Exploring Speedlights: Finding Inspiration in Nick Fancher's Books

Not too long ago, I stumbled upon Nick Fancher's book, Studio Anywhere: A Photographer's Guide to Shooting in Unconventional Locations. I knew, almost instantly, that it had to land on my Christmas wishlist. But when Christmas day rolled around, Fancher's book was no where to be found. It was unfortunate, really, but not the end of the world. I continued to pour over his website and Instagram while watching video after video about his #studioanywhere workshops. Although his class is far beyond what I can put forward now, I was still incredibly intrigued by his style, but more so, by his willingness to break what I considered the norms of photography, to try new things, and post his work out there for everyone to judge. 

After spending a few weeks reading his various articles and examining his portraiture, it was obvious that I had to purchase his book for myself. When it arrived, I studied like I had a test in the morning. It sat next to me at the dinner table, and again at breakfast. I read it during lunch breaks, and sometimes even when I had just a couple minutes of tranquility between meetings. Fancher's writing style falls right in line with my interest. There are a few jokes here and there to break up the facts while the majority of the book is filled with great examples of how he pushes the bar. Needless to say, I had read his book, cover to cover, in a few short sittings. On my third pass-through, I decided to see what more he might have to offer; that's when I found his second book. 

Studio Anywhere 2: A Photographer's Guide to Shooting Hard Light populated in my Amazon feed like a beacon from above. And after a few minutes of discussion with my wife, the book was on order and I was impatiently awaiting the mailman at my front door. Fancher's second book reads just as easily as the first; I certainly read it the same way and would argue it's just as valuable - maybe more so than his earlier writing.

I'll admit that my inexperience with speedlights scared me early on. It wasn't something I was completely comfortable with and I didn't want that to shine through on a shoot. So, for the meantime, I had stuck with natural light and worked with what I had. It didn't take me long to start enlisting friends to stand in for portraits. Then I was hooked. I quickly learned knew enough tricks to get through a number of professional headshot sessions, some product shots, and a few things in between. With soft boxes attached, I could shoot just about anything with soft lighting.

  Sony A7, Rokinon 85mm f1.4, f8, 1/200, 100 ISO

Sony A7, Rokinon 85mm f1.4, f8, 1/200, 100 ISO

But I still felt stuck, longing to create edgier lighting setups on my own terms. And that's exactly why I purchased Fancher's second book. I wanted to go beyond the lighting setups that I had learned before and explore the true power of light. I wanted hard edges, crisp shadows, and harsh light fall off. I wanted to spice up my images and achieve an edgier look.

My lighting setup is pretty meager, even today: two Neewer TT560 manual speedlights, two Yongnuo RF-603NII-N3 wireless flash triggers, a 24"x36" softbox, and two stands. I've opted, quiet similarly to Fancher, to travel light and work with the scenes laid out before me. Sure, it's take some extra effort to understand and finesse (and I'm not completely sure I'm that well versed), but the pursuit has been well worth it.  

Over the last week I had the opportunity to photograph Shae. You may recognize her from my earlier Framed Series. We've crossed paths numerous times over the last few years and I thought she would enjoy taking part in an edgier series of photographs. Fortunately she agreed and we met up in Forest Park at an old racquetball court with scuffed, dingy walls and too many terrible florescent lights. Despite how terrible it may sound, the scene was perfect and we captured some great images. Check them out below, and if you haven't yet, pick up a copy of Fancher's books. 

Sony A7, Zeiss 24-70 f4, 70mm, f4, 1/100, 100 ISO

Sony A7, Zeiss 24-70 f4, 63mm, f7.1, 1/200, 100 ISO

Sony A7, Zeiss 24-70 f5.6, 45mm, f4, 1/200, 100 ISO