This is the second in my series of articles on "How to Get Small" in assembling a professional photography kit. I've always enjoyed the challenge of doing more with less, and it's been particularly on my mind over the past year as I've spent a lot of time in faraway places, flying with laughably small luggage allowances, encountering unexpected gear-intensive photo opportunities, and exploring on foot or in crowded vehicles with way too many passengers.
Super-Portable Basic Lighting Kit
There's nothing new here, but I thought I'd write this up because I've found lately that not everybody who needs to know about this gear does. Schlepping big bags of light stands and mods around is no fun unless somebody else is paying an assistant to do it for you, and sometimes that's just not gonna happen. So, I've come up with a basic kit for two hotshoe flash units that will fit in a smallish tripod bag I can easily sling across my back. Three key ingredients: tiny, lightweight stands, umbrellas and - for the truly geeky weight-saver - even umbrella brackets.
First, the Manfrotto Nano light stand ($58). It weighs just over 2 lbs. and extends to about 6'. There are regular stands of similar weight and price that get taller, but what sets the Nano (and clones) apart is the very short collapsed size: just 19". Now, 6' may not seem tall enough - and if you want to get a softbox above head height it's not - but an umbrella tilted down toward a portrait subject a few feet away is at just the right height for most people.
Next, the Westcott Collapsible White Umbrella ($30). This opens up to a full 43" and has a removable black backing for shoot-through use, so it's quite handy, but, as with the Nano, what sets it apart is the tiny collapsed length: Just 14.5". I've had mine for several years, and they go on pretty much every job with me, whether I need 'em or not.
Finally, the Smith-Victor UM5 Umbrella Mount ($19) to hold your flash, stand and umbrella all together. Compared to most umbrella brackets, this one's a little jewel. Not what you'd want for a big, heavy monolight, but perfect for a hotshoe flash. To hold the flash, you can thread on either a radio slave receiver or a simple cold shoe.
All of this adds up to a basic kit that's adaptable to a variety of needs, easy to set up and breakdown, and so portable that I often bring it with me even if I don't expect to need it, just because - location photographer's mantra - you never know.