Self-taught Chan Kit has a growing reputation in his home town of Hong Kong, especially for capturing candid moments in beautiful light, using available light when possible, adding flashes when necessary, and often making created light look natural.
We caught up with him after a day-long shoot in which he had taken on Profoto’s challenge to create natural-looking light at four times of day with the Air Remote TTL-F for Fujifilm cameras. We asked him about the assignment. “When Profoto proposed the shoot, my first thought was that I was excited to be representing Hong Kong,” Kit says. “When they said I could choose my own style and location and just be myself, I felt it was very nice to have that freedom.”
Morning light – balancing shadows
For the first shot, early in the morning, Kit chose a location in a field near where he lives, close to the edge of Hong Kong’s New Territories. “I was looking for a nice, easy background, not anything complicated.”
With bright, morning sun streaming into the frame from one side, a test shot revealed that without supplementary lighting, the models’ faces would be completely in shadow. Therefore, Kit needed to balance the shadows on the faces of the models while keeping the look natural.
Shooting in TTL with the new Profoto Air Remote TTL-F for Fujifilm cameras, Kit positioned his Profoto B2 and the Profoto OCF Beauty Dish on the models’ left-hand side. The beauty dish softened the light and gave him the feeling of natural light.
“I wanted to hide the fact that I was using studio light, so that people seeing the image wouldn’t be sure whether or not I was using natural light alone,” he says.
Kit adds that using TTL made it easier to capture the image the way he wanted to. “I just pointed the camera in the right direction. The result was very soft, natural light with the beauty dish.”
Midday sunlight – freezing the action with HSS
“This is my favorite of all the four shots,” Kit says, his face lighting up with enthusiasm. “I really like the feeling, the emotion. And it was also the most challenging of the photos.”
To get the shot, Kit, his assistant and his models set up beside Salisbury Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, right in front of the landmark Peninsula Hotel. When the light turned green for pedestrians, the four of them would rush out into the middle of the road. Then, with the models walking toward him, and his assistant keeping pace while holding the B1X with the beauty dish, Kit walked backwards and fired off 10 or so shots in the 30 seconds he had to work with.
Kit put the light on the same side of the scene as the sun, to make the lighting seem as natural as possible. “The B1X gave very stable output and balanced the shadows,” Kit says. “And with the beauty dish, it made the light on the models seem very natural.”
After checking the results to see what needed improvement, the four would repeat the process as soon as the light changed again. “It took about 40 minutes,” Kit says. “We did it about 15 times.”
“Just set the light and go”
Here, the equipment’s ease of use was a big advantage. With everyone in motion, Kit shot in HSS and TTL, with the output of the B1X controlled by the Air remote TTL-F. “My assistant didn’t have to set anything, he just had to hold the light at the right angle because I was using TTL,” Kit observes.
The ease of shooting with the Air Remote TTL-F also helped Kit’s creativity. “I didn’t have to think too much,” he explains. “I had to set the light in the right direction and just think about the models’ faces, actions and emotions – just set the light and go. So, this shot was both the most challenging one and the easiest one.”
With the sun directly overhead, the assistant to their right, and the beauty dish softening the light, the young couple looks candid, casual and un-posed, as if they were just out for a walk on a sunny day.
“Using HSS let me lock up the couple and freeze the motion,” he adds. “They are not holding the pose, they are walking very fast.”
Golden Hour – thinking very quickly
Shooting at Golden Hour, the sun was going down very fast and Kit had to work quickly with the correct lighting output from the start. “It’s winter, so sunset is over in less than one hour,” he says. “So we had to think very quickly about what we wanted to do.”
With the scene lit with very bright light from behind the couple, the faces would be deep in shadow without studio lighting, so he positioned his Profoto B1X and OCF Beauty Dish directly overhead to cast soft, natural-looking light on them.
Here, Kit’s idea was to create an image like a movie poster. “I decided on a romantic pose, him holding her cheek, her holding his chest,” he says. “You can see the breeze moving her hair – I wanted something more than just the people and lights.”
Here, he used HSS and 1/4000 second to make the background darker and opened up the shutter to F2.2 to blur it. “I wanted the lighting focused on the models,” he explains, pointing out the shadow defining the young woman’s jaw and the underside of the young man’s arm.
Blue hour – romance in the heart of the city
For the last shot, he turned an industrial dystopia into a romantic dreamscape with the power of light shaping. Climbing up to the top floor of a building, the last stretch by ladder, Kit and his team found themselves on a dirty rooftop with peeling paint in the heart of the bustling Mong Kok shopping area. Confronted by a barricade of high-rise buildings, Kit decided to create another romantic movie poster.
“I was very lucky that I had brought my tripod to the photo shoot,” he says. “I was able to use a slow shutter speed to make the background brighter. The hardest thing was that the models had to hold perfectly still when I was shooting,” he says. “The light was on top of the models to make it feel like lighting from the street, and just a very, very low output – I set it on two or three. The beauty dish made it very, very soft.
“I couldn’t use very high output or the buildings in the background would have been too dark. I also could not use a very high ISO because I wanted to keep the quality of the background without too much noise.”
More time for creativity
Throughout the day, in four different locations, with four kinds of light, Kit was able to concentrate on being creative and not on his settings, thanks to the Air Remote TTL-F. Paired with the OCF Beauty Dish, he could create beautiful and natural-looking light, whether he was dodging traffic or racing against a setting sun.
“I think the best thing is that I saved a lot of time on the photo shoot with the Air Remote,” he says. “I just had to decide about the direction of the light and did not have to think about the output or power of the lighting. So, I had more time to care about the models, location and emotions. In front of the Peninsula Hotel, we did not have time to test the light. We just had to walk and shoot.”
The OCF Beauty Dish also played an important supporting role. “I have to travel a lot to locations, and open and close reflectors a lot, but the OCF Beauty Dish was easy to use and gave me soft light when I needed it,” he says. “It’s also not heavy, so it’s easy to take with me. And it’s pretty strong.”
Overall, Kit says he’s the kind of person who doesn’t really like to think about his equipment. “I want it to just help me,” he says. “Like you when you’re writing – it’s not all about the pen. It’s about what’s in your mind.”