Chris Fain is a commercial and editorial portrait photographer in Atlanta, Ga. He’s been shooting professionally for 15 years and has a love for connecting with people. As Chris progressed in his photography career, lighting became a passion that he wanted to dive deeper into. That love of lighting and people brought Chris to Profoto. During the last 6 years Chris has help demystify lighting for hundreds of photographers looking to hone their skills.
Tell us what do you do at Profoto?
I was hired by Profoto on the premise I would become their lighting evangelist – the person everybody would turn to when they had a question about lighting… especially Profoto lighting gear. I teach a lot of lighting seminars, attend trade shows, host Facebook Live events, and create online content. The goal is to make lighting technique accessible to everyone who has lighting-related questions.
Some people can be overwhelmed by lighting, I try to soften the blow so to speak.
How did you wind up at Profoto? What did you do prior to coming aboard as the company lighting expert?
Well, it’s kind of funny because before coming to Profoto I worked in the television industry as a recording engineer in Atlanta and after many years of commuting between my job and my wife who was studying for her masters upstate NY, I decided to call it quits before the stress devoured me and head north.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do but I was into photography and wanted to learn more about how to shoot and how to light. So, I decided to take a Peter Hurley workshop. Peter and I hit it off and quickly became close friends, and in time he hired me as an associate photographer in his studio.
While working with Peter I simultaneously started a relationship with the Marketing Group at B&H Photo. I was busy but still not settled on a career path until I ran into Cliff Hausner. One thing leads to another and before you know it, I’m the new lighting guy at Profoto.
What’s interesting is that one of my goals was to up my game in lighting and suddenly I found myself working with one of the most knowledgeable lighting guys in the industry.
What’s your favorite type of photography?
I’m a portrait person. I’ve always gravitated towards Vogue and Vanity Fair - I like elegant portraits, but I also like shooting quirky fun stuff.
What camera system are you currently shooting with?
I tried them all and ultimately went with the FUJIFILM X-system. It feels the best in my hand, I love the color, and I went with it from there.
What’s the biggest challenge in presenting studio lighting to people who may be uncomfortable, or intimidated by studio lighting equipment?
I think the biggest challenge is always going to be showing people how hard it isn’t! Lighting has a stigma about it. Some people see lighting as being hard or complicated. But when you finally get the person to give it a try and watch as they ‘get’ how easy lighting really is – when you see that light bulb come on - it’s pretty awesome. It’s really fun – you shouldn’t be afraid of it, and I see it, good lighting changes everything about your photography.
You come into contact with many consumers, many who are interested in photography including some people whose entire experience of photography is centered around their smartphone. Are these folks inquisitive about advancing their picture-taking abilities? Do they ask about lighting?
Not necessarily, but on occasion I’ve seen people whose experience of cameras starts and ends with their iPhone stop and start asking questions. It’s not hard to tell quick snapshots from a picture with the aspect of controlled lighting. It takes a second and most people have to lean in and take a second look. It’s a slow process but with time and a little bit of educating most people come around to see what possible with even the simplest of camera gear.
You get to play with lots of ‘toys’ … and no doubt you have an enviable assortment of lighting tools and modifiers in your toybox – what’s your favorite lighting tool?
I’m pretty simple when it comes to lighting tools. I tend to reach for my umbrellas. There are a lot of light modifiers that are fun but can be a little ‘niche’. For example, a beauty dish is a terrific tool for portraiture and head shots, but you can’t shoot a full-body portrait with a beauty dish.
Whereas umbrellas are simple - they’re easy to set up and break down, they’re extremely mobile, which is important as fewer photographers have studios these days in which they can leave their lights in place for longer stretches of time.
My personal favorite light modifiers are umbrellas because you can do so much with them. I bounce back and forth between shooting through our larger or extra-large translucent deep umbrellas and our white-finished deep umbrellas with a diffusion mesh across the front to get the softness and coverage I prefer, especially when shooting outdoors. I like the natural look you get when blend the flash with the surrounding ambient light as opposed to the dramatic affects you get with say, high-speed sync. Dramatic lighting is good, but my tastes in lighting run more towards the subtle side.
Profoto manufactures a full range of lighting systems ranging from powerful studio packs, on and off-camera battery-powered flash systems, and even the tiny C1-Plus, which is designed for use with smartphones. Out of everything Profoto offers which system do you most frequently reach for and why?
That depends. If I’m working outside I shoot with one of our battery-powered flash units that allows me to shoot anywhere without need of generators or power cords. Inside, I have this really silly reasoning for doing this, but what works for me is when I’m shooting in the studio I use battery-powered Profoto B1X or B10 flash units mounted on rolling stands, which enables me to reposition them easily without having to worry about tripping over cables.
For fill I like using my larger Profoto D2 monolights. Because they’re AC-powered, I can use the modeling lamp all day. Yes, I could use my battery-powered units in power-charge mode, but that would defeat the purpose of the cable-free rolling stands I like using. Another benefit of using the D2 as a fill is that because it has a brighter modeling lamp, you get smaller pupils when shooting portraits, which is preferable for the wider-pupil ‘owl eyes’ you sometimes get when shooting under lower ambient light settings.
Any parting thought?
I guess you can sum up my thought process about Profoto gear and lighting in general is that “It’s not scary”. Some people have trepidation about it being difficult, or too expensive to get involved with and I try to get them to think otherwise. Especially with Profoto products. But you know what, there’s rarely been – no, make that there’s never been a time my Profoto gear has failed me. I’ve never been on a shoot where something failed or I couldn’t get my lights to work the way I needed them to work. It’s super simple – there’s nothing to be intimidated by.
Tune in every Thursday to watch Profoto Live and every other Tuesday for a Live Q&A with our resident Profoto expert, Chris Fain. Chris will cover a wide array of topics, such as, working with TTL, product walk throughs, tips and tricks for light shaping tools and much more. Can't make the Live, catch up on the latest videos here!