How To: Light an Outdoor Location with Strobes

Scott Markewitz photographs a professional mountain biker on location.

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Exposure data: 1/250 sec at f/5.6, ISO 200.Scott Markewitz

Lighting illuminates, sure. But that’s not all. It can suggest shape and dimension, draw attention to specific subject details or qualities, freeze action, or separate your subject from the background. In this amazing image by Scott Markewitz, it does all of these things.

Markewitz, based in Salt Lake City, UT, and Provence, France, is a ski, action, and adventure specialist. He was hired by helmet maker Giro to photograph professional mountain biker Paul Basagoitia doing a “Superman Seat Grab,” as the trick is called.

By carefully lighting both his subject and the scene, Markewitz managed to...

Freeze fast action.He captured the rapidly moving cyclist sharply by using three special, short flash-duration Elinchrom Ranger Free Lite A (for "Action") strobe heads. Powered by Elinchrom battery packs, the Ranger A heads have a minimum flash duration of just 1/5120 sec. Had Markewitz used heads with more common, slower flash durations, we would see faint but visible motion blur.

Focus attention. Notice how Markewitz lit only the track and ramp, while throwing the fore- and backgrounds into dark shadow. He did this by focusing the Ranger A heads' output through narrow, 50-degree High Performance reflectors. Not as pinpointed as a snoot, but with a significantly tighter beam than normal 65- to 95-degree Elinchrom accessories, the High Performance reflectors let him selectively light only those areas that he deemed important.

Separate subject and background. By firing up his lights to produce output that was brighter than the ambient light, Markewitz was able to set an exposure that would render the clouds as dark, causing his subject to pop from the distant background.

Suggest shape. By backlighting the ramp that catapulted Basagoitia skyward, Markewitz highlighted and underscored its curved shape, which helps convey something of the biker's thrilling trajectory.

Scott Markewitz (www.scottmarkewitz.com__) has more than 400 magazine covers to his credit.

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Scott Markewitz froze this high-flying shot dramatically by using the right lights and an unusual strategy of placing batteries and a light below ground level. He started by mounting a 70–200mm f/2.8G VR Nikkor on his Nikon D3. He then set up three Elinchrom Free Lite A heads which were powered by Elinchrom Ranger RX AS battery packs. (The pack juicing the backlight is below ground and not visible in the diagram.) So that the foreground pack not be in the photo, Markewitz dug a hole for it. Similarly, the backlight was placed below ground level to prevent its output from reaching his lens and producing flare. He balanced the light sources by metering with a Sekonic L-558R flash meter.
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Nikon D3 (discontinued)
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Nikon 70– 200mm f/2.8G ED VR II ($2,150, street)
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Sekonic L-558R flash meter ($570, street)
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Elinchrom Free Lite A strobe head ($710, street)
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