Rob Engels

After spending all of last week in DC shooting two weddings and two corporate events, it’s nice to be back in Charlottesville where I have my girlfriend, desktop, and a quiet office to start sorting through the 8,000 pictures I shot!

First on the list to be edited is a shoot that I did for my long time friend, Rob Engels. I met Rob about 15 years ago, and he and I eventually worked at Hard Times Cafe together. Rob was patient enough to take me under his wing when I first started working for my stepdad, so when he requested that I shoot him for his new blog,,I jumped at the chance.

After transitioning from the restaurant industry to a corporate lifestyle andbecoming a father of two kids, Rob found himself overweight and unhappy. One day he decided to change his lifestyle, pick himself off the couch, and start running. Flash forward to two years later, where Rob is now an accomplished marathon runner and is in training for a full-fledged Iron Man triathlon scheduled for the summer of 2010.

Rob’s message is simple; anyone can do this. I have always known Rob to be an extremely motivated individual, but the most charming part of his story is that he doesn’t go out there and buy any of the ‘Gucci’ gear. Rob has always had a very boiled down and minimalist approach to everything he does, and now he’s trying to convey that message in his blog.

Taking some of Rob’s advice, I kept things real simple throughout this shoot with one light for the majority of these pictures. The photo above and below were shot around 0900 with anAB 1600 strobe and a giant 30 X 60 softbox. My Vagabond II provided the on scene power and after that it was just a matter of balancing out Rob against the bright morning sun. I cranked down the aperture to my most comfortable setting of F 16 and killed some of the ambient in the background by around -2 stops just before hitting my max sync speed of 1/250th of a second.

It was surprisingly difficult to catch Rob at just the right moment due to a number of factors. To start off, my strobe was set to almost 1/2 power (which is a lot!!!), so I only had one chance to capture the shot for each pass that he made. Plus, you have to keep in mind that the light from the flash is going to freeze everything that it hits, so you really have to remain cognizant of a number of things when working with people in motion. Couple that with the fact that we only had a 30 minute window to make this all happen before the sun became too bright to work with, and I had a real pressure cooker on my hands.

Not to fear, everything worked out great and Rob is thrilled with the images that we produced.

A big part of Rob’s blog is going to be dedicated to tips that he’s picked up along the way. These two shots above are there to show his readers the unique stretches that he’s found to work best for distance runners.

When the light on the track became too harsh to overcome with the strobes, we moved to the woods to grab some pics of him running along the trail. Before I was mainly contending with motion, but now I had to deal with a fast rising sun and all the little pockets of light that were starting to break through the trees. One way I found to mitigate some of the harsh fill from the sun was to move the strobes in close to Rob, which in turn made it more difficult for me to frame and created a smaller “bubble of exposure” around where I imagined Rob’s foot striking. After a couple of passes, we nailed the shot above, but my angle was just a hair off which is why you can see that flare up in top right corner.

After the woods we headed back to Rob’s house to take a few macro shots of the gear that he’s using. Since we were indoors, I left the big strobes in the truck in favor of a small camera flash. I brought along myLastolie Ezybox Hot Shoe, which I purchased a while back and haven’t had much use for it since it makes very punchy and dramatic light (not necessary for the majority of my paid client work of weddings and corporate events). The Ezybox was the perfect light modifier for these product shots and I’m very happy with the results this compact combination produced.

You can view the rest of the images from our shoot in the gallery that I’ve posted and be sure to RSS to Rob’s blog or drop in every once in a while to see what he’s been up to.

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4 Responses to “Rob Engels”

  1. Nikhil Bahl says:

    Great job with the photos! You had some challenging lighting and used the strobes to good effect.
    I can attest to Rob’s motivation as we work together.

  2. Nick says:

    Thank you Nikhil!

    Rob sent me a link to your work and you have an incredibly impressive photography background and nature portfolio which makes your compliment that much better!

    The lighting was challenging, and in retrospect I wish I would have hauled another light out to the track for some fill on that first shot since the shadows on the left side of his face may be a bit too harsh.

  3. Patrick M. Ryan says:

    Really nice work on these shots. I am always impressed when someone gets great exposure between bright sunlight and strobe.
    The only thing that bugs me is that wooden bench behind your subject, especially on the stretching pictures. Did you include that on purpose? It seems to clutter your otherwise excellent pictures.


  4. Nick says:


    Thanks a lot, and thank you for leaving a comment on my blog!

    To be honest, I can’t really remember if I noticed the benches but the two different angles with which the shots were taken tells me otherwise.

    It looks like I worked to center the bench between Rob’s legs since I know I am a stickler when it comes to foreground and background objects intersecting.

    Another drawback to our limited time was that I kept the strobe in static location at the bend of the track. If I had scouted the backdrop ahead of time, I probably could have found a better, cleaner place to shoot.