Pei Ketron is a self-taught, San Francisco-based photographer. She began taking pictures in college. Over the ensuing years she slowly honed her skills, shooting portraits and the occasional wedding while working as an elementary school special ed teacher, the career she went to grad school for. Pei has come a long way since she left teaching about 7 years ago. Today, her clients include a mix of clients that include Adobe, American Express, Apple, Carnival Cruises, Mercedes, Pfizer, Save the Children, Travel & Leisure Magazine, and UNICEF.
Decidedly an available light shooter from early on, Pei’s lighting experience was limited to a pair of speedlights she mounted on her Nikon DSLR when shooting wedding receptions and portraits. Bounce flash was about as fancy as it got. While she took a studio lighting workshop and occasionally tried out new portrait lighting techniques, in general she avoided getting too deep into the weeds when it came to artificial lighting.
Around 2010, Pei decided to step away from shooting weddings and portraits and focus her efforts on travel photography. No longer having the need for artificial lighting, she packed her speedlights away and pretty much forgot about them.
All was fine until about a year ago when she hit a creative plateau. Photographically, she found herself in a rut. Clients were calling, but she was creatively spent. Teaching had also become stale. “I was teaching so much, and learning so little, I needed to go back to learning mode in order to continue growing as a photographer."
Last year, Pei took a tintype photography class where she learned to shoot on a 4x5 camera and process her own tintypes. She also decided to give lighting a second look, and by chance was given an opportunity to use a pair of Profoto A1 AirTTL off-camera flash units. To call her encounter with the Profoto A1s life changing would be an understatement.
The size and form factor immediately struck a cord with Pei as she had often thought how nice it would be if she could find a lighting system with the travel-friendly weight and form-factor of a shoe-mounted speed light, but with additional power and light control. When she saw the Profoto A1 and what it could do, she was floored.
What struck her immediately was how user-friendly and intuitive the Profoto A1s were compared to the speedlights she had cut her teeth on.
Not being mechanically minded, Pei was delighted to see how easy it was to dive right in and start shooting with little-if-any head scratching.
“Sure there were aspects of the lights I had to read up on and practice with, but the learning curve was nowhere as steep as the learning curve with my Nikon speedlights."
This past September, Pei was included in a group of photographers who went on an Alaskan photo shoot sponsored by Profoto to introduce them to the new Profoto B10 Off-Camera flash system.
“It was the smallest, most powerful wireless lighting system I had ever seen – it was amazing”. It’s small and portable enough to easily pack away in its carrying case along with a camera, lenses, a tripod, and a couple of stands (if that). It’s all I need and I can easily pack it and carry it myself, which is really important to me."
Pei says it’s exciting to have a lighting system that’s 5-times more powerful (250w/s) than her older speedlights. "The B10 system isn’t cumbersome, but rather, it’s intuitive and easy to use.” Having step-less control of the flash output, the ability to instantly switch to continuous daylight, with total control from your smartphone is the sort of magic we used to dream about. Today it fits in a shoulder bag as a carry-on.
One of Pei’s immediate goals is to master using the Profoto B10 Off-Camera flash system so she can use it to light her subjects in ways so subtle and natural-looking, the viewer isn’t aware the subject was artificially lit at all. Her goal is not to challenge or override the existing light, but to compliment it in a way that doesn’t look forced.
Having the option of switching the B10 from flash to daylight-balanced continuous LED light in a step-less range of light output has encouraged Pei to begin experimenting with shooting medium-format film portraits.
One trick she’s learned is to use the B10 in continuous LED mode in order to check the catch lights in the subjects eyes and how the light looks in general before switching back to flash mode.
(As an aside, Pei also admits to using the powerful beam of the B10’s continuous LED light to check her dog for ticks after a hike. “It’s far better than any flashlight I own and way better than the light on my iPhone.” Sorry, but this was too good to leave out folks…)
Pei is the first to admit she is still very much in the learning phase of the system and is still navigating her way through the different light-shaping tools she can use with her Profoto lighting system. Some of the Profoto light-shaping tools she has tried and enjoyed using include the Profoto OCF Softbox Octa (it’s so straightforward and easy to use), the Profoto OCF Softbox Strip , Profoto OCF Barndoors, the Profoto Gel Kit for subtle special effects in portraits, and the Profoto OCF Beauty Dish Silver.
Her goals for this year include getting back to her roots as an artist and photographer, albeit with less of a ‘fear of lighting’ this time around.
To see more of Pei Ketron’s work visit @pketron on Instagram or www.pketron.com