Going on-location for a photography business portrait shoot does not have to be that big a deal any more.  Smaller, more powerful hot shoe "speed lights" have made on-location lighting easier.  However, when you throw in the variable of air travel, summer thunderstorms, and delayed and cancelled flights, it adds a level of "excitement" that is anything but exciting.

While traveling to Detroit for a commercial head shot portrait session, I finally had the experience of an airline losing my baggage.  If the bag just contained clothes, I could have dealt with it very easily.  However, the checked-in over-sized bag contained light stands and umbrellas, and my personal toiletries bag.  I never check in my cameras and speed lights...they always travel with me in my carry-on bag for just this reason.  Because the job only involved employee head shots for an emerging business, the lack of light stands and light modifiers was going to make the job a little challenging, but not impossible.  The fact that I didn't have my rubber ducky from my toiletries bag for the morning bath was inconvenient, but not a deal breaker.

Lighting set up for head shots in a hotel lobby with impromptu equipment

Lighting set up for head shots in a hotel lobby with impromptu equipment

The staff at the Sheraton Hotel in Novi, MI was very accommodating and helped me out wherever they could, and I can't thank them enough. They provided me with several presentation easels and three white bed sheets.  Two easels were set up to camera left and covered with a bed sheet for the main light.  A speed light was bungee-corded to another easel to camera right and was pointed at the upper part of the sheet, and the reflected light off the sheet provided a very large, soft light source on the subject.  Because this speed light was very near the subject, there was some light that spilled onto the subject's face, so a purple accent pillow from one of the chairs was clamped next to the flash on the easel as a scrim to block the light from reaching directly to the subject.  Problem solved in a very fashionable manner.

An unmodified speed light was placed on a window railing behind the subject to act as a hair light/accent light. This light was a little harsher on the side of the subject's face than I wanted, but I was able to edit this easily in post-processing.  An unmodified speed light was placed to camera right pointing straight up at the ceiling and was used to augment the ambient fill light in the entire scene.

Subject's view of the reflective panel main light (i.e. white bead sheet)

Subject's view of the reflective panel main light (i.e. white bead sheet)

The light on the subject was large and soft and ended up being very flattering, and this whole session turned out so much better than it could have if I was not able to think on my feet and work with what I was given.


Lessons learned for traveling photographers:

1.         Always, always, always carry your cameras with you and enough equipment to be able to shoot your job, even if a checked bag does not arrive at your destination when you do.

2.         Do not freak out and cancel the shoot.  Think about it and work with the situation you have at hand.  I didn't require an umbrella or softbox for these portraits...I needed a large light source.  The bed sheet and reflected speed light filled that requirement nicely.

3.        Don't get mad at anyone else.  The people you are asking for help from  did not cause any of the issues you are dealing with, so don't make it their issue.  You'll get further by asking for help and being grateful than barking out orders and demands and making everyone miserable around you.

The equipment did not end up getting lost, it just happened to be following 12 hours behind me on my trip.  I traveled from Rochester through Philadephia to get to Detroit.  By the time I had finished shooting the job and was leaving the Sheraton to go back to the Detroit airport to head home to Rochester, the bag was being delivered to the hotel.  I asked the hotel to refuse it if it was delivered, so it was returned to the Detroit airport.  I flew to Washington D.C. (Dulles airport), at which point my flight back home to Rochester was cancelled and I was rescheduled on another flight 24 hours later.  My bag, however, was flown from Detroit to Atlanta and then to Rochester.  It traveled 1,000 more miles than I did, went to different cities, and was delivered to my home by the airline...12 hours before I arrived home.

Delta Airlines was not the reason for the missing/delayed bag...I had to switch airlines to Delta halfway through my trip from Rochester to Detroit, and my bag never made the switch with me.  However, Delta Airlines did whatever they could to get the bag on it's way and get it to me....even though I flew from USAir to Delta Airlines to United Airlines on this trip.  Kudos to Delta Airlines for saving me from losing over $700 worth of equipment....and the rubber ducky in my toiletry bag.