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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Hi-Tech Studio: The Softbox

The essential light modifier for all genres of professional photography

Glow Hexapop R-series; LumiQuest SoftBox

Softboxes create directional, diffuse, natural-looking light. The light quality might be compared to that of an overcast day, but using a softbox, you have control over the size, shape and direction of the light. Incredibly versatile, you can use a softbox as a key light, fill light or backlight. Their adaptability make them a favorite among professional photographers, from photojournalists who use small ones on a handheld flash to fashion and beauty shooters working on location to studio photographers shooting a perfume ad. A softbox should be in every photographer's grip kit.

The basics of the design are simple. The softbox attaches to a strobe or continuous light source. With four opaque sides made of fabric, the light bounces around the reflective inner lining, and it's shaped and released out the opposite side where a translucent piece of fabric spans the corners of the frame, creating the soft, even, diffuse light. Most are roughly rectangular in shape, but several manufacturers also make octagonal models, which will create a more round catchlight.

The translucent fabric can be layered or traded out for various thicknesses, allowing the light to be customized for the space and subject. Accessories, such as grids, which limit light scatter, also add customized control, and you can use large gel sheets to color the light.

Size is one of the most important factors in your softbox decision. Ultimately, it's the size of the light source (combined with its distance from the subject) that determines the hardness or softness of the light. For photographers shooting primarily headshots, detail fashion shots, small objects or children, softboxes around 24 inches or under usually will get the job done. Larger softboxes spread more light and can be moved farther away from the subject, giving you and the subject more room to work and move or for softer shadow transitions. Large softboxes work well for full-length portraits, as well as shots with many subjects.

Another important aspect to look for is the interior lining. Many softboxes have a standard white lining, while some are available with gold or silver interiors, or have the ability to swap between colors. Metallic interiors generally boost contrast and amplify your light output.

You also need to choose a diffuser that will match your light source. Several factors may come into play. If you're shooting video, you'll need a continuous light source opposed to a strobe. But if you primarily shoot stills, you have more flexibility and your decision may be based on portability, cost of power output or the equipment you already have in your arsenal. Here's a sampling of what's available.

Chimera F2X Lightbank and Mini Lightbank
The Chimera Mini Lightbank softbox measures 12x16 inches and can be used with your on-camera strobe while mounted to a light stand. With white or silver interiors and a sewn-in front screen, it comes with a carry sack for complete portability. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Overhead Modular F2X Lightbank with a silver interior uses bare-tube strobes for lighting large spaces and objects, such as cars. Designed with no-tool quick assembly in mind, the F2X comes with 60-inch duffle cases for mobility. For a mid-range softbox, the unique OctaPlus 57 Lightbank provides variable sizes as it can convert from 5 to 7 feet. With a silver interior, it's compatible with most strobes and continuous lights up to 1200W. www.chimeralighting.com

The Glow R-series provides a variety of standard softbox sizes for both studio and location work, ranging from the 20-inch Hexapop to the 24x36-inch Rectangle to the 71-inch Grand Softbox. All modifiers are heat-resistant and designed from durable gridded fabric lining. www.adorama.com


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