A landmark hotel and a subway escalator become studios for Fabian Wester and the Profoto A1
Stockholm-based fashion and lifestyle photographer Fabian Wester doesn’t have his own studio, so improvisation has always been the name of the game. Recently, he turned the historic Berns Hotel and a subway escalator into his studios for a series of portraits with the Profoto A1, the world’s smallest studio light.
Photography has been an adventure for Fabian, who became a full-time photographer in 2013 after a 30,000-km photographic road trip from Stockholm to Mongolia. Before that, he was capturing the nightclub scene, photographing artists and crowds to create one of Sweden’s biggest websites for nightlife photography.
“I love to inspire emotions through my images for people and businesses, photographing real-life and being spontaneous,” he says. “To travel around the world to see cities, nature, culture and to meet and record many inspiring people is the big bonus.”
100,000 images with on-camera flash
An experienced user of on-camera flash, Fabian estimates he has taken well over 100,000 photographs using on-camera flash at nightclubs, festivals and events. “Using an on-camera flash is a natural part of my photography,” he says. “A flash is usually a lifesaver when the light is bad or when there are a lot of different temperatures in the light. With warm light inside and cold light coming through a window, for example, the flash overpowers the mixed light and you get correct skin tones instead.”
“It's also fun to use a flash to get a completely different look. I photographed a big outdoor party this summer when the sun was shining, but I used a flash to get a harder look in the pictures, even though there were good conditions for natural light.”
When we approached Fabian and asked if he wanted to try out a new product under the theme “The world is my studio” with the Profoto A1, the world’s smallest studio light, he was excited about the possibilities.
“I have always enjoyed Profoto's design and quality. It's important for me to have a product that I can trust and that's really something I can do with Profoto's products,” he says. “Much of what I photograph is something you cannot recreate in a studio. I only have one chance!”
The world is Fabian’s studio
He also loved the idea of something that would help make the world his studio, since that’s how he shoots every day. “I do not own a studio but the whole world is full of beautiful places, one is only limited by one’s creativity,” he says. “Everything from a nicely worn concrete wall out on the street to the red velvet curtains inside the Berns Hotel. And best of all, almost all places are free! So, with a Profoto A1, you have the world's largest studio because you can use backdrops all over the world.
For the project, Fabian took model Lisa Tellbe to the historic Berns Hotel in downtown Stockholm, where ornate ceilings—and that red velvet curtain—would provide a glamorous backdrop.
“In the first photo, I wanted a kind of beauty look,” he explains. “I knew a little about the ‘golden room’ at Berns. It turned out they had these beautiful red velvet curtains in there that fit perfectly for the purpose.”
“I used Profoto A1 on camera with the Soft Bounce for a big and soft light and placed one of the A1s with the Dome Diffuser behind Lisa pointing straight up at the curtain behind her to spread the light better, make it a bit softer on the curtain, and bring out the color. Both A1s were controlled through the A1 on camera.”
Up and running in seconds
“Thanks to its easy-to-read screen and logical interface, everything was up and running in just a few seconds,” Fabian says. “And just snapping the accessories in place with magnetic rings makes me feel secure and looks very professional, compared to awkward Velcro straps that I cannot trust.”
He also liked how the round flash head delivers a very natural and even light. “The TTL mode was also very smooth and gave me a good exposure that I could easily increase or decrease. The Soft Bounce gives a light almost like a softbox in the studio!”
In the second image, Fabian wanted more attitude in the light and therefore chose a closer beam angle. “The zoom ring around the flash head adjusts the reflector in the flash,” he says. “So I chose a more zoomed-in beam angle for a sharper light to deliberately create harder shadows.”
Ease of use supports creativity
The third image was not planned at all, Fabian was just walking Lisa to the subway. But when he got to the station, he got a sudden inspiration. “I imagined an image of Lisa sitting on this long and spotless escalator,” he explains. “It was extra fun that I had never tried shooting on an escalator before!”
To give the image a little extra character, he used one A1 as an Air Remote on camera and the other off camera as a flash. “I held the flash in my hand from the side to create a little more character in the light, with a little more shadow to bring out the contours of Lisa’s face.”
For this shot, the A1’s ease of use was key, since he otherwise might not have tried to get the shot. “A large, clear display with a very simple and logical interface makes the flash extremely user-friendly. I did not even have to read the instruction manual!
“It's the simplicity that makes you start testing things you've never done before,” he says. “If something is difficult then you may not do it because it takes too much time or energy. When equipment is simple and fun to use, you use it more and test new technologies and ideas.”
His next workhorse
Fabian says the Profoto A1 will be his next workhorse, and he’s really looking forward to it. “No more struggle! And having a complete kit with all the accessories I need is great, because I hate when it is the gear that holds back my creativity. Gear should only make everything possible to do without a headache. With its battery, I don’t need unreliable AA batteries anymore and can really get my flash on with fast recycling and power.
“After trying out the Profoto A1, I realized that it really made the world my own studio. Now I can create images with light like in a studio wherever I want,” he adds. “They have made a little light that has everything you need.”
Already making plans for his A1
Fabian is looking forward to using the Profoto A1 in action together with his Profoto B1 as well as using the A1 alone when shooting festivals. In fact, he already has some images in mind.
“The Profoto Air Remote system makes it easy to connect the flash to other A1 flashes or other Profoto flashes in just a few seconds. My old lights sync by IR, meaning the lights must have line-of-sight contact, and it has limited me when I wanted to place a second flash in an out-of-the-way place or behind something.
“But with 300 meters of range, I’m more then good now to place an A1 behind the DJ who’s playing, for example, and shoot from far away but still get that great light,” he says. “Also, when I’m shooting at festivals and nightclubs, the light changes a lot, both in direction and color. So to be able to control the light could be really useful in these situations.”