Sunday, June 30, 2013

Master Soft Light

Text And Photography By William Sawalich Published in Photography Lighting
Master Soft Light
The dynamic nature of light lets you sculpt and influence light output by controlling the shape of the light spread and spill. Adding silver bounce to a light modifier helps to enhance light output for a specular commercial pop. Reflective interiors are also available in variations of white, silver, gold, black and striped combinations for the best of both worlds.

(My Photoflex Octodome includes a removable silver lining to add kick to this otherwise supersoft source.) The large diameter of a seven-foot octa not only provides enough spread for large-scale subjects, but it also can be positioned close for more dramatic falloff while still providing head-to-toe coverage for a full-length portrait. The large octa also works well as on-axis fill because it can be positioned behind the camera and, via sheer size, still illuminate the subject.


A "strip softbox" is simply a softbox with a more linear shape. It's a narrower rectangle that delivers a narrower spread of light. It's still soft, of course, but it simply doesn't spread light as broadly as a traditional softbox. Experienced portrait shooters love to put a stripbox on a boom over the subject as a hair light, and fashion and editorial portrait photographers who use lots of lights can turn to striplights for the perfect edge light that maintains its diffuse quality without spilling onto other areas. The shape of the striplight also makes it ideal for product photographers who may want to create a specific specular highlight on the surface of a shiny subject such as a wine bottle. (To mimic that striplight shape with a traditional softbox, consider masking it down to size with flags, black foamcore or foil.)

Most manufacturers produce several softbox, octobox and stripbox configurations in a variety of dimensions for both studio strobes and on-camera flashes, like the SilverDome NXT line of models from Photoflex or the Westcott Rapid Box Strip or Octa softbox models, which fold like an umbrella for fast setup and breakdown.


Ask any photographer about why they choose umbrellas over softboxes and more often than not you'll hear about portability. For a photographer lugging what feels like a literal ton of lighting equipment on location, the portability and ease of setup make umbrellas a popular choice. That said, umbrellas are a lot more than just a simplified softbox. In fact, when it comes to what's important—the quality of light—umbrellas bring their own benefits. First, there's the wealth of options. There are white umbrellas (used either to reflect the light or as a translucent shoot-through—the latter providing a cleaner catchlight in the eyes and generally softer illumination) and silver umbrellas that add some kick—a bit of shimmer via brighter highlights and greater perceived contrast. There's also the Photek Softlighter style of umbrella (often called a brolly box), which incorporates a frontal silk to add a second layer of diffusion. When used indoors, umbrellas are less contrasty than softboxes because all that spill tends to bounce around the room, eventually winding up at the subject as fill. This can be a problem or a plus, depending on your perspective.

Umbrellas are a popular tool from many manufacturers like Broncolor, Elinchrom, Lastolite, Photek, Photoflex, Profoto, Speedotron and most others. Dynalite makes several solutions, including a 44" White model with Black Backing, the 48" Quad Square umbrella in Silver with Black Backing or the 36" White model with Black Backing. The Interfit Strobies Umbrella kit is another nice choice because it's a full-sized umbrella system that can be used with portable flashes.


Parabolic Umbrella

The original parabolic reflector is the Broncolor Para. At nearly 95 inches across when fully open, what makes this huge parabolic so unique is its ability to change focus—from the equivalent of a very large, soft spotlight to a much less intense broad light. The silver interior in a large umbrella is key for the parabolic look; it's this combination of large source and semi-focused silver interior that makes for those punchy highlights. This type of source is contrastier and more directional than the typical softbox or umbrella, providing brighter highlights and more falloff at the edges, great for definition in fashion and editorial portraiture. Other manufacturers offer their own takes on the silver parabolic, capitalizing on the prohibitively high price of the de facto king, the Broncolor Para 330. Purists insist, though, that the quality of light from the original Para may be emulated, but never truly be duplicated.
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