Hannah Couzens overcomes multiple lighting challenges with the contents of a single backpack | Profoto

Hannah Couzens overcomes multiple lighting challenges with the contents of a single backpack

06 November, 2019

Written by: Steven Hanratty

From a bright sunlit church exterior to a dark candlelit cellar, and everything in-between; Hannah proves she can travel light without compromising on creativity on the picturesque Greek Island of Santorini.

Santorini, otherwise known as Thira, is the largest island in a small circular archipelago in the southern Aegean sea and is the remnant of a volcanic basin. It's the southernmost of the Cyclades islands, and, as anyone who has set foot there will tell you; it's unspeakably beautiful.

London based photographer Hannah Couzens chose the island as her location because the lighting conditions can be challenging. "I'd visited Santorini before, and thanks to the friends I made locally, I was able to select a variety of great locations. They all offered a spectrum between bright sunny exteriors and dark shaded interiors, presenting different lighting problems I would need to solve."

Hannah's way

Unusually for a portrait photographer, Hannah's style wasn't influenced by any photographer in particular. "While there are lots of photographers I admire, I find myself taking inspiration from the beautiful cinematography in big-budget TV shows and dramas." That said, most frequently, it's the nature of the brief or the location that tends to inform her style.

"For my studio portrait work, I like to keep things simple with no distractions. That way, I can develop a connection with my client while choosing a lighting setup that best suits them and their character.  When working on location, I like to use the environment and the available light, then work out how I can add light to create an atmosphere and flatter the subject."

A bag full of light

Hannah has always referred to her Profoto backpack as 'a business in a bag.' That's because it allows her to take everything she might need to achieve multiple lighting looks wherever she happens to be shooting.

"Thanks to the range of small compact lights Profoto provides with different power options - there's no limit to my creativity. So I thought 'a bag full of light' might be a more appropriate twist on the same idea."

Indeed her bag was filled with light and more - her single Profoto backpack contained; Profoto B10, Profoto B10 Plus, Profoto A1X, Air Remote TTL-S, OCF Colour correction gels, A1 Gel kit, OCF Grid Kit, OCF Magnum Reflector, OCF Silver Beauty dish, Sony a7r III, Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 GM lens, Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM lens, and two Manfrotto Nanopole stands. (And breathe.)

"At 5 feet 4 inches, I'm quite small. And I mostly work alone, so I like my kit to be as light as possible - so this is my perfect bag."

Sunrise (or not)

Hannah planned to shoot at sunrise; what she didn't plan on was a thick blanket of cloud arriving with the sun. Fortunately, the solution was in her bag.

It was all about faking the sunrise, so Hannah used the B10 and A1X, both with CTO gels. The A1 was the key light for Maurisa, the model; it was placed among the leaves to create some natural-looking shadows. The B10 was angled towards the wall to allow Hannah to shoot wide, and thanks to the warm CTO gels, keep the color consistent across the whole frame."

"I like to be precise with my lighting, and having light shaping tools is very much like having ingredients for a recipe; I can choose the tools I need to create the desired effect. I included color correction gels just in case I needed to warm up the flash to match the sunlight - so it all worked out well."

Now the sun appears

Once the cloud cover vanished, the biggest challenge Hannah would face was dealing with the harsh midday sun.

The architecture here is almost cubist. Buildings of different shapes and sizes seem to cascade towards the sea like a waterfall of whitewashed blocks.

A church overlooking the ocean caught Hannah's eye. The dark shadows cast by the sun created interesting geometrical shapes on its stark white walls. But there lay the problem, because the sun would also create shadows across Maurisa's face - especially under her eyes.

"In my opinion, the conditions should never restrict my creativity. The Profoto B10 Plus, combined with the OCF Magnum, gave me the ideal fill light to smooth out those shadows and create a striking image."

From sun to cellar

The candlelit wine cellar was atmospheric and very, very dark. Hannah decided to shoot Maurisa descending the stairs - but she was going to need a lot of help from her lights.

To gently illuminate the stairs, Hannah pulled out the Profoto B10 Plus. She elected to use the continuous light and adjust the color temperature to match the candlelight. Inside the cellar, large barrels lined one wall - to light these Hannah selected the A1X with a warm CTO gel and placed it out of sight in an alcove.

Finally, Hannah needed to light the model, but she wanted to be precise to avoid flooding the space with too much light. "Here's where light shaping tools come into their own. With a 20-degree grid on a second B10, I was able to concentrate the light just on Maurisa; and keep the light far enough away from her that it was safely out of shot - job done."

Blue hour (getting chilly)

"As the sun passed below the horizon, the wind picked up, and poor Maurisa was starting to freeze - so I needed to move fast."

Hannah only needed a kiss of light from the B10 with an OCF Silver beauty dish to illuminate Maurisa against the fading light and the twinkling lights of Santorini. But because the wind really was quite strong, she was worried about using a stand.

Luckily the B10 is super-light for such a powerful flash, and the beauty dish weighs next to nothing. As a result, a friend was easily able to hold the light and beauty dish combination by hand, allowing Hannah to capture a stunning final image in record time. 

Always a solution close to hand

"I was surprised at how much I could push the B10 and B10 Plus for power. Yet they were so compact and lightweight; I could place them anywhere, put them on a boom or go hand-held when needed. That, and all the light shaping tools at my disposal, mean I can be more creative and 'paint with light.'

I can shoot anywhere, anytime, and be truly creative no matter the conditions - because I have a bag filled with light.”


Written by: Steven Hanratty

Products used in this story

Air Remote TTL

Wirelessly connects your AirTTL light with your camera

OCF Magnum Reflector

Adds maximum power to our flat fronted lights

OCF Beauty Dish Silver

A portable beauty dish for off-camera flashes