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Friday, January 25, 2013

Ian Spanier: The Two-Minute Shoot


The Two-Minute Shoot" is something I came up with on assignment for Muscle & Fitness magazine shooting with the Florida Gators football team a few years ago. The concept of the shoot was to do a day-in-the-life of the National Championship-winning team as they trained inside and outside their Gainesville, Florida facility. In a situation like this, I would need to have a consistent look inside and outside as much as possible. I knew I wanted to have better light quality than a on-camera flash would provide, and I wanted to have more light control, something I wouldn't have simply by jacking up the ISO in available light.

I solved the challenge with the interior shots with the following plan: my assistant would hold a strobe inside a Photoflex Small HalfDome (powered one f-stop over ambient), while I shot at ISO 800. This was the extent of my discussion with the magazine’s Creative Director, Chris Hobrecker, who would not be on set. However, the writer, Jon Finkle, would be, so I had to coordinate my day with his plan as well.

Once we got to the gym, I went about coordinating my "Two-Minute Shoot". I would need Jon’s help, as he knew the team, as well as the coaches. I asked him throughout the day to pull the premier players from each practice session, letting them know I needed “two quick minutes" with each. When shooting athletes, time is essential. Many of them will not give you much of it, and even when they do, being quick keeps them happy. If I want to get more out of my subjects, there’s no better thing I can do than to be fast and efficient.

I found a blank wall in a small spot off to the side in the gym, and I set up the following:

Slightly boomed overhead as the key light was a Photoflex Small OctoDome, alternating silver and gold panels inside the soft box, as well as both diffusion faces. Under the camera on a  Photoflex LiteReach LiteStand: extra small, acting as a 2-stop under-fill, was a Photoflex Small HalfDome. You could also use an Extra Small LiteDome, and Extra Small OctoDome or even a Medium MultiDome or LiteDome. That's up to your discretion, based on space, the shape of the light you are looking for, or what you happen to have with you.

This is one of the quickest and easiest setups that I use, and I find it gets the job done nicely with remarkaly little effort. In no time at all, you can easily pop subjects onto this set and be done within two minutes.



For this series, I was commissioned to photograph “rainmakers,” a term used to describe big money-makers at investment banking firms. The assignment was to take place at each subject’s office, but I needed the portfolio to have the look of a series. The light alone would tie it all together, but to drive it home, I suggested to the Creative Director to let me shoot against a black background, as it would nullify the lack of adequate space, and my subjects could stand close to it.

Still, this is the type of job where you really need to have your game plan dialed in beforehand. As with many jobs like this, I would not have a scout day beforehand, which meant that I didn't know how much space I'd have to work with. All too often, business firms stick you in a small conference room, complete with an enormous table you can't move. Knowing my setup needs, I only asked for access to their largest conference room and whether I might be able to set up in an empty hallway if necessary. 

I modified the lighting setup slightly and used two Photoflex Small HalfDomes. The key light was horizontal over the camera and the fill light was off to the side, positioned vertically. I really liked the way the catch-lights looked in my subject’s eyes with this setup.

For these subjects, even more than professional athletes, time is money. So being able to get the shot in a matter of minutes, with consistency, is crucial.



On assignment again for M&F in New Zealand, I had a cover shoot with three of the Gladiators from the Starz’s show, Spartacus. Here, I needed to shoot:

  • The trio’s workout at a gym
  • “Training” shots of the guys on set swinging swords and spears
  • Three options for a cover
  • AND portraits of each in a different part of the set

When I know I’ll be pressed for time, getting anything done fast is key. Scouting beforehand helps, but that’s not always possible. I was fortunate in this case to have a scout day, which helped me to map out my plan. Part of plan included the same lighting setup I used with the Gators to get what I wanted quickly for the portraits.

Here are five more examples of this same lighting approach. In each of these cases, time was of the essence. There was no time to experiment; I needed to get the lights up and get the shot as quickly as possible.

Photographing the free-throw coach for the Dallas Mavericks, we were given twenty minutes to do two setups on the team’s home court. We got this and a more elaborate setup done in less than the allotted time.


While shooting the Colorado Springs Swat Team, an emergency call cut the shoot short. Knowing I needed an opening image for the article, I asked the team if we could set up this last shot. The Captain said, “You have seven minutes.” We took two minutes to set up the key light and shot in less than five. (Given the lack of space, we used the white interior of the van to serve as the fill.)


Shooting in a tiny smoking room in the back of a cigar shop, I had maybe six feet of space to work with. I used two Photoflex Small HafDomes, and with a little love through Photoshop, the magazine got it’s opener.


The subject of this portait, a very wealthy banker, offered us a great location filled with beautiful art and photography for the shoot. The only problem was, we couldn’t shoot any of the art! So we moved this chair into the hall leading to the men’s room.


After a full day of shooting, my client asked for one more setup on a different floor of the space where we were shooting. We didn’t want to drag a ton of gear upstairs, so with my key light off to the right, fill light off the left, we got this portrait of Elizabeth Hasselbeck in... you got it... two minutes!

In all of these examples, I had shot primarily one Profoto 7b pack with two heads, each head plugged into the same pack. An extra layer of diffusion on hand was used when the fill light was too strong, since I couldn't control the output of each individual head. (You can also use an extention cable to cut ½ stop more from the fill light.) However, since then, I now often opt to use two TritonFlash heads, since I can adjust the power of each head separately.  And I can power both heads from a single TritonFlash battery without splitting the maximum output of 300 watts! This obviously makes for a better solution in most "Two-Minute Shoots".

The other great thing about the TritonFlash is that it's significantly smaller and lighter than the Profoto 7b, and that's huge when it comes to travel. And not that you would likely need the TritonFlash’s spare lithium-ion batteries, carrying four of them is still lighter than one additional 7b battery.

Over time, I realized that a small strip of ¼ CTO taped inside the Small HalfDome was better for the fill. When using the Medium MultiDome for a fill, however, I don't need to use a gel since I can alternate the silver and gold inserts to warm up the box. No matter which way I do it, I like to warm up the fill because a slightly warm key light (OctoDome with alternating gold and silver inserts) does not mix well with a fill light that is all white. And color is an important element when creating a portrait.

I've also experimented with no diffusion faces in the key light, one diffusion face only, and as well using the OctoDome’s optional Grids. Depending on the scenario, all are good options for different looks. Note that if you configure the OctoDome with a set of Grids, but with no diffusion faces attached, you can cast some distracting/patterened shadows on the wall behind the subject, depending on how close the light is to the wall. To eliminate these patterned shadows, simply add the layers of diffusion to the box. The OctoDome is incredibly versatile and it's good to experiment with the various configurations to see what works well for you

To learn more about the lighting equipment Ian uses, click on the links below:

TritonFlash™ Battery Powered Strobe
OctoDome®: small
Small SoftBox Grid for OctoDome
HalfDome®: small
MultiDome: medium
LiteReach LiteStand: extra small

To see more of Ian Spanier's work, visit his Pro Showcase page.
All images © Ian Spanier Photography 2013


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On March 20, 2013 at 04:23 AM, Tania Teschke said:

Thanks very much, very helpful, easy setups and great links to products used, thanks!

On May 18, 2013 at 08:06 AM, Steve Hopkins said:

super rundown of setups for quick shoots or just starting points to experiment with. Thanks

On May 29, 2013 at 06:18 PM, Craig Blackman said:

Great work…..inspirational!!!

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