My favorite on location lighting setup

One of the most difficult things to do these days is travel with expensive photography gear. The problem is that you can only have so much carry on luggage and we all know that checking your expensive gear is like putting a sign on it that says "steal me now". So that means that I either travel with minimal lighting or rent my lighting gear once I get to my destination. Sometimes if the situations permits I can ship stuff back and forth, however, I’ve seen stuff disappear that way too leaving the hotel and the shipping company pointing fingers at each other.

My trusted travel light is the Nikon SB800. Any photographer that knows anything about lighting will tell you that the key is getting the light off of the camera. You typically want directional, diffused, soft light whenever you can get it. The Nikon SB800 speedlight system is great! With a couple of these, you can pull off plenty of jobs that you would have thought impossible. I love them because they can be triggered wirelessly from my Nikon D300 DSLR camera and I can even control the power output directly from the back of my camera without ever touching the speedlights themselves.

Although the SB800 can be fired wirelessly, the problem is getting it up off your camera and positioned over your subject. This requires either masterful use of "the Force" or a light stand. While there are some pretty compact inexpensive light stands out there, none of them were small enough to fit in my suitcase until my buddy Scott Kelby turned me on to the LumoPro 5-Section 6ft Stand. This puppy folds down to a mere 21.6 inches which fits perfectly in my carry on suitcase.

The next problem is you’ll need a mount for the speedlight itself. For this I use the LumoPro Umbrella Swivel w/ Hot Shoe Adapter.

The SB800 has a diffuser cap, but I want soft light whenever I can get it and while umbrellas are OK, I don’t really like bouncing light off of them. It’s light throwing a "light" grenade into room. However, I don’t mind shooting through a translucent umbrella (the next best thing to a softbox). For this I use the Westcott 43" Collapsible White Umbrella. This umbrella is small and takes up very little space in my bag. I could stop here, but I also like to have a fast recycle time on my flash as well as shooting for hours uninterrupted. For this I got the Nikon SD-8A Battery Pack, which takes 6 AA batteries reduces my recycle times by 60-75% and extends my shooting time.

Currently I have two of the stands, two of the mounts, one SB800, one SB600, and one umbrella. I like this setup so much that I’m going to get another SB800, battery pack and shoot-through umbrella.


The Results

With this setup I was able to take some nice shots of Marianne here:

  • Ken

    Hello Terry,

    I am a new reader to your blog. Nice going. I like what your are writing about.

    Hum….I just got in the new radio poppers, only to have them delivered after my trip to the Panama Canal.

    I wish I had know about the stands that fit in bag.WOW that would have been a life saver.

    I have 3 SB800’s and used them on this trip

    Kind regards
    Ken From KY

  • Tony

    Hi Terry,

    Do you have any more pictures of Marianne, perferably the frontal view, showing her

    individual lashes? My wife’s a licensed makeup artist in the Washington, D.C. Metro

    Area. After looking at your hot model, her influence has helped me to look at the image

    artistry as well as the lighting.

    Keep it hot!
    Tony from Washington, D.C.

  • Terry,
    I’ll try this again. What bag(s) do you use to carry your gear when traveling? Carryon? Check in?

  • terrywhite

    my bags aren’t special. I use a standard 21inch roller bag for clothes, light stand/Gitzo Tripod. My Nikon D300 and 18-200mm lens go in my wheeled computer bag. When I carry my 70-200 f2/8 lens, then I use a computer/camera backpack.


    My roller bag goes in the overhead. My computer bag goes under the seat in front of me.

  • hi there. i was looking into the umbrella adapters and wondered if this ( might be a tiny bit better because it swivels and tilts. what do you think. worth the extra clams?

    thanks for your blog. i am learning a lot.

  • terrywhite

    Hi Dana,
    That one looks cool but doesn’t have the shoe for a speedlight. The ones I wrote about above do tilt and swivel (at least the part holding the light) as well as hold my speedlight.