Outdoor Portraits using Fujifilm x100s and strobes

Swapna. At Parkala, near Manipal. November 2013.

Swapna. At Parkala, near Manipal. November 2013.

In the last seven years of my life as a professional photographer, a majority of time has been spent as a photojournalist on the field in the open outdoors. Conventional studio setting was not part my work (and wasn’t even the point of interest) when I embarked my journey as a photographer with the intention of telling visual stories from all corners of the globe. Driven by interest and by ergonomics (carrying little gear on the road), studio lights were never part my camera kit. The only lighting equipment I carried was an external camera flash unit, for which I always scanned surfaces of walls and ceilings to bounce the light from the flash whenever it was attached to the camera. Otherwise ambient light was my best friend(and foe). So, planning a shot always included on how best can I make use of the ambient light to create a mood in my images. But, one fine day I discovered David Hobby’s Strobist blog, and found the much-needed inspiration to start using the flash off-camera or as strobes. Today, I find that my Fujifilm x100s when used in combination with my strobe, light-stand and umbrella, as an ideal portable lighting kit for environmental portraits.

The x100s has assumed a legendary status now. It has become a favorite among many street photographers. Some are even calling it as the new Leica. The camera has 23mm fixed focal length (with an effective 35mm Field-0f-View on a 35mm camera) and has its aperture wide open at F2. This versatile lens makes this camera of use in diverse areas of photography, though a lack of zoom could be a limitation for some uses. I recently, did a travel of Sri Lanka completely on my x100s.

But, one aspect of x100s that should be of importance to anyone interested in portrait photography in the outdoors and using strobes, is that the camera can sync with flash units at almost any shutter-speed. Traditionally, most cameras have had a maximum flash sync speed to 1/250th of a second. But with x100s, at certain apertures, you can sync flash even at speed of 1/4000th of a second! The sweet spot in syncing, as David Hobby says, is indeed shooting at wide open aperture F2, with a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second, at ISO 100, and using a built-in 3-stop ND Filter. This really kills the sunlight and under-exposes the ambient light, allowing you to use your strobes to create dramatically lit portraits with beautiful backgrounds at F2.

Last weekend I visited Parkala village in my hometown Udupi, and I put to test my x100s for outdoor portraits. The fields, the thicket, the outdoors, gave me the ideal backgrounds and settings to attempt a series of environmental portraits. My models included my wife and my sister-in-law. A big shout of thank you to Swapna and her sister Shivani (Thank you for bearing the afternoon sun and humid coastal weather to help me execute this shoot).

 My complete camera kit for this shoot is mentioned below:

  • Fujifilm x100s camera.
  • Canon Speedlite EX430II to be used as the strobe.
  • A pair of wireless Trigmaster x5 remote transmitter and receiver for triggering the flash.
  • A compact Light-stand
  • A white umbrella for softening the flash light.

The camera, speedlite and wireless triggers fit easily into my small canvas messenger bag. The umbrella and light stand fit easily into another bag. One thing to note about Trigmaster X5 receiver is that it has a built-in holder to attach the umbrella, and hence you don’t need a separate Umbrella swivel and holder apparatus. This makes the portrait kit more portable (Do I have to mention that I love traveling lightweight?). Also, another thing that I have to mention is that I am using the flash in manual mode.

Below is the gallery containing a set of photographs from that shoot. Do click on them to view the images at a higher resolution. The images were all shot in RAW format and post processing was done using Adobe Lightroom. If you have more questions on the details of the shoot, then feel free to revert back to me. I’ll be glad to answer your questions.

Nishant Ratnakar
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Nishant Ratnakar

Photographer | Visual Storyteller at www.nishantratnakar.com
Nishant is a Bangalore, India based Wedding, Portrait & Editorial Photographer. He is available for assignments across India. He also conducts photography workshops and offers personal photography mentorship.
Nishant Ratnakar
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Bharath Yelavatti
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Bharath Yelavatti

kool… Even I have fuji x100s.. I am seriously confused which flash light to purchase… I am confused between canon 430 ex II or Nikon SB-600/700 or cheap chinese yongnuo YN-560 III …

Later I definertly like to add quantum series .. I am just getting addicted to this high speed photography… 🙂

What do you recommend.. ??

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nishantratnakar

I’d recommend any good manual flash that also has on optical slave. LP 180 is a good bet.

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Kool… I have seen LP180.. Even David hobby recommended me that… flash…
I was a bit skeptical .. since It looks expensive compared to YN-560 III>> which has even built in radio trigger…

By the way.. Have u used LP180 ? Do u own one..?? How do u compare it to other big brands… Do u feel its worth the high price… ?

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nishantratnakar

I have replied about LP 180 in one of your above comments. Btw, This is one of the assignments done using LP 180 and x100s mainly. http://nishantratnakar.com/blog/people/a-portrait-assignment-at-yarada-beach-with-fujifilm-x100s/

Bharath Yelavatti
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Bharath Yelavatti

what is that trig master X5 >>?? which brand >>? max what speed you could sync with it >>>??
Please give me suggestions… on what setup I need to buy for my x100s…. thanks..

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nishantratnakar

Trigmaster X5 is a pair of wireless triggers that I got it locally from bangalore. It is of chinese make. And designed for canon. But works wonderfully well with fuji x100s! It cost me close to 2000 indian rupes. I have been able to sync x100 without any issues to shutter speeds of upto 1/800 of a second on it. Beyond it sometimes there have been inconsistencies. if you are in Bangalore, you could pick up these triggers from Foto Circle located in Anandhrao circle.

Bharath Yelavatti
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Bharath Yelavatti

Kool… yes I am from bangalore.. Thats where I picked my X100s.
Will try with them… I was a bit skeptical about.. LP180… and I have seen some cactus V5 … They sync up to 1/1000. Let me try..

And I have seen the same cactus brand releasing new flash… RF60 and wireless trigger Cactus V6… which can control.. power output locally… just check.. it might be interesting for u..:)

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nishantratnakar

Will check on it. Even godox I think have released a new manual flash that makes use of lithium Ion batteries. You should check on them too. The only issue with all these brands is that they have no dealerships in India. Hard to locate them in India. and will probably have to source it form outside the country.

Bharath Yelavatti
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Bharath Yelavatti

As well… I have seen Lumopro LP180 .. suggestion from David hobby.. He suggested me this over Yongnuo Yn-560 III . Have you used it .. or have any idea..?? How do they hold against other big brands like Nikon or Canon . Or cheaper chinese flash like yongnuo also good..?

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nishantratnakar

I own and use LP 180. I got it from US through a friend who was traveling back to India. It cost me around 200 US dollars. What David Hobby says about it in his reviews is all true. LP 180 has a great build. So far I have no issues with it. When doing portrait assignment I use only manual flash. I don’t need the ETTL features of canon or similar features of nikon for it. Hence, LP 180 is perfect for portrait shoots. Therefore it a is good investment for the price. I haven’t used yongnuo or chineese… Read more »