Flash Photography in Tight Spaces

In the heart of the Sonoran Desert, surrounded by ancient saguaro cacti and majestic mountains, lies a city. A city filled with a melange of human life, animal life . . . and hot dogs.

While Tucson is known for many gastronomic delights, the most beloved is probably the spicy “Sonoran Dog.” Our friends at You Sly Dog Food Truck serve the BEST dogs in Tucson, and we wanted to help them by shooting some new images to use in their marketing.

The biggest challenge? Controlling off-camera flash lighting in such a small space. Cue: MagMod!

Softbox Lighting for the Hero Shot

I wanted to get a “hero shot” of Ramon as he ran the truck. Since this photo was taken at 5 PM in the bright Tucson sun, I needed to add lighting inside the truck in order to match the ambient light outside. I used a MagBox 24” Octa with the Fabric Diffuser and 1 Godox AD-200 in the front doorway to light up the interior of the truck behind Ramon.

I chose to use the MagBox as a background light specifically because of its ability to give a nice large, even spread of light. This served as a background fill light as well as a kicker light on the left side of Ramon’s head and shoulders.

To light Ramon's face, I used a SuperClamp to hang a speedlight from the inside partition of the truck to his right (camera left). On the SuperClamp, I attached a MagShoe and a Godox V860 with a MagGrid to prevent light from going anywhere but my subject.

Check out the image below. This is what it would have looked like without any off-camera lighting. In order to more properly expose Ramon, I would have had to dial in a lot more ambient light, causing the whites of the truck to blow out. The detail in the menu lettering would have been lost.

For this next image, I wanted to change my angle and go with a wider focal length in order to give the viewer the perception of standing at the truck window ordering food. I kept the same lighting setup and only changed where I stood and the focal length of my lens.

You can see in the below two shots what it looked like with the off-camera lighting, and without.

Working With, Not Against, Fluorescent Lights

Next I set up an interior shot of Ramon preparing a few hot dogs. Because I was now standing in the only spot the MagBox could fit in, I had to change where I placed the light--and how I chose to modify it.

The first thing I noticed about the interior fluorescent truck light was that it was very yellow. I wanted to more closely match the existing lighting, but not completely take away its warmth or yellow hue.

I opted to place a ½ Straw MagGel from the Standard Gel Set in the integrated gel slot inside the MagSphere, using the white ceiling of the truck to bounce light. I chose Straw over CTO because the Straw gel is the same color temperature as the CTO, but it is more yellow and has less red hue.

I also wanted to get a bit of fill onto the front of Ramon, so I chose the Omni-directional MagSphere for this purpose. The MagSphere bounced the majority of its light at an angle off the ceiling, but I also utilized its wide spread and beautiful edge-falloff for fill light.

Below is the resulting image, taken with a single Godox V860 speedlight with a MagSphere and ½ straw gel:

Notice the blue hue of the daytime window light in the background.

I changed my angle slightly and took another shot so you could see exactly where the MagSphere was placed:

After Ramon finished prepping the truck's most popular hot dogs, I got a bit closer and filled the frame with just those 4 dogs. I used the exact same setup as the above shot:

And then I got the classic top-down angle for a mouth-watering shot of all 4 hot dogs (using the same setup):

Next setup: a photo of Ramon handing out these beautiful culinary creations to an eager customer. All I changed in this setup was rotating the light towards Ramon and the window.

You can see that there is a slight bit of shadow from his hat on his face. If I had not used a MagSphere with its wide spread of light, the bounced light off the ceiling would have put Ramon's entire face in shadow. Since the MagSphere does a great job at spreading and diffusing the light, I was able to bounce AND fill in shadows with only a single speedlight!

Note: the blue saturation and hue of the window were adjusted in post to match more closely to the interior light.

MagBeam to the Rescue

I needed to let Ramon get back to serving what had become a steady dinnertime crowd of hot dog lovers. Before I finished up with him, my final vision was to get an environmental portrait of Ramon and his wife, Alexis, in front of their Food Truck.

The picture I had in my head was of the couple standing closer to the camera and in front of the truck. I needed to add in some off-camera flash in order to not blow out their surroundings---including the awesome pre-monsoon sky behind them. This led me to a 2-point lighting approach.

I opted for the MagBox with the FocusDiffuser and 2 Godox AD-200’s pointed towards Ramon and Alexis.

I also wanted to call attention to the logo on the truck, so I used a MagBeam camera left and out of frame, fully extended and pointed at the “You Sly Dog” logo. This came in very handy as the logo was much too dark without some light.

Some light modifiers can decrease light output in order to modify the light, so I decided to use the FocusDiffuser and the MagBeam specifically as they have an amazing ability to let my speedlights maintain their amount of output! I needed to get this shot fast since we were now into dinner time. Thanks to the easy ability to change diffusers on the MagBox, and fast setup of the MagBeam, I was able to capture this awesome image without taking them away from service for more than a couple minutes! 

Below is a pulled-back shot to show light placement for the image:

Food Photography with the MagBox

Finally, it was time to photograph the real stars in this story: the hot dogs. I wanted to provide Ramon and You Sly Dog a few styled, commercial food shots to use in their marketing.

I took all of my lay flat photos on a nearby table. This meant that control of light was important not only from the off-camera flashes I was using, but also controlling the available daylight. Simple black and white boards were the best tools for the job.

For all of the staged photos of the hot dogs, I used the MagBox with Fabric Diffuser and 2 AD-200’s slightly above camera and to the right. To control and cut down the available daylight on the outdoor patio table, I used 2 black pieces of cardboard on either side of the hot dogs, and one white board behind for a bit of bounced fill light from the MagBox. This method allowed me to be in control of where light hit the scene, and also where it did not hit the scene.

Without the MagBox, and the black and white boards, I would only have been able to use the available daylight. This could have extended the time photographing the food and editing the photos because the light was constantly changing due to some incoming storm clouds.

Below is one of my favorites from this part of the shoot:

Wanna see the rest of the food photography lay flats I shot? Follow @MagnetMod on Instagram. We're sharing all of my images along with some short how-to videos.

P.S. I know you’re wondering if I ate any of the hot dogs after we were done . . . Oh don’t you doubt for a second that I absolutely ate two of them, and they were out-freaking-standing! 



Aaron Tremblay is MagMod's multi-talented Videographer/Editor/Photographer. He also tells the best dad jokes in the office. Follow him on Instagram @aarontremblayphoto and watch him drum on YouTube (He rocks!).

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