Saturday, August 31, 2013

Tools Focusing Light

Text And Photography By William Sawalich Published in Photography Lighting
By controlling the light spread with a Fresnel, you can limit the spill and create a good catchlight.
By controlling the light spread with a Fresnel, you can limit the spill and create a good catchlight.

Other Modifiers

There are a handful of other light modifiers that don't focus light so much as they shape it in specific ways. The beauty dish, for instance, is a large dish reflector popular among fashion and beauty photographers for its unique ability to create output that's focused, yet soft. The beauty dish softens the light, while its conical shape focuses it into a directional beam. In practice, that means a soft light that still produces fairly hard-edged shadows and a center hot spot with light that falls off gradually at its edges—the best elements of both hard and soft lighting, all rolled into one. Another popular light-shaping modifier is the gobo, which is short for "goes before optics" because these little metal and glass patterned sheets fit into fixtures between the lamp and lens. Gobos are used to create patterned light. This could be as simple as a dappled effect, or a crisp pattern or corporate logo. Gobos, and the spotlights used to project them, are also popular in theatrical lighting.

While they can certainly be used in still photography, even more popular than patterning light with a gobo is the use of a cookie. Short for "cucoloris," a cookie is like a patterned scrim or flag that's positioned between the light fixture and the subject (or background, depending on the application) to create patterned light. The closer the cookie is to the light source, the less defined and softer the edges of the pattern will be. The closer the cookie is to the subject or background, the more hard edged and well defined the pattern will be. Cookies are an easy way to break up a plain background and add texture via the background light, or to emulate the look of light dappling through foliage. They're even used to simulate window light, or any other shape that can be cut into metal, wood, cardboard or foil. One word of caution when working with cookies: Hot lights don't mix well with flammable materials like wood and paper; be careful.

Light Modifiers For Hot-Shoe Flash

It used to be that the biggest difference between studio-style strobes and hot-shoe flashes was that the latter didn't offer the wealth of light modifiers that are available in the studio. Thanks to manufacturers like Rogue, Gary Fong and Honl Photo, that's not the case anymore. Photographers now can apply studio-style light-focusing tools to compact handheld strobes.

The Rogue FlashBender looks like a normal bounce card when mounted to a flash, but it's much more. The FlashBender is essentially a fabric-covered wire frame that can be bent and shaped into any number of contortions, including the cylindrical shape of a snoot. With white fabric on the inside and black fabric outside, the snoot also can be reconfigured for use as a normal fill card or flag, kind of like a barn door. FlashBenders also can be outfitted with a diffusion panel to turn the device into an actual tiny softbox.

Honl Photo's Speed Snoot works in much the same way to become a bounce card, flag or snoot on a handheld strobe. Three choices for interiors—gray, white and gold—offer further tweaking to make the output contrastier or flatter, warmer or cooler. Both Honl and Rogue also offer grids that can be used to focus a strobe's output.

Gary Fong's Lightsphere for flashes is certainly versatile, but it's not ideal for focusing light. For that, Fong created two options. The first, the PowerSnoot, turns any flash into a spotlight. With its chrome-painted reflector, the light is already focused when it leaves the flash device, and with the addition of the PowerGrid cover, it can be focused even further. The Lightsphere Collapsible Snoot makes the same sort of focusing control a bit more compact and portable, important for people working with hot-shoe strobes. The black Lightsphere Collapsible Snoot also can be used with the same PowerGrid for further focused effects.

William Sawalich is a professional photographer, and he teaches studio photography at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. A frequent DPP contributor, you can see more of his work at

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