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On Location PhotographySubmitted by Michael on Thu, 2010-06-17 13:11

Got no Strip Light? What would MacGyver do?

If I got the chance to shoot some awesome bodyscapes but I don’t have a striplight with me – should I let this chance just pass? Dude, no way!

When I was young, I’ve seen MacGyver on TV. Give that dude a ballpoint pen and a chewing gum and he will manufactor the wildest things out of it. A bomb, a laser or whatever he needs on his quest. So in situtation where I need a striplight but I just don’t have one I will ask myself: What would MacGyver do?

You can see my answer in the video below. It has to do with two speedlighs,  kitchen paper and some Scotch tape. Well, maybe I’m not exactly as skillful and stylish as MacGyver, but hey, the light we got was awesome.

Check it out in the video and then try it out yourself:

When you try out this photography technique at home, please use speedlights for your photo shoot. Don’t try it out with lightsources that produce high temperatures. I mean, of course you want your models to look hot, but you don’t want them to go off in flames, do you? With that said, here is the lighting diagram:

(1) Two models laying on the reflector
(2) Reflector, black, 4 ft. x 6 ft., 120 cm x 180 cm
(3) 2x Speedlight GN58, 1/4 power, 28mm, Group B
(4) white kitchen paper
(5) DSLR, ca. 100mm, 1/200s, f/16, ISO400, Speedlight GN58 at 1/32 power, Group A

I wish you good light!
-- Michael

Models: Linxi and Sasha
Location: Hotelroom in Beijing
Photos: Michael Zelbel
Postproduction: Renzy Memije




Ha, Ha. You Know, you're better than McGiver.
Nice photos.
Best regards.

Better? Not at all.
Let's hook up on Facebook.

Good light to you too! Thanks for that little tut there. It was very well put together and you got some great results. Shame about the grey strips in your images, but I understand that you Canon shooters have to put up with some of those little niggles, hehe ;)

> Shame about the grey strips

I'll soon upload it on my portfolio website. Without censorship strips. But over here in the blog I'd like to keep it safe for work. I don't want to offend readers.

> I understand that you Canon shooters
> have to put up

Yes, absolutely. And it sucks. One problem is, that my little 5D MK II gives me much more resolution than camera's of other brands in that price range. Another bummer is, that the Canon lenses in general are sharper than comparable models of other Japanese brands. And combined this is a real issue. It makes my photos so sharp and crisp, I even have to add those censorship stripes, just in order to guarantee for the safety of the viewers, who otherwise might hurt their eyes with all the sharpness and clarity, you know?

That is crazy cool! Well done and well thought out. I agree the shots are fantastic and resemble hard work developing a seamless background, lighting (always key) and knowledge of your lenses and camera. Really like seeing innovation at work. Well done.

Thanks a lot Donn. I'm always happy to share know how about cameras and lighting.

Great and simple idea! I guess sometimes we forget to think simple.

Thanks a lot Cesar. That is an excellent takeaway.

For someone with not much equipment like me was a great video to learn simple strip lighting. Photos were very sensuous and wonderful!! Thank you

Thank you, Dennis. I'm in the same boat - at least when I am in China. During those times I only have the gear that fits into my hand luggage and my one, single bag of check in luggage.

Love your humour and the neat solution.

All I need now is two portable and vertical TV cabinets for location strip lights..!!

Absolutely fantastic !!

great videos... great info and tricks.. good help .. thanks for the good videos and keep making for all.

Klasse Idee mit dem Küchenkrepp :-)
Super schönes Ergebnis.

Ahoi Claus

I am bouncing back and forth from youtube to here so I can view the video and then comment on them. I feel like just in this short time of knowning and seeing your video that I have learned so much can't wait to put them into practice.

Thanks for the video! Reminded me that If I only have the built-in flash with me of the Canon 30D I will place a white restaurant napkin in front of it, which has about the same translucency as the paper towels you used. It meant I had to increase the flash intensity by 1/5 stops but would result in a nicely diffused light.

Sorry I meant 1.5 stops..

Hahaha, a napkin - very cool! I guess a lot of people bought the new 7D - your trick should work on that one as well. Usually the camera should compensate for the napkin automatically. But OK, pushing it 1 1/2 f-stops, no big deal.
Thanks for the nice suggestion!

Hey, I'm lovin' your work...and your humour and inventiveness. It is truly inspiring. I just discovered you tonight. I loved the horsey themed shoot, especially you in a hay-skirt with whip! You are way too funny. It's so refreshing to see the 'teach' as someone that isn't all techie and nerdy. I love germans and drive german too! I'm a northern Manchester girl, living in London, UK and look forward to seeing more great inspiration from you. I am looking to incorporate more off-camera lighting to my work. Thanks for the great videos, diagrams and BIG PERSONALITY! Cheers! Keep up the good work.

Blush! Thanks for the compliments! BTW, Emily and I were living in Wapping back in the days when we were London based.

That was some serious MacGyver action right there!
Clever as MacGyver may be, I bet he couldn't figure out how to control light like Cousin Michael!

I have a similar entertainment center and I want to try this out asap...

thanks so much for sharing, it is much appreciated!

Gutes Licht!

Thanks a lot cousin Hunter. And let us know how it worked for you!

Hey Michael,
I just love your blog and your great video tutorials. You are awesome. I'm a German amateur (from Wanne-Eickel ;-)) but living in Hanoi, Vietnam since some years ago.
Any plans to make a shoot here some day... not that far from Beijing...

I'd love to drop by, Chris. I don't know when/if I get a job over there any time soon. But if you have a special idea regarding a particular shoot, let's talk about that.

Well explained and a great idea. I like the approach! You could also use the same approach with a bookshelf, for a higher up softbox strip effect.

Hi Michael, i'd like to thank you also.

Great ideas with not using all the expensive equipment that we'd have to try buy, to get the results you get, instead you have shown that even beginners without all the gear can achieve similar results with everyday objects that nearly every household has available.


steve :)

Thanks a lot, Steve!

I think that was great shoot. It was very well put together and you got some great results. Shame about the grey strips in your images. Thank you.

Hey thanks for all of your great videos. I'm loving them and slowly getting through them all. I am becoming addicted to them ;) Just one question- I have watched the video with making a softbox with the shower curtain and now I have watched this one with the strip light, but can you please explain to me what is the difference between a softbox and a strip light in terms of lighting and results???

Cheers :)

Yes, let's say your subject has a certain height and width and you point a softbox or a striplight on your subject. Then the difference is:

Softbox: Soft lighting accross the height AND the width
Striplight: Soft light across height OR width, hard light along the other axis

The reason for that is the difference in shap of the lightmodifier. A softbox is nearly square, while a striplight is pretty high, but slim. The light is soft on our subject as long as the lightsource is big in relationship to the subject. If you use a 5 feet tall striplight to light your model and you have it upright, then the height of the light is big. So from top to bottom the light will be smoothe on your model. But if it just one feet wide, then this is not so big. So the light from left to right is kinda hard and edgy.

In this video it's the other way around, because the striplight is "laying". The light is floating smoothly horizontally over our models. But from top to bottom, the light is falling off very quickly. This makes our rather thin models appearing nicely three dimensional. If we use a softbox for that, then the curves would stand out a little bit less.


Thanks a lot, cousin Ed!

I love your work! I love the way you play with the light! I love the way you explain! It is so much useful! Do you have any recommendations regarding where could i take a good photography course?

If you are serious about taking better photos then my coaching group would teach you all you need to improve your photography.

Hard to get my thick German accent? Here's the transcript:

Dear photography friend! Hi! I'’m Michael Zelbel.

I’'m in Beijing and we are here in our apartment hotel.

We will use this apartment to shoot some cool bodyscapes.

For that, with me, I’'ve got my friend, Sasha and Linxi,

and I will show you exactly how we’re going to shoot this cool bodyscapes

with very, very little effort and very little equipment.

So keep on watching.

Here you see one reason why I really prefer this apartment hotels over a regular hotel:

They come with this lovely little built in kitchen.

Not that I am good on cooking, but I really like it.

Look what we can find over here: kitchen paper.

Simple, white, a little bit transparent kitchen paper.

This can act as a cool diffuser for our flashlights, for our speed lights.

So, if we find something to attach this kitchen paper,

then we can simulate a strip light with it.

This is what I’m going to do right now.

I found this little TV rack, which will act as a horizontal strip light.

I will use my kitchen paper as a diffuser.

So again, it's powered by two speedlights.

I will place one over here, one over there,

and in front of it, I will now tape the kitchen paper.

I hope this is going to work. I had no rehearsal.

While you patiently watch me taping the kitchen paper to the TV rack,

I can probably answer the question:

"Is there a reason for the speedlights to be gelled with orange gel in front of them?"

Actually, no! There is no real reason.

It's just because all day I am shooting over here

in this mixed light Tungsten and flashlight environment,

Sometimes I’m shooting mixed light.

And sometimes, like right now, I'm shooting just flash light.

I know myself. I know I will forget to attach gels.

I will forget to change the whitebalance

from Tungsten to flashlight the on or the other time.

So I stay with one setting: for the whole day the flashes are gelled.

For the whole day the whitebalance is set to Tungsten.

That’s it. Nothing more.

In this particular scene, I will set up the speed lights manually.

I will start with 1/4 of the power for each of them.

Again I will use the on camera flash to trigger the speedlights.

I will probably leave the on camera flash on at 1/32nd of power,

just to fill in the really dark shadows. Nothing more.

I'’ll do one more thing to this set up

because I will shoot bodyscapes over here in front of this striplight.

In bodyscapes you sometimes see the far-away background

and I want that to be black.

Another thing I want is: I want to have something for the models to lay on.

So I will put this reflector-material, the black side of it,  right over here.

Over there, inside, it will be very black anyway.

But over here, some light might hit the ground.

While the wooden floor is nice, I prefer it black, really black.

This material will do the job.  It will care for making it really black.

There you have it!

Then let’'s give it a quick try with the camera.

Wonderful. That’'s a good strip light.

So we’re going to try it out.

[..and the last one! Xiexie!]

So, this was working just beautifully.

I really like the photos that we made.

Of course, I was a bit lucky to find such an ideal piece of furniture to act as a strip light.

But, hey, what’'s life without luck.

I hope you are lucky as well when you look around at what you can use.

And I hope you can find it a little bit inspiring.

If you find it inspiring, please give me feedback. I'm loving that.

In any case, I wish you a lot of fun with your shoots and good light!

See you soon.

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