ratio feature.

When the shoot ended, it came out looking like an electrician working in a house. No one would have guessed that it was shot in a mock-up room and all done with flash lights. It would be even more unbelievable if I revealed I did it with speedlights.

That’s because speedlights are not normally used this way. They are commonly used in weddings and press work but that doesn’t mean they cannot be used in professional shoots. The main drawback I had with using all speedlights was I couldn’t see what I was shooting as there were no modeling lights. What I saw through the viewfinder was not the same as in the final image above.