Loving that light!

A great pairing of lighting equipment

If you have been following me for a while you are probably aware of my love for the 60-inch Photek Softlighter II. I've had mine for 20 years and sometimes stray away from it to use some other modifiers. But then comes a day when I put it back into the mix and ask myself why I haven't been using it as much as I should.

You also know that I have come to embrace the Interfit Photographic Honey Badger as my go-to lighting instrument. But I have not talked much about using them together. Do to the design of the Honey Badger I think it is a perfect mate for the Softlighter. And later in this post I will tell you why. But first some photographs...

Yesterday I got to photograph some Elizabethan outfits from my friends at Period Corsets and I am very happy with the results. Hilary made the outfits and Megan was our model and makeup artist. We had two full outfits to photograph plus the undergarments (which are totally safe for work). For these I elected to light with the Softlighter from camera left and with a 1x3-foot gridded strip box from the left rear for a small accent. The fill "light" was a large sheet of white foam board on camera right (lighting diagram provided below)

Lighting diagram for the Period Corset photos

The Softlighter imparts such a wonderful glow on Megan with good overall coverage and nice falloff to the background. The background is 9-foot wide roll of gray seamless paper with a length of floor board molding from a local home improvement center resting along the bottom to finish it off. All of the textures on the background were added in post-proccessing.

My process for building up lighting for a photograph is to start with one main light and then add accents and fill as needed. In 90% of the situations the fill light will come from reflectors of some sort and not from a second light. Any additional lights will be for accents and will tend to come from behind the subject.

The Dynamic Duo
Now about the pairing of the Honey Badger and the Softlighter. The softlighter consists of a 10-panel umbrella and a diffusion panel that goes over the opening of the umbrella. The diffuser panel has a heat-resistant elastic sock in the middle of it that goes around the lamp head to hold things in place. I prefer to use lights "bare bulb" in the Softlighter. That is, without a reflector on the light which might narrow the beam and not fill the Softlighter as much as possible without the reflector. In the past this could be an issue with studio strobes employing a 250-watt quartz-halogen modeling lamp. Those lamps get HOT HOT HOT. And if the sock on the Softlighter was to slip forward a bit it could come too close to the light resulting in a bit of smoke and a really foul smell. I suspect that if left in contact long enough it would set the sock on fire. Yes, I know this from experience. 

Enter the Honey Badger. This light has a ring around the face of it for attaching slip-on accessories such as the 24x24-inch softbox that comes with the Honey Badger. This black ring works perfectly to hold the Softlighter's sock in place. Of course, the Honey Badger has a 60-watt LED modeling lamp, so while being brighter than the 250-watt quartz lamps on other lights, it remains relatively cool (around 85-degrees F) and won't set the sock to smoldering or burning.

The Interfit Honey Badger with the mounting ring on the front

The Honey Badger with the Softlighter diffuser held in place by the mounting ring

The diffusion panel attached to the umbrella

The elastic sock slipped forward and came into contact with the glass diffusion dome on a strobe head with a hot 250-watt quartz halogen modeling lamp

As an Interfit Creative Pro I can offer you a 10% discount on any equipment purchased directly from the Interfit web site. Just use the code CORNICELLO10 at the end of the checkout process.

 

Boom!

The Interfit Combo Boom Stand

I first saw this new Combo Boom Stand from Interfit Photographic at the WPPI trade show and was immediately intrigued. So much so that I ordered one as soon as I got home. And yesterday I got to use it on a location job where it really saved the day.

 The outside location. Lit by the skylight augmented by an Interfit S1 strobe with the standard 7-inch metal dish reflector.

The outside location. Lit by the skylight augmented by an Interfit S1 strobe with the standard 7-inch metal dish reflector.

Tall and sturdy
I had two setups to photograph at a law office. The first one was outside on a very windy day. The wide leg spread on this stand really helped keep the light in place along with the help of a sand bag. I was able to get my light up about 12 feet (the maximum height of the Combo Boom Stand is just about 13 feet). Because of the wind I opted for a 7” metal reflector on the Interfit S1 battery-powered strobe instead of a larger modifier that would have turned into a sail and blown away in the wind.

 Booming the light out over the table allowed me to get rid of the shadow on the left

Booming the light out over the table allowed me to get rid of the shadow on the left

The next set up was in a small conference room with a table in the middle that could not be moved out of the way. The four members of the team were going to be placed at the end of the table in front of a small alcove. With my light positioned next to the table it cast a strong and objectionable shadow into the alcove. I was able to quickly convert the light stand to a boom and position my light above the camera and above the conference table to get rid of the shadows. Again, I used a weight. This time to counterbalance the lamp head and umbrella. I cannot over emphasize the need to use the included weight bag (you supply the weights) on this or any other light stand and boom arm.

In addition to the boom arm capability, this stand has springs to cushion the 3 sections of the stand and it allows you to change the position of the light mount so it provides its own drop pin to position the lamp head so that it doesn’t twist on the end of the boom because of its weight. An additional feature is the knurled texture on the pin that gives the screw locks something to bite in on to hold the light in place better (see my previous post about modifying my Avenger boom arms to help prevent the light from twisting). The locking knobs and collars are generously sized and easy to turn.

 This tall light stand easily converts to a stand and boom arm

This tall light stand easily converts to a stand and boom arm

 Being able to let the light hang down keeps it from wanting to spin around the boom arm

Being able to let the light hang down keeps it from wanting to spin around the boom arm

 The repositionabe spigot has a heavily textured surface to help hold your light in place

The repositionabe spigot has a heavily textured surface to help hold your light in place

 Another option for positioning the spigot depending on your needs

Another option for positioning the spigot depending on your needs

All this comes at a very reasonable price tag of $99.99, and as an Interfit Creative Pro I can offer you a discount code for 10% off orders directly from Interfit by using the code CORNICELLO10 at the end of the checkout process. (This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase using my code.)

Now go out and light up your world!
 

The $300 portrait lighting setup

Lighting For The Budget Minded

This is a followup to my previous post about the Interfit Studio Essentials line of equipment. My friend David stopped by for a visit today and I asked him to sit for a quick portrait. For this I used the two light kit that comes with a remote trigger for your camera, two flash heads, two 20x28-inch softboxes, 2 speedrings, 2 light stands, and a carry case. A pretty nice setup for $299.99*. Each light with the softbox attached weighs in at less than 4 lbs, so will be easy to travel with. All I added for this photo session was a gray paper background and a 20x30-inch sheet of white foamcore from the dollar store.

I took about a dozen photos as David and I talked. The last photo turned out very nicely. I thought that the photo would make a great b/w study, so I cleaned up some fly-away hairs in Photoshop and then created the black & white conversion in Lightroom. 

Power to spare
These 200 watt-second lights put out plenty of light for portraits. I had the power level on the main light set to 4.1 (3 stops below maximum power) and was able to work at F/7.1 while still keeping my ISO at 100. The light was about 30 inches from David and pointed across his face (feathered), not pointed directly at him. The accent light from the right rear was dialed down to power level 3.0. At these low power settings the recycle rate on the flash is down to about 1 second. 

A great starting point
These lights use the industry-standard Bowens S-mount to attach modifiers so if down the road you decide to move up to the Honey Badger or S1 lights you can keep using the same speedrings and modifiers. 

How it was lit
Below I have included a diagram of the light setup and the original color image as captured by the camera.

Lighting diagram for David's portrait

Original image, straight out of the camera

*Discount available!

As an Interfit Creative Pro I can offer you a 10% discount on all Interfit Photo products that you purchase directly from the Interfit website by using the code CORNICELLO10 (all caps!) at the end of your checkout process. I will get credit for the referral and may be compensated for purchases made with this code.

Join me on Facebook
If you have questions about studio lighting please feel join my studio Portrait group on Facebook.

Cheers!
John

Interfit Studio Essentials

Looking for your first studio flash?

Interfit Value Flash
value flash with reflector

Hot on the heels of the Honey Badger strobe introduced in 2017, Interfit Photographic has come out with a new line of products called the Studio Essentials. Included in this line is a 200 watt second strobe head that retails for $99.99. Called the 200Ws Value flash, it offers a 6-stop range of power adjustable in 1/10 stop increments. The specs for the flash claim a 5-stop range, but the unit goes from power level 2.0 to 7.0. Testing the light with its 20x28-inch softbox at 3 feet my meter reads from f/2.8 (power level 2.0) to f/16 (power level 7.0). That is f/2.8 - f/4 - f/5.6 - f/8 -f/11 - f/16. Plenty of power for the home studio.

value flash controls

This light comes with a built-in radio receiver and a trigger for your camera is available for $19.99 (if you purchase one of the kits I write about below the trigger is included). The light also uses the industry standard Bowens S-mount for accessories (as do the Honey Badger and the S1 from Interfit). A standard 7-inch metal reflector is included. At this price point,though, it should be pointed out that the radio triggers are not compatible with those for the Honey Badger and S1 and work most reliably at shutter speeds of 1/125 and slower. The Value Flash does have an optical slave trigger so can be triggered by other lights in your studio setup up to the sync speed of your camera. High Speed Sync is not available

The Value Flash shares the ratcheted angle adjustment with the Honey Badger. This helps when using larger/heavier modifiers on the flash head. Even if the angle adjustment isn’t tightened down completely the ratchet keeps the flash from flopping over. It took me a little while to get used to and appreciate this feature. Now I find it quite useful.

Recycle time at full power is 2 seconds. Color temperature is 5600K at full power. Color temperature gets a little bit warmer at lower power settings. This is easily compensated for by adjusting the white balance in Adobe Lightroom or other raw converter. Exposure has been very consistent from flash to flash in my testing. These are very economical first lights if you are just getting started. And the optical slave triggering and use of S-Mount accessories means that you can continue using them as you progress to more advanced lighting units in the future. 

 Oops! Don't touch the bulb with bare fingers!

Oops! Don't touch the bulb with bare fingers!

The modeling lamp is a 75W halogen lamp. And it should be mentioned here that you should never touch the modeling lamp with bare fingers, as the oils from your skin will boil on the lamp possibly causing the lamp to fail and even shatter. Use the cushioned wrap that the bulb comes in to hold and insert the bulb into the flash head when you set it all up. If you do touch the lamp you can clean it with alcohol on a clean cloth

Specially priced lighting kits

Now about the kits Interfit offers. There are three options. The first one is $119.99 and includes one flash head,  a 7’6” light stand, a 36-inch translucent white umbrella, and a remote trigger that sits in the hotshoe of your camera to fire the flash wirelessly. Purchased separately these items would sell for around $150.

speedring

The other two kits each include two flash heads. The umbrella kit comes with 2 stands, 2 translucent umbrellas, and the remote trigger for $199.99. And for an extra $100 ($299.99) you get 2 20x28-inch softboxes instead of the umbrellas, the remote trigger, the light stands, and a carrying case. The speedrings for the softboxes are included and you should know that to assemble the softboxes to the speedrings you should use the holes marked B1-B4 on the speedring for the proper shape and tension on the rods. The softboxes have flat front panels that make them good for both product and portrait photography. I find that flat front softboxes (no lip) cane be easier to control and feather and provide for nice straight edge reflections in shiny objects in still life photos. The softbox kit does not come with the 7-inch metal reflectors

ACCESSORIES!

The Studio Essentials line offers a lot more than just the Value Flash. There is also a variety of LED lights (which I have not tried yet, so will not be talking about here) and a number of other accessories such as light stands, background stands, backgrounds, and pop-up reflectors. Rounding out the collection is a set of S-mount light modifiers that include beauty dishes (22” and 28”), grids, a background reflector, a snoot and a set of barn doors that includes4 color gels (red, green, blue, yellow) and a 40-degree honeycomb grid to narrow the light output for $34.99. A similar set of barn doors from a “pro” flash company sells for $250 and doesn’t include any gels or grids. Speaking of grids, a set of 4 (10, 20, 30, and 40 degree) sells for $39.99 or in a set that includes a 7-inch metal reflector for $49.99. 

 Interfit Studio Essentials Barn Doors and grid combination shown on the Value Flash head (sold separately)

Interfit Studio Essentials Barn Doors and grid combination shown on the Value Flash head (sold separately)

 Interfit Studio Essentials Barn Doors with one of the included color gels shown on the Value Flash head.

Interfit Studio Essentials Barn Doors with one of the included color gels shown on the Value Flash head.

background reflector

The 22” beauty dish with a honeycomb grid sells for $89.99 or step up to the 28” version for $139.99. There is also a deep reflector with 3 grids for $89.99. One of my favorites int he collection is the 45-degree background reflector for $34.99.  Unlike most other background reflectors I’ve seen and used, this one has an open top for a nice graduated fall off and it also includes clips to hold color gels and it has a locking rotating collar on it to easily position the reflector.

All of the items in the Studio Essentials line are very reasonably priced and good quality. My only suggestion is that if you use 9-foot wide rolls of seamless paper or heavy canvas you should opt for the Premium Background Support. 

While on the Interfit site take a look at all of their modifier options. Interfit offers a wide variety of softboxes that are top quality for a very reasonable cost--plus most of their modifiers come with fabric grids at no extra cost.

The bottom line is that the Value Flash is a great starter light that you can grow with. As mentioned above, it uses the industry standard S-Mount so if you graduate to a Honey Badger or S1 set of lights the Value Flash can remain in your lighting kit for use as accent lights to complement the larger light units. 

As a member of the Interfit Creative Pros group I can also offer you a 10% discount on any Interfit products that you purchase directly from Interfit by using the code CORNICELLO10 (all caps) at the end of the checkout process (and yes, I may be compensated for referring you, so we both win). This includes not only the Studio Essentials, but all of the lights and modifiers on the Interfit site. Check them out for all your S-mount modifier needs.

Now go out and light up the world!

Cheers!
John

Umbrellas andSoftboxes and Dishes, oh my!

Choosing the lighting modifier to use for portraits

You have probably grown as tired of looking at me as I have. So this morning I hired my friend, Ny, to come over to help with more comparisons of light modifiers. For this series I used an Interfit S1 battery powered studio light and a variety of modifiers in different shapes and sizes. I photographed Ny with each modifier and with and without a white fill card on the shadow side of her face. The camera (Canon EOS 6D) was set to the Daylight color balance preset. You can see that some of the modifiers are very different in color temperature than others. The flash power output was adjusted for each modifier to give the same f/5.6 meter reading. Ny was seated about 4-feet in front of a white seamless paper backdrop. The lens was the Canon 85mm f.1.8 set to f/5.6 and ISO 100.

And without further ado, here are the test results.

Comparing the look of the 46-inch Photek Softlighter II with no diffusion (umbrella only), with a single diffusion panel, and with two diffusion panels attached. The softlighter is mounted on an Interfit S1 studio flash.

And for good measure, some full-length photos on the white seamless paper with the light at camera-left and no fill light or bounce cards.

Not the most exciting hour of photography for myself or for Ny. But very useful. If you find these comparisons helpful please consider helping to support this blog by purchasing my book Anatomy of a Studio Portrait or by purchasing lighting gear directly from Interfit Photographic where you get a 10% discount and I get a small commission if you use the code CORNICELLO10 (in all caps) during the checkout process.

Umbrella Lit Portraits

As noted previously, I will be talking about keeping things simple in the Interfit Photographic booth at WPPI 2018. Most of it will be about working with umbrellas. Below is a gallery of images made in the studio and on location using an umbrella as my main (usually only) light source. 

Enjoy!

Battle of the Round Modifiers

Does the shape really matter? Does diffusion help?

When you think of modifiers for your photo studio lights, what comes to mind first? Softboxes? Octaboxes? What about umbrellas? I will be at WPPI 2018 next week presenting about keeping it simple in the Interfit Photographic booth. I will be there on Monday afternoon at 1:30 and will primarily be talking about working with umbrellas. Think simple and inexpensive.

Yes, softboxes and octaboxes are everybody's favorites. But back in the "good old days" when I got started umbrellas were the go-to modifier. Some photographers were starting to build their own softboxes out of wood or foamcore, but there weren't any commercially mass produced boxes. Over the years it seems that umbrellas have fallen out of favor or have become 2nd class or even 3rd class options for modifying lights.

Like most everyone else, I've been using rectangular and roundish boxes for the past few years. But I have also maintained my relationship with one set of umbrellas, the Photek Softlighters in three sizes, 36-inch, 46-inch, and 60-inch. If I could only have one modifier, it would be the 60-inch Photek Softlighter. But having only one modifier is a scary fantasy notion, so let's not think of that any more.

How different are they from each other?

While preparing for my presentation I started thinking of the differences between the various modifiers. Do they really make that big a difference in comparison to their prices and their ease of set up and use? So I set up my tripod, and a remote shutter release this morning then started a series of selfies with a variety of round(ish) light modifiers. I grabbed these seven items and got to work: Westcott Apollo Orb, 36-inch Photek Softlighter, 41-inch silver metallic umbrella, 46-inch Photek Softlighter, 41-inch white satin umbrella, a 43-inch white shoot-through umbrella, and a 36-inch Paul C. Buff folding octabox (modified with a Bowens S-mount speedring). I mounted each of these in succession on an Interfit Honey Badger and you can see the results below. Use the slider over on the right side of the photos to drag left to reveal which modifier was used for each image. Each row is different modifier or different arrangement of the modifier with the full frame on the left and a close in crop on the face on the right to better see the catchlights in the eyes. Can you identify each modifier before dragging the slider?

I metered each modifier setup to read f/7.1 and kept the camera (Canon EOS 6D with Canon 100mm f/2 lens) on the "Daylight" white balance. As you can see, some of the modifiers have a strong influence on the color. The shoot-through umbrella was quite blue--maybe it doesn't have a UV coating? The Buff 36-inch octa was quite warm. The rest of the modifiers were much closer in color to each other.

Comparing the Photek Softlighter with and without diffusion

I was especially interested in seeing the comparison between the 46-inch Photek Softlighter on its own (without the diffusion panel), with the diffusion panel, and with 2 layers of diffusion panel. So here is that comparison. What do you think?

The image on the left below is the Softlighter with one layer of diffusion. The image on the right has two diffusion panels layered over each other.

So, how did you do on identifying each of the modifiers? Let me know in the comments here or join my lighting group on Facebook.

Thanks!
John

 

Size and Distance

Photography is a balancing act

umbrella-sizes.JPG

Yes, a balancing act in many ways. Shutter speed vs aperture vs ISO vs amount of light is what most people probably think of. But it also plays a big role in the character of the light we use on our subjects. Today is a tale of two umbrellas. The first is a 84-inch reflective and the other is a 36-inch reflective. As you can see, the larger umbrella surface is a bit more diffuse than the smaller, satin-finish umbrella. But I am not concerned with that today. For now, I want to talk about size vs distance.

Inverse Square

Let's start with a refresher on the Inverse Square law. "the intensity of an effect (in our case, light0 changes in inverse proportion to the square of the distance from the source." For example, if we have a point source light at 2 feet from a subject and we back the light up to 4 feet away (doubling the distance), we end up with 1/4 the amount of light on the subject, a loss of 2 stops. Double the distance equals one quarter the light. 4 is the square of 2. 

Have I lost you yet? 

In practice you don't have to remember any of the math. For one thing, we rarely work with a point source of light in our photography. Our lights are either larger on their own or are modified with softboxes, umbrellas, diffusion screens, etc. So moving these larger lights closer or farther from the subject has less effect than the law would suggest. I think that photographers can narrow and simplify the meaning of inverse square down to saying that the closer your light is to your subject, the darker the background will be. Or you can turn it around and say that the farther your light is from the subject the brighter the background will be.  Is the glass half full or half empty?

Here is a set of images photographed against a white background. The subject (yours truly) is 24 inches away from a white seamless paper backdrop. The photos labeled 1 are lit with the 84-inch umbrella and the photos labeled 2 are lit with the 36-inch umbrella. The A images are with the light at 84 inches from the subject and the B images have the light at 36 inches away.

There are a few things that I want you to take notice of in these photographs. Starting with 1A and 1B you can see that with the big umbrella backed up away from the subject (1A) the face is lit flat and the catch lights (the reflection of the lights in the eyes) are small and bright. When the light is brought in closer (1B) the face start to have more contouring as the light falls of quickly in intensity and the left side (camera right) of my face is darker. At the same time, the catch light became larger and much less bright. Because the umbrella is so large the changes are a bit on the subtle side. In the closeup crops you can see that the background on 1B is a tiny bit darker than in 1A.

Now take a look at the bottom row. With the small umbrella backed up (2A) again the face is lit flat with small bright catch lights. In 2B with the light in closer the face again has more shadow area and a more defined transition from the properly exposed parts of the face to the shadows. 2A has a distinct shadow on the white background because the 36-inch umbrella 7 feet away is a relatively small light source. When moved in closer for 2B it becomes larger in relation to the subject and helps fill in the shadow, but not as much as the larger umbrella fills in on 1B.

Let's go back to the catch lights. Catch lights are specular reflections. That is, they act like a mirror of the light that creates them. They are the same brightness, no matter the distance from the light. Does this counter the inverse square law? No! Specular reflections follow the inverse square law in a different manner. While their brightness stays the same, their size varies in relation to the distance. When the light is farther away (1A and 2A) the light is small and bright. In closer (1B and 2B) the light is larger and dimmer. 

But wait! I just said that the brightness remains the same, how could it be dimmer? That is because when we bring the light in closer the overall exposure (the diffuse reflection--the skin, hair, etc.) gets brighter. The face got brighter while the catchlights stayed the same. To compensate for that and not overexpose the skin we have to lower the overall exposure. In this case with electronic flash, I turned down the power on the flash to bring the overall exposure back to normal. Turning down the power reduced both the diffuse reflection and the specular reflection, bringing them more in line with each other. Moving the light in closer also helps with other hot spots, such as highlights on the tip of the nose or a shiny forehead. Instead of lowering the flash power I could have  stopped down the lens more. But that would have changed depth of field, which I usually do not want to do. If this was lit with continuous light I could have changed the shutter speed, as well, to control the exposure.

Bright vs Harsh

At first it may seem counter-intuitive. Bringing the light in closer makes it brighter, but it also makes it softer (unless it is a inherently small light, such as a speed light (camera flash). Bringing the light in closer makes it larger in relation to the subject and allows the light to come in from more angles, filling in its own shadows. Don't equate brightness with harshness. We control the brightness via our exposure settings. We control quality (hard vs soft) with the size of the light. We control the depth of the light with the distance. This is why modifiers come in so many sizes. That lets you decide on your aperture first for the depth of field that you want. Then you set your light to subject to background distances for the depth of light that you want. Then you select the modifier size for the character of light you want. And finally set your exposure via the power of the lights. It is all a balancing act.

Questions or comments? Please use the comment box below or join my Facebook studio lighting group.

Thanks!
John