StrobePack: Wearable Portrait Studio and Cutting-Edge Fashion Statement


You can spot-meter and bounce strobes all you want, but on-location portrait photography can still be a pain the butt. Unless you take your studio lighting rig with you.

Mark Kaplan has devised a novel way to do just that with the StrobePack, a professional-level lighting setup rigged to be worn on the photographer’s back.

Kaplan, a Dallas-based photographer who specializes in documenting subcultures such as Burning Man, developed the StrobePack after years of frustration working in areas that made setting up lighting booms impractical at best.

“The basic goal of the StrobePack, is to provide high-quality lighting at night and in low-light conditions,” he writes in a  DIYPhotography introduction. “Although it can be used in daylight, it really works best with low ambient light. It allows low-ISO, long-exposure, higher aperture shooting, which results in sharp, clean subjects while still soaking in ambient light sources.”



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Kaplan has gone through a number of permutations over the past two years to arrive at the current setup:

  • Two Nikon SB-600 flashes,
  • A Phottix Odin trigger system
  • 24-inch white diffusers (can be replaced with softboxes)
  • A Cowboy Studio T-bracket for mounting.
  • Paul C. Buff Vagabond Mini battery pack.
  • LED strip lighting and a portable PA system to turn the rig into a “DiscoPack”  for Burning Man and other party assignments.

The combination delivers soft, event lighting, reasonable portability and plenty of shooting time. Apparent bonus: Quite the babe magnet.

Shot with the StrobePack

Shot with the StrobePack



You can find more photographs captured of and with the StrobePack over in this Flickr set.

(via DIY Photography)

Image credits: All images by Mark Kaplan/Naked Lens Photography, used by permission

  • Justin Haugen

    I’d say it makes for a more compelling selfie than it does a portrait.

  • Rabi Abonour

    Well, those are certainly some well-exposed photos of people staring at the camera…

  • 3Horn

    Great! That’s kind of the look I was going for.

  • Burnin Biomass

    Its dual function too! On a windy day you can tie a rope around your waist and go parasailing.

  • 3Horn

    I may actually have to try that out on the Playa; I know I can roller skate with it on, and it would certainly be more convenient than pedaling a bike everywhere.

  • MS

    The results don’t seem to warrant all that weight and cumbersomeness. I would rather just shoot with a diffuser on camera flash bracket. Actually, I would rather shoot with a very fast lens at high ISO!

  • 3Horn

    The problem with shooting high ISO, is the noise, shooting a lower ISO gives me more range to play with in editing. I shoot a lot of burlesque shows, where flash isn’t an option, so I’ve gotten pretty good at pushing the limits of my D90 as far as high ISO is concerned.

    If I was dealing with a static environment, then I could leave my settings alone, but because the distance to the subject, ambient light and motion are all constantly changing, it’s a bit more more difficult.

  • Andrew Ferguson

    Seems like a pretty direct reproduction of Eric Schwabel’s setup for shooting Burning Man in past years, minus the bicycle and the quality of work: /

  • Stefano Druetta

    especially minus the quality of work.

    seriously, what was this guy thinking? «I’m gonna make it to all photoblogs!» maybe? coz he wasn’t thinking about taking pictures, you can’t tell if he used this hey-hey-hey-look-at-me-i’m-a-photog!! thing he carries around, or the pop-up flash on his camera..


  • 3Horn

    I only found out about Eric Schwabel’s work after I put my first pack together at Dragon*Con in 2011, but I will always acknowledge the groundwork that he laid.

    While our projects are certainly similar, and based around the same premise (getting the light off the camera), we’re very different in the way we use our gear.

    Schwabel does absolutely amazing work, but his focus is on daylight shooting, whereas I prefer to do my shooting at night, allowing me to capture images featuring artificial light sources, such as LEDs and flame.

    As for quality of work, the only person I’m competing with, is myself; photography is still a hobby for me.

    But I *do* have a bike for Burning Man!

  • 3Horn

    Out of curiousity, how much of my work did you examine before making that statement?

  • Stefano Druetta

    we’re talking about results obtained using that rig you made, right? so give yourself an answer. no hating here, just saying.

    I see you’re a hobbist, so pretty much everything is legit [it is in any case, really], but c’mon, can’t you see the difference between pictures taken with that ludicrous proton-pack look-alike strobe rig of yours, and any other “regular” party shots? I must say it ain’t worth the pain. if you look at schwabel’s work, you definitely see the point of having that setup. looking at your shots, I see embarrassed people staring back at you.

  • 3Horn

    Yes, embarrassed, all of them…

  • Stefano Druetta

    trust me I’m not hating :) I see you’re a good guy, with some strange hobbies to be fair, and I totally respect that. i mean: it takes some real cojones to have your skin pierced that way and be hung to the ceiling °_° right now I have a k-wire running thru my collarbone, exiting right at the top of the humerus, and I can’t stand the pain sometime.

    i’m sorry a lot of people is trolling you, but hey, that’s what happens when you make a fool of a lot of people. all of us want to be featured on petapixel or whatsoever blog it is around. seeing someone who gets there with this rig, man, this really sets a precedent. I’m actually “hating” the guy who felt he really really really needed to post about your rig. not you. trust me.

    ps: did I say ALL of them? try to look at your pictures with fresh eyes. you’ll see many.

  • Fauxtog

    Looks like it would hard to make use of a urinal when you gotta go really bad and cant remove the pack in time.

  • 3Horn

    You made a comment about lack of quality in my work, suggested that I was thinking more about being famous than photography, and then called me stupid, but you aren’t “hating”?

    For the record, I didn’t go looking to be featured on PetaPixel or any other blog, they came to me.

  • Stefano Druetta

    tell me what quality should I see. what makes your pictures different from everyone else’s.
    tell me what were you thinking when you designed the rig. why you made it.
    tell me if you didn’t know how many people made something like that before you, and why the guy wrote about it like it was something new.

    I’m sure you weren’t looking for a way to get to petapixel, as you couldn’t recognize sarcasm and irony in many comments here. : )

  • 3Horn

    It most definitely is. Luckily, I haven’t encountered a point-of-no-return while wearing it.


    This thing is Awesome. Wonder how comfortable it is walking around in crouds while having this miracle strapped to the back.

  • 3Horn


    It isn’t too uncomfortable to wear around, but I generally avoid taking it in places that are too densely populated.

  • Victor

    Nice. Now you should add a curved boom that goes over your head and behind your subject to get some rim light. Of course, that might look silly.

  • Matthew

    Actually the results look quite good, and would work well for something like a low light wedding reception. although the impractical nature of the rig would make it almost impossible to use in that situation. I can see the bride getting pissed that the photographer is getting all the attention hahahah

    Gotta admit I’d feel ridiculous wearing that at an event….has the inventor tried it with smaller (15″ maybe) softboxes? Curious as to the differences in results

  • SaveTheWorldGetTheGirl

    Judging from the photos in the article, a ring flash probably could have produced the same, if not better, results … and you could walk through doorways with it. Would lose the “quirk factor” though…

  • Tim

    I would say the maIn difference between this and Schwabel’s rig, is that his lights are in front of the camera which is where most people would place an off camera setup. So the lights are close to the subject without having to use a wide lens. But 10/10 for creativity though, burning man is a fun eccentric festival and that’s exactly what this setup is, you would certainly fit in! The people taking this too seriously seem have missed the point. Go out, have fun and keep taking great photographs! Thanks for the inspiration.

  • heize

    My friend does mostly events, I’m betting this beats, maybe, an assistant he has running around holding an umbrella. re you able to raise the other umbrella to 45 degree angle? Meaning the classic rembrandt lighting.

  • Pick-a-Name

    Is that Serj Tankian in pyjamas?

  • aa

    buy a proper modern camera and forget about ISO problems. D800? or at least d7100!


    Amazing. While flashing on the road it’s pretty much always about getting the lightsource bigger. I tried a lot of solutions so far.. but none worked as I wanted it to. Hehe, first promising solution ;-)

  • PcsIvna

    I don’t really care about either one of you. But, your own work is rather bland too. You have all the same lighting and it’s all kinda cliche run of the mill work you would see everywhere else. The difference here, that other guy’s work might not be great but he has a gimmick, you need to get one. You have no style of your own. I’m sure you were taught well, but you really need to develop your own brand to get anywhere, hence being featured on a blog. SO, until you can do something that will make a fair amount of people seem interested, quit pestering the guy with a gimmick thing who got featured, kiddo.

  • Stefano Druetta

    I know I have A LOT to learn and create and so on. I know I need some GREAT work to be featured here or anywhere else. I’m just sad that someone gets here with the n-th copy [you call that a gimmick?] of the same wearable lighting rig we’ve already seen around. with leds on, sure.

    thanks for spending your time to look at my pictures, I appreciate it. : )

    I apologize Mark for the perceived anger, as I said I’m recovering after a bad accident and I spend too much time online, since I can’t do anything else.

  • 3Horn

    I’ve thought about an AB-800, my main worry is being able to soften the light that close to the subject.

  • Sky

    you serious? Or just fooling around?

  • Alan Dove

    Move the strobes a bit, and you’d have the motorcycling outfit from Almodovar’s “Kika.”

  • 3Horn

    I’ve used 24″ softboxes, and they worked really well, but the mounts weren’t stable, I’d really like to try out Phottix’s Luna beauty dish.

  • jowchie

    I’d rather pay an assistant to hold the light at the correct angle than to get mediocre results from lights coming from the same angle as your camera.

  • Tony L.

    the ABR-800 has a optional diffusion ring, or you could rig up a shower cap with a hole in the middle.

  • Will Mederski

    @3Horn:disqus – i wonder if a folding, bat wing-like set up would work better?
    i honestly don’t have much experience with stropes, but could imagine a setup that folds out and up like a small pair of wings.

  • 3Horn

    That’s a lot easier to do when you’re getting paid to shoot.

    Pretty much everything I shoot using the StrobePack, is unpaid work, the events are usually benefits for other art projects.

  • jowchie

    makes sense… good luck on the pro bono work

  • unDISQUS

    The StrobePack might look outrageous, and may be impractical in many situations, but it at least makes clear what is really needed to overcome a major problem with still photography. Ie: that wide-area lighting is the only way to prevent hard shadows in dark environments. If for nothing else, well done to Mark Kaplan for bringing this problem to the fore.

  • Feroz Khan

    I had this idea about 2 years ago. Then decided it wasn’t worth burning the back of my head off

  • Brendan

    Great work Mark. I know how hard it can be to get nice shots of people at night at an outdoor festival – no ceilings or walls to play with, moving subjects and ever changing ambient lights. I’ve been trying also to come up with a portable costume/setup that can cope with this – you’re way a head of me. Well done!

  • Halfrack

    Just remember that going to Bees means no TTL.

    My big issue with this design is wingspan, as in moving around a crowded area, or doors for that matter. I think adding more speedlites with smaller diffusion panels would allow for a smaller overall width. Toss on external battery packs to those speedlites and you should be good. I would also look at thrift stores for an old Jansport backpacking bag that you can salvage the external frame of. If you’re carrying it all day, make it easy.

  • Shut Up Stupid


  • oscar

    Ok, but a D800 or D600 will give him 2 stops at most.

  • oscar

    And you like that the subject to be over the background, right? So you need a flash, but why not use a minisoft box only? Is it just the selling point?

  • James

    That’s some pretty darn good light, Still not entirely sure it’s worth the hassle, but it’s cool none the less. I think I would add a beauty dish to it, sure it would add weight and bulk but i’m convinced you don’t care about that lol, and it would throw some directional light in to the mix.