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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Location Shoot

Sophisticated light-shaping tools give you complete control over the image while using portable strobes and speedlights

This Article Features Photo Zoom

A key goal in lighting is shaping that light so we can make an effective visual statement or help define the subject, or both. When it comes to using light-shaping tools on location, especially for a small studio or startup, we have to take utility, convenience and price into consideration without losing sight of that goal. And we may look for tools that add a distinct flavor to the shot to define our “signature” lighting.

Photoflex LiteDome XS; Lastolite 8-in-1 Umbrella shoot-through with mask; Photogenic Eclipse with peel-back layer

Some light-shaping gear can be adapted for use with either speedlights or monolights and strobe heads, while other devices definitely are geared toward one or the other by virtue of size and overall design. While similar products may be available, I’ll highlight certain products that experience recommends or that otherwise appear to offer distinct benefits. (For more information on where to begin with your location strobe lighting system, check out “Mobile Lighting Solutions”.)

Size Does Matter

When working on location, the size of the light-shaper may be of paramount concern. You’ll likely want to keep to moderate sizes to deal with existing conditions. For instance, more confined indoor spaces, especially low ceilings, won’t allow a large light source to be raised as high as you may like for the optimum lighting angle and effect. Windy conditions outdoors likewise will dictate against large umbrellas and banks, while still requiring you to fill up sandbags on the spot to weigh down a light stand and stabilize it.

Shaping Light With Portable Studio Strobes

The most popular tools for shaping light are umbrellas and softboxes. Umbrellas offer a lot of bang for the buck: They’re often a first choice because you can set them up quickly and easily, and because they’re compact, easy to carry and cheap. On the other hand, softboxes hold sway owing to the degree of control and quality of light they afford.

Beyond that, of course, come snoots, barndoors and honeycomb grids to more tightly confine the light. These can be used either on their own or in combination, where applicable. These and related accessories are common enough for studio/location strobes so that we don’t have to spend more time on them.

Westcott Ultimate Speedlite Kit
Umbrellas. Regardless of how a photographer feels about the photographic umbrella, most of us own at least one or two. The umbrella is lightweight and compact, and great for portraiture because it’s often a very flattering form of low-contrast, wraparound lighting. Umbrellas don’t normally require brand-specific accessories (something typical of softboxes when speed rings are involved). However, some heads may require an optional umbrella reflector in place of the standard reflector to hold the umbrella shaft.

Everyone’s favorite complaint about umbrellas is spill light (illuminating more ground than intended). You can tighten the spread of light up to a point by moving the flash head along the shaft, closer in to the umbrella interior.


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