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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

Feathering The Light

When using one of those very small softboxes as a keylight, consider feathering the light by aiming the softbox away from the subject. The result is a soft and flattering portrait. But be prepared to open up two stops or more.

Light-Shapers For Speedlights

Many small to moderate-sized umbrellas that are used with studio strobes also can be used with speedlights. However, a special adapter is normally required so that an umbrella can be fitted to the flash and the combo mounted to a light stand, or failing that, a tripod. When it comes to using conventional softboxes with shoe-mounts, it’s not always a practical solution, so the choice often falls to smaller boxes designed specifically for this purpose.

ExpoImaging Rogue FlashBenders
What’s more, given that output from a single shoe-mount may not provide the intensity of light needed, special brackets let you mount two, three or four speedlights together so they can be more effectively aimed into an umbrella or out through a softbox. For instance, the FourSquare System not only comes with a com- pact mounting block so that up to four attached speedlights squarely face the subject (or umbrella surface, as applicable) with an even distribution of light, but it also comes with a 30x30-inch softbox (optional accessories take it further). Dot Line takes a simpler approach with the RPS Studio LightBar, which holds up to four flashes.

HonlPhoto 1/8 Speed Grid
Softening The Light. The more typical light modifiers for shoe-mounts are bounce devices. Indoors, with white ceilings of average height, we could bounce light to effectively soften it, with the unwanted side effect of creating deep pockets of shadow, particularly under the eyes, together with the appearance of a dead stare (lacking catchlights). Built-in or accessory kicker panels provide an expedient workaround against these blemishes, but aren’t entirely a satisfactory solution. So manufacturers have come up with larger reflector panels made of pliable materials that attach to a flash head by means of Velcro® and that can be shaped as needed. The speedlight head is normally tilted straight up, allowing light to bounce off the ceiling while kicking some back as fill. Shape the panel into a scoop for more of a parabolic umbrella effect.

However you use it, this approach has the effect of throwing more light onto the subject. In this case, flash-to-subject distance isn’t that much of a factor if the main light hitting the subject is bounced off the ceiling. The kicker is just icing on the cake, and rarely the sole light source. Two noteworthy examples of reflector panel light modifiers are the HonlPhoto Speed Lighting System and the ExpoImaging Rogue FlashBenders.

RPS Studio Snoot with speedlight
Then there’s the other approach to dealing with bounce lighting, one very familiar to wedding and event photographers. Instead of panels, we use dome- or rectangular-shaped diffusers that fit over the flash head. These are particularly effective at dispersing light more evenly, especially with wide-angle lenses and large groups. Of equal importance, these devices reduce the intensity of or largely eliminate background shadows when the flash is used on the camera or on a low-profile bracket. Gary Fong’s Lightsphere Collapsible stands out from the crowd as an exceptionally flexible and versatile speedlight diffuser.

Now, getting back to softboxes, this time for shoe-mounts. These light-shapers have been miniaturized for speedlights to the point where they have limited utility (as outlined earlier for compact boxes). The RPS Studio Speedlite Studio SoftBox is a good choice because it opens and closes easily and uses the same mounting hardware as several other accessories in this system. The Honl Traveller8 also attaches quickly but is circular, making it especially suitable for headshots. Another candidate is the Photoflex Extra Small LiteDome Basic Kit (complete with hardware). As a stark contrast, Westcott offers The Ultimate Flash Kit, complete with strip light and mounting gear suitable for a wider array of portraiture.


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