High School Seniors + Sports

Seniors & Sports: One Photographer’s Fave Lighting Kits

July 28, 2022

By David Hakamaki

When photographing high school senior portraits and sports, photographers often need external lighting. Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury of having assistants to carry equipment. Like me, a lot of photographers do everything themselves—you carry your equipment, take the photos, edit, process, and deliver. That means I need kits that I can carry to a location, set up fast, and still create stunning and well-lit images.

[Read: High School Senior Portraits: The Male Client Approach]

Lighting equipment has progressively become lighter, more powerful, and more versatile. I can now carry a high powered off-camera strobe in the palm of my hand. That includes light, battery, and receiver. Gone are the days of heavy strobe heads, backbreaking battery packs, a tangle of cables, and complete lack of mobility.

David Hakamaki's senior portraits and sports equipment.

I use the Flashpoint/Godox lighting system. After trying different platforms, I found that Flashpoint/Godox has a nice selection that is very cost effective, durable, interchangeable, and lightweight. This platform has allowed me to build a complete system by adding strobes/modifiers/accessories as my needs have changed. (Scroll to end for my kit breakdowns.)

Senior portraits and sports equipment setup by David Hakamaki.
All Images © David Hakamaki

Senior Portraits

High School Senior Photography has changed over the years. Seniors want a lot of images, at a lot of locations, with a lot of variety. They are not necessarily concerned with the “perfect” image (posing, lighting, composition), but want to capture their personality and free spirit. By using a friend to take the images, their session can be relaxed and informal. If they get subpar images, they chalk it up to, “Well, they aren’t a professional anyway.“ We, as professionals, do not have that luxury.

[Read: Foolproof Lighting in Three Simple Steps]

I am finding seniors want that ease and quantity of images from me. By no means am I saying that I have to sacrifice quality of imagery or lighting. This imparts a lot of pressure to meet both the client’s needs, as well as maintaining my professional standards.

David Hakamalo uses the AD200Pro for senior portraits.

For Seniors, one of my favorite kits is the AD200Pro, with V1 on-camera flash. The V1 allows a highlight in the eye, while the AD200Pro providing adequate off-camera light for illumination and dimension. If I need more light, I can always add in another AD200Pro, or switch to the AD400Pro for very bright situations.

High School & Youth Sports

For my high school and youth sports teams, my area has always done photos before practice or immediately before a game. This gives me a very finite amount of time and location to shoot. I may get a sun baked baseball field, a windy soccer field, gymnasium with mixed lighting, or a dreary wrestling room AND only 30-45 minutes before practice/game time. No pressure, right?

[Read: The Legalities of Photographing School Sports]

I can now walk onto a baseball field or into a gymnasium with my camera, light stand(s) and all of my lighting in my camera bag. Because of the compact nature of my kit, I can set up fast and get out of quickly. Thus, I have to quickly mitigate poor ambient lighting, dingy backgrounds, windy conditions and chaotic kids, while still ensuring that photos look great. I have tried to educate our coaches/Athletic Directors to allow for a more efficient process, with limited success.

Hakamaki uses the AD400Pro for sports portraits.

My favorite sports setup is a single AD400Pro (or two AD200s and AD-B2 twin head adapter) with a 32-inch octobox or reflector. For outdoor locations, I use my 10-foot Savage Universal MultiFlex Light Stand. This allows my base to be widened to minimize tipping in windy conditions. For gymnasiums, I like two AD200Pros with umbrellas. I have also experimented with using the round fresnel heads, with diffusion domes on, and pointed slightly upward and toward the subject, which further minimizes my equipment load. This unique light setup diffuses beautifully, with very little shadowing. For separation, I can always add an additional AD100Pro or AD200Pro as a kicker/rim light.

Think Fast & Light

If you are a solo photographer who has to haul your equipment and work fast, consider investing into a system similar to mine. I am perfectly satisfied with my Flashpoint/Godox system and find that it does everything I need it to do. By all means, select the lighting system that works best for you, that is compatible with your equipment, and within your budget. Just remember, by being able to shoot fast and light, you create a niche that allows you to stand out from your competition.

My Favorite Senior Portraits and Sports Kits:

 Senior KitSports Kit
Lights1-2 AD400s -or- 1 – AD200 with bare bulb attachment in S-bracket2 – AD200s w/round fresnel heads and diffusion dome (main light) + 1 – AD100 (background light)
Trigger1 – V1 Speedlight (trigger and catchlight)1 – V1 Speedlight (trigger and catchlight)
Modifier1-2 32” Collapsible Octoboxes1 – 32” Collapsible October -or- 1 – AD-B2 Twin Head Adapter
Light Stand1-2 10’ Savage MultiFlex Light Stands2 – 13’ Flashpoint Light Stands
AccessoriesScrim, Pop-up Change Tent, SandbagsAccessory dome for round heads
David Hakamaki with his senior portraits and sports lighting equipment.

David Hakamaki, Cr.Photog., runs Cutting Edge Photography, a highly successful, full-time, home-based studio in Iron Mountain, MI. He specializes in senior portraits and sports photography, and has spoken at photography conferences and workshops around the U.S., Canada and the UK, including WPPI. He’s also a brand ambassador for many of the photography industry’s largest companies.