How white is white?

No need to blow it out!

Photographers are often called on to provide a portrait or a product photo against a clean white background. It is a nice clean look. But it can go bad quickly if you aren't careful. You can go from a clean, crisp, and sharp image to one with muddy edges, lowered contrast, and lots of flare.

So, just how white do you need to make the backdrop? Let's start with the backdrop. My choice is Savage Universal seamless paper. Savage offers three different white papers. White, Pure White, and Super White. Of these, I prefer Pure White. "Regular" white is a bit on the warm side. Super White has extra brighteners and might go a bit to the blue side in some situations. Pure White tends to stay neutral in various lighting setups.

Now that we have the backdrop selected we have to decide if we need to light it separately from the subject, and if so, how to light it. In many situations we are going to want to light the backdrop to keep it white and not turn gray. For individual subjects we can often get by using one light on the background. For groups we will probably need two lights, one from each side.

With that choice out of the way, we need to figure out how to expose the background. I've seen online discussions where the "experts" say to make the background 2 stops brighter than the subject to make sure the background goes white. Please don't do that!! The paper is already white, so in theory it could get the same amount of light as the subject and be white. For a little bit of insurance, you can overexpose the white background by 1/3 to 1/2 stop brighter than the light on the subject. Once you go past that you can easily have too much light bouncing back off the background and washing out the edges of the subject, especially their hair. A little bit more exposure and there is an overall haze and loss of contrast. If this is the look you want, then go for it! But in many situations this is a recipe for failure. Let's look at this series of images. All are photographed on white seamless with a 2x3-foot softbox on the subject (yours truly) and a separate light with a 7-inch metal dish reflector on the backdrop.

For each image I took a meter reading at the subject and at another reading at the backdrop. In the first image both read f/10. I added a white border on each side of the photos and you can see that in the first image the background is close to but not pure white. And yes, I let the backdrop fall off from left side to right. I could have pulled the background light farther away from the paper to make it more even, but I was more interested in showing the effects of exposure. The second image has the background reading f/13, which is 2/3 of a stop brighter than the subject. Here you can see that the background on the left side of the image is now almost as white as the border, but there is still good contrast in the image. Strands of flyaway hair can still be seen. If you had to, you could easily brighten the background a touch in Lightroom or Photoshop to be as white as the border.

Foreground and background metered to the same exposure

Background metered 2/3 of a stop brighter than the foreground

For the third image I bumped up the background exposure another 2/3 stop to f/16, so now a full stop and a third brighter than the subject's reading. Still okay, but starting to lose the few remaining hairs on the top of my head. Image four has the exposure up another stop to f/22 and overall contrast really starts to suffer.

Background 1-1/3 stops brighter than the subject, approaching the troublesome area of overexposure

Background 2-1/3 stops brighter than the subject, starting to flare out and lose contrast


Finally, another 2/3 stops extra exposure to f/29 and you can really see the damage from the blowback from the overexposed white paper backdrop. And for good measure, an image where I turned off the background light and let the paper fall off to gray so absolutely no effect from the background on the subject.

A full 3 stops overexposure really shows the problem of flare and blowback.

Here is what it looks like with no light on the background

If I were to move farther away from the background and bring the light on the subject in closer I could make the white background go darker, possibly even to full black. Or I could change out from Pure White to a dark gray. Here I switched to Charcoal paper with no light on the background. And in the final image I kept the Charcoal paper, but put a light on it and overexposed it 3 stops at f/29 almost turning the Charcoal to white, but nowhere near as bad as overexposing the white paper background. 

Charcoal seamless paper with no light on it

Charcoal seamless paper overexposed 3 stops

There you have it. No need to wildly overexpose your backdrop to get white paper to look white. That means you can use a less powerful light, and you can have faster recycle time on your flash, and if using battery power, get more flashes. All while maintaining edge detail and good contrast in your photographs. 

I hope this helps you get clean white backgrounds without degrading the subject in front of it. You can find more information about how lighting works in my book Anatomy of a Studio Portrait and/or you can join in discussions about working in a small or home studio in my Facebook Group

Go out and light up the world!

Perspective (AGAIN!)

Here we go again!

First thing. Distortion and perspective are not the same. In lenses "distortion" is defined as an aberration where the corners of an image projected by the lens pull outward (pincushion) or the corners pull inwards (barrel). Distortion is independent of focal length. It is controlled in the design of the lens and is affected by the placement of lens elements and the placement of the aperture diaphragm inside the lens. It cannot be corrected by anything you do with your camera. It is built into the lens. Post-processing software often provides tools to help correct distortion. Most lenses are corrected as much as they can be for distortion. Rectilinear lenses attempt to keep straight lines straight across the image plane. Wide angle rectilinear lenses do have a characteristic of stretching objects at the edges of the frame. this comes from trying to fit a very wide almost unlimited view onto a fixed size image sensor (or film). This is usually most noticeable when the camera is in very close to the subject. The cure for this stretching is to use a fisheye lens! But that introduces a whole set of other issues for another discussion.

An interesting point about this "wide angle distortion" is that it only affects 3-dimensional subjects. Let's take an example of a tennis ball photographed with a wide angle rectilinear lens. If the tennis ball is in the middle of the frame it appears perfectly round. If it is move off to a corner of the frame you can see that it gets stretched out into an oblong shape. However, if you make a print of the centered ball and put the print in the corner of the frame in place of the actual tennis ball the ball in the print remains round. 


But enough of that, it is just a distraction from what I want to talk about. If you want more information about lens distortion I invite you to take a look at this article from Zeiss

On to Perspective!

I seem to be on a perpetual quest to help photographers understand the affect on perspective caused by camera to subject distance and how it is not related to focal length. Perspective here is defined as the relationship between objects in the scene. Objects closer to the camera appear larger than objects farther away. Objects closer to the camera also appear farther apart from each other than do the object farther away. It doesn't matter what focal length lens you use. All lenses show the same perspective from the same camera position.

So, you ask, what about telephoto compression? Isn't that caused by using a long lens? No! Go back to the previous paragraph. Looking at it from the other direction, it says that objects further away from the camera appear to be closer to each other than objects closer to the camera. Focal length doesn't affect that. Focal length affects magnification and the field of view (how much of the scene fits into the frame). You don't even need a camera to see how this works. Go someplace that has a series of similar items spaced out evenly in front of you. Maybe a long stretch of road with street lamps or something like that. Stand a foot or two from the first object and notice the distance to the second object. Pretty far apart. Now concentrate on the 8th and 9th objects. They look closer together and more similar in size. There is your compression. Of course, you took your camera with you anyway. So put the camera on a tripod and take a photo with a short lens and another photo with a longer lens.

Take those two photos into your favorite photo editor and crop the photo taken with the short lens to match the image taken with the long lens. You will see that for the area of the photo that is common to both focal lengths the perspective (and compression) are the same. When we want to show this compression we, of course, will pick a longer focal length lens as cropping optically maintains image quality as opposed to digital cropping or making an extreme enlargement from film. Changing the lens just changed the magnification, though, not the perspective.

Here is a set of images from a train station in Kyoto, Japan. All were made from the same camera position at various focal lengths rom 18mm to 400mm.  Notice that perspective in the area outlined in purple, which is common to all of the photos, remains the same.

People, too!

The same thing happens in our portrait work. From the same camera position your subject will look the same (except for size) if photographed with a 10mm lens or a 100mm lens. Take a look at the following image. It shows a studio scene made with a 10mm lens on a full frame (35mm) digital camera. The camera is fixed on a tripod at 58 inches from the mannequin. If you drag the slider from the right side to the left you will reveal an image taken with a 100mm lens and resized down to match the size from the 10mm lens. Notice that the perspective on the face is exactly the same from both lenses, despite the vast difference in focal length.

Here we see the same setup photographed with an 85mm lens next to the setup photographed with the 10mm lens. Again, the perspective is the same.

85mm lens, not cropped

85mm lens, not cropped

10mm lens, cropped 

10mm lens, cropped 

Here is a set of photos made with the following lenses: 100mm, 85mm, 50mm, 35mm, 24mm, 20mm, 16mm, 15mm fisheye, and 10mm. Despite the extreme barrel distortion bending everything but the center of the image, even the 15mm fisheye shows the same perspective on the face (see below).

100mm, 85mm, 50mm, 35mm, 24mm, 20mm, 15mm, and 10mm from the same camera position 58 inches from the subject

Here are the 85mm and the 15mm fisheye cropped to the same framing...

85mm full frame

85mm full frame

15mm fisheye cropped

15mm fisheye cropped

For another take on this, please visit my previous post about the Incredible Shrinking Space Needle that is an excerpted from my book, Anatomy of a Studio Portrait, which is available on Amazon

And a quiz of sorts... 

This is also from Anatomy of a Studio Portrait.Can you tell what focal length lens was used for each of the above images?

From left to right, top to bottom: 200mm, 135mm, 105mm, 100mm, 70mm, 57mm, 38mm, and 24mm.



To round things out, all of the photos in this set were made with the same 24mm lens, but the camera to subject distance was changed attempting to maintain the same size head in each image. Distances are 20 inches, 24 inchces, 28 inches, 39 inches, 51 inches, and 60 inches.

What about full frame vs crop frame?

Easy enough. Same setup with two cameras. Full frame (Canon 5Diii) with a 50mm lens and a 1.6 APS-C (crop) frame (Canon EOS M5) with a 35mm lens. Camera to subject distance is the same (36 inches) in both photos. The facial features are the same.

50mm lens on full frame camera

50mm lens on full frame camera

35mm lens on APS-C "crop frame" camera

35mm lens on APS-C "crop frame" camera

Let's take it further and compare the 50mm lens on full frame with a 10mm lens on crop frame...

50mm on full frame again

50mm on full frame again

10mm on APS-C cropped to match

10mm on APS-C cropped to match

I hope this helps explain how distance affects perspective. Yes, you can get very widely different perspectives by using different focal lengths, but that is when and because you move the camera. Telephoto (long) lenses tend to make us back up away from our subjects making the scene look more compressed. Wide angle (short) lenses invite us to move in closer to our subjects making the scene feel more wide open. It is our moving in and out, though, that changes the perspective. The focal length of the lens then determines how much of the scene will be captured.

For even more on this topic, please visit the Understanding Camera Lenses article at Cambridge In Colour. And take a look at the other tutorials there. Sean McHugh does a great job at explaining photographic concepts with text, illustrations, and calculators.



Diffusing on-camera flash

What does diffusion on a speed light do?

I keep seeing photographers talk about diffusing their on-camera flash. Whether it be with a handkerchief, a Stofen diffuser, the built-in pop-out diffuser panel, or some other form of diffusion taped over the light, I am not quite sure what they are trying to accomplish. These various diffusers are used to spread out the light coming out of the flash, basically to allow the flash to be used with a wider angle (shorter) lens. The light spreads out to cover more of the scene at the cost of loss of power. 

Quality or character of light?
Some that I talk to say that they use the diffusion to soften the light--to make it look better. I question this. We are talking about diffusion methods that pretty much keep the flash the same size as it is without the diffuser. We should all know that to make a light softer you have to make it larger in relation to the subject it is lighting. A larger light source provides light from more angles allowing it to become its own fill light to soften the edges of shadows. There are devices like the Gary Fong diffusers or the Roque Flash Benders that do make the light larger. I am not talking about those here. Just diffusers like those shown here...

Straight flash, diffusion material taped over flash, and Stofen Diffuser on flash

Straight flash, diffusion material taped over flash, and Stofen Diffuser on flash

Here are two photos of my favorite mannequin (models are hard to come by in the middle of the night when I get inspired to write these blog posts). One photo was made with the straight flash and the other was made with the 1-stop diffusion material taped over the light. Can you easily tell which is which? All of the photos were made in TTL mode at +/- 0 stops with no post-processin except for white balance. 

Two more examples, with a longer lens...

I am not seeing it
My argument is that diffusion right on the speed light, which doesn't make the light source significantly larger, does not soften the light. The only slight exception might be if the wider distribution of the light allows it to bounce off a low ceiling or close by light color walls. But even that will be extremely subtle. To me, these methods of diffusion only do a few things, none of them beneficial. They make the flash have to work harder, putting out twice as much light (1 stop), while increasing recycle time and draining battery power. 

Look closely at the shadows in each of the photos. A softer light creates a softer, more gradual transition from the true value of the subject to the underexposed shadow areas. In these photos the shadow edges look the same. There is no softening of the light. 

What is your experience with diffusion and speed lights? In the above examples, photos labeled B (on the left) have the diffusion in place. Photos labeled A (on the right) are straight flash. Is there enough difference between A and B to justify the loss of light power and the extra drain on batteries? 

Index card diffuser

Index card diffuser

But, but, but...
OK, you say. These are close in portraits. What about something more like at an event or reception. Here are six photos taken with an on-camera flash with a 28mm lens about 11 feet from camera to the subject (me!). Straight on flash, diffusion material over the flash, the built-in diffusion panel, a Stofen pointed straight ahead, the Stofen with the flash pointed up at the ceiling, and with a white index card taped to the pointing up flash. This time I did not correct the white balance, these are all "out of camera." All TTL exposures at ISO 400 and f/5.0.

This post is not anti-speed light. I think you can get some very nice light from speed lights--even when mounted on the camera's hot shoe. The following photos were all made using an on-camera flash that was pointed off to the left to bounce off a wall, effectively making the light much larger and thereby softer. 


Feathering your light

For my fine feathered friends!


Back again to help clarify studio lighting terms. This time I am taking on the concept of feathering. Feathering is pointing the light ahead of your subject instead of straight on to your subject. Feathering usually produces a nicer looking image. People often say a "softer" light on the image, but that isn't quite correct. Remember that the quality or character of light is determined by the size of the light in relation to the subject. You see this in the shadow edge transition. The larger the light source is the smoother the diffuse highlight to shadow transition is and the softer the light is.

Let's take a look at what happens when you feather the light. Here are photos of a 2x2-foot softbox straight on and the same softbox feathered off to one side. What do you notice first? I hope you see that the feathered light is SMALLER than the direct light. So, if the light remains the same distance from the subject, it is potentially slightly harder when feathered. But at the same time, it spreads out more across the face of your subject, giving a more pleasing look. 

Straight on the softbox is larger than when feathered

Straight on the softbox is larger than when feathered

Hard Light

Working with a softer (larger) light source it isn't so easy to see what is happening. Let's start with a harder light. This time a 7-inch standard metal dish reflector. 

7-inch reflector straight on and feathered 

Take a look at the 3 points labeled in the photo. A (the nose), B (the lower lip), and C (the ear).  A is the same brightness direct and feathered. Why? Because it is a specular reflection and is the same brightness as the light source, no matter the distance. If the light was moved in closer the brightness would stay the same but the reflection would get bigger. If the light source was moved back the brightness would again be the same, but the reflection would get smaller. The feathering doesn't have much of an effect here.

B is somewhat similar with the small hard light source. Basically the same straight on or feathered. At point C we can see that pointing the light more in front of and across the subject a little bit of light catches the ear. I would probably retouch out that little highlight on the ear. 

Go back to point A and the nose. This time look on the shadow side of the nose. The edge of the main dark shadow is about the same. With the feathered light the shadow is not as dense, but the edge transition line is pretty much the same. The feathering lowered the contrast, but didn't make a softer transition. It didn't soften the light.

Soft Light

Now let's work with a softer light. This time a 2x2-foot softbox. 

24x24-inch softbox straight on and feathered

The differences are more subtle, but they are there. Look at the same three points as before. The brightness of the specular highlight on the tip of the nose is the same brightness straight on and feathered. But this time there is a difference in point B on the lower lip. Feathering the light changed the shape of the wide highlight on the lip, but the brightness is still the same. The larger light also allowed more  light to reach the ear than with the 7-inch dish above. 

Again, I invite you to look at the shadow side of the nose. There is very little difference in the shadow edge transition. Feathering did not make it softer.

Comparison sliders drag to the left to see the feathered light, drag to the right to see the direct light

Hard vs Soft

Below are the feathered light images with the small and the larger light sources

Comparing the 7-inch and the 24-inch light sources

Look at the same points again. A is pretty close in brightness, but the shadow edge on the shadow side of the nose is very different. That comes from the difference in the size of the light sources, not from the feathering. The larger light makes for a nicer looking highlight on the lower lip (B). If I had move the softbox back further away from the face it would have been smaller and brighter. Brighter because the rest of the face would have received less light and I would have to have compensated by turning up the power of the light (strobe) or used a longer shutter speed (constant light, which is what I used for these demonstrations). As noted above the specular highlight remains the same brightness, but I would have had to brighten up the entire image, including the specular highlight to maintain proper exposure on the face. I know that  this can be confusing. So let's look at another illustration.

Controlling the size and brightness of specular highlights

Again I am using a constant light, so I am controlling my exposure via my shutter speed. If I was using flash here I would vary the power of the flash to maintain the same exposure on the subject of the photo. With the light 40-inches from the can the highlight is thin and bright--too bright to read the text on the label. As the light is brought in closer a couple of things happen. 1. The highlight gets wider because the light is closer and therefore larger in relation to the subject. 2. I have to lower the overall exposure so the diffuse reflection of the can is properly exposed. This brings down both the overall exposure and the specular highlight brightness, bringing them closer in line with each other. In the third image the light is very close and its reflection is even less noticeable because it is spread out over a larger area and the brightness of the rest of the can has been brought up closer to the brightness of the highlight (and then the overall exposure was lowered to bring it all back to give the proper exposure of the overall subject). I know this can sound counter-intutive. Bringing the light in closer reduces the mirror-like specular reflections.

We see the Inverse Square Law doing its thing here. As the light is moved closer to the subject it falls off faster and the background gets darker. As the light is moved in closer the specular highlight remains the same brightness, but gets larger. As the light is moved in closer the overall diffuse reflection exposure gets brighter and we have to lower the intensity of the light.


Feathering your light can change the size and shape of specular highlights, but the brightness will stay the same. Feathering your light will help even out the exposure across your subject, but won't have much effect on the shadow edge transition (softness). Feathering your light is the right thing to do. If you want to tone down a hotspot you need to move your lights in closer. But that also affects the depth and spread of the light. So many tradeoffs in photography. More details about the tradeoffs are in my book, Anatomy of a Studio Portrait.

Thanks again for stopping by!
John Cornicello


Which camera should I get?

It depends!

People are always asking which camera they should get. Go online into any photography discussion group and you will find this question. And the replies are usually telling the questioner to get the camera that the person answering has. I don't know if it is ego? Or if it is some sort of self-valildation that they made the right choice in their selection of camera. Or whatever!

Take a test drive

My advice is to go to a camera shop (yes, there are still a few around), pick up a few different cameras and see how they feel in your hands. Then purchase it locally, too. Ergonomics play an important role for me. One of the reasons I am using the cameras I have today goes back to getting my second camera body back in the early 70s in high school. More on that later.

Once you have found a couple that feel good then try going through the menu systems to see how they are arranged. Many cameras now let you set up your own custom menu screen(s), so that might not be as much a factor any longer. 

Technically, cameras from major manufacturers are all good. Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, Fuji, etc. They all have capabilities better than most of the uses we make of the camera. By the time your images are processed and printed, especially if printed in a publication, you would be hard-pressed to be able to tell what camera the image was originally created with.

SLR or Mirrorless?

I am not going to get into dSLR vs mirrorless. Try them both. They each have some advantages and disadvantages. I use both these days. SLRs are usually bigger. Mirrorless usually have smaller capacity batteries. SLRs are usually bigger. Mirrorless are smaller, but the lenses are still large. SLRs are usually quick to pick up, turn on, and start photographing. Some mirrorless cameras take an extra second or two to warm up the viewing monitor (just like turning on a television and needing a couple of seconds for the picture to come on). Try them both and see how they feel and react for you.

Going back to my choice of camera back around 1973, it was between Nikon and Canon. The Canon won out and I still use Canon cameras 44 or so years later. I've often been asked what factors led to that decision. Ergonomics. The Nikon F at that time had its shutter button near the back of the camera and it wasn't comfortable for me to hold and stretch my finger back to the button. Canon had what they called a QL (Quick Load) system for film in the FTb-n that was just introduced. Open the back, drop in the film canister and make sure the film leader reached across to the take up spool. Then just close the back and advance the film. On the Nikon you had to remove the entire back of the camera and attach the film leader to the take up spool. Yes, this allowed for more accessories such as a 250-exposure long roll back, but as a high school student I wasn't going in that direction. A few other things were the big metering prism on the Nikon and the lack of a flash hotshoe (though one could be added over the rewind lever/knob). The Canon had a built in meter with a hotshoe on top of the sleek prism. The Canon had a simple lens mount they called a Breech Lock. You simply put the lens on the camera and a spring turned a locking collar. The lens itself didn't turn so the mount wouldn't get any wear. The Nikon had a more cumbersome mount that involved having to line up an indexing tab for the aperture.

Here are some photos to compare the Canon FTBn that I went with along with the Nikon F.


So far, I have not regretted my decision. Are there issues? Sure. Most camera lenses focus and zoom by turning the rings on the lens in the opposite direction from Canon. I don't often think of that until I do put an 3rd party lens on the camera. For example I used a Tamron 18-400mm zoom (really a vari-focal) lens on a recent trip to Japan and I couldn't get over the muscle memory for zooming and always turned the lens in the wrong direction when attempting to zoom in or out on a scene.

Back to the original premise. Which camera is a personal choice based on you, not on your friends or people on the internet. You don't need to have the same camera as everyone else. And no need to be ashamed of whichever camera you decide to go with. Just go out and make your photographs and have fun and leave the worrying about having made the right decision to someone else.


Comparing various light modifiers

Lots of great conversations about light are going on in various Facebook groups I participate in. Many of them get into discussing the shapes of modifiers and what diffusion does or doesn't do. Fortunately, I have a wide variety of modifiers available to me, so in some moments of free time last night I decided to test a few of them out. I used a mannequin as my subject for consistency from modifier to modifier and to purposely not be able to see the catchlight that would appear in a real subject's eyes. The big difference between many similar size modifiers of different shapes is in the catchlights. But that is a different discussion. Skin will look very different from the plastic mannequin, however this demonstration is about the shadow edges-- the transition from highlight to diffuse reflection to shadow. 

This video clip runs through the following list of modifiers: 36-, 46-, an 60-inch Photek Softlighters, 46-inch Softlighter without its diffuser (10-panel umbrella), 36-inch octabox (with and without the inner diffuser panel), 2x3-foot softbox (with and without its inner diffusion panel and vertical and horizontal), Westcott Apollo Orb (with and without its front diffusion panel), a bare bulb pointing at the subject with no reflector, a 7-inch metal dish reflector, a fresnel lens attachment in two positions (narrow and wide), a snoot, and an optical spotlight. 

Here is a series of the still images of most of the modifiers

Click on the image for a larger version

And here are two slider comparisons of a 46-inch Softlighter with and without its diffusion panel and of a 36-inch octa and a 24x36-inch vertical soft box.

A main point I want to make here is that very often you can use the equipment you already have. We all fall into GAS (Gear Aquisition Syndrome) and/or feel jealous about that wild new modifier the kid down the street just purchased. Yes, as a photographer pixel-peeping at the images we can see subtle differences between the various modifiers. It is up to you to decide if those differences are worth the price tag and storage space considerations. For myself, starting out I would choose a set of Photek Softlighters (at least 46- and 60-inch), an Interfit 2x3 softbox (I really like the quality of the materials, the build, and the price of their boxes + they include grids!), a 1x3 strip box, a 40-inch shoot-through umbrella, and a standard 7-inch metal dish reflector. 

Here is a list of the modifiers used in the photos above:
Interfit S1 flash
Photek Softlighters (36- 46- and 60-inch)
Interfit 2x3-foot softbox
Westcott Apollo Orb
Fresnel lens attachment
Paul C. Buff 36-inch Octa (replaced the Balcar mount with a Bowens S-mount speedring)
Optical Spotlight


The Honey Badger and umbrellas

Yes, they work well together

This morning I received a comment on a YouTube video asking this question from Daryl Davis: "I've seen reports that the HB doesn't actually play well with umbrellas--no way to lockthe shaft, and the umbrella is cocked at an angle that takes it off-axis from the strobe. What's been your result with the Softlighter?"

Spring tension in the umbrella shaft receptacle holds the umbrella in place

Spring tension in the umbrella shaft receptacle holds the umbrella in place

At first, when I first worked with the Honey Badger back in August 2017 I did initially have a concern about the lack of a set screw to lock the umbrella shaft. In practice this has not been an issue at all. There is some sort of spring mechanism in the umbrella mount that holds the umbrella  shaft securely. I also note that a number of other strobe heads rely on a similar mechanism with no set screw. Those include the Profoto B and D series and the Broncolor Siros L. As I said, in the 4 months I've had these heads this has not presented any problems.

Interfit Honey Badger in a 46-inch Photek Softlighter

Interfit Honey Badger in a 46-inch Photek Softlighter

As for the Photek Softlighter, I don't see any issue at all here. Yes, the umbrella shaft is not as close to the flash tube as on some other strobe heads. But in the Softlighter with its diffusion fabric (which some people double-up), I don't see that making a difference. The Honey Badger has a frosted dome over the flash tube and modeling lamp that helps spread the light 180-degrees within the umbrella. I could see this being more of an issue with lights like the Profoto B and D series that have a flat face on the strobe and limit the spread of the flash to around 75-degrees or so. The protruding dome on the Honey Badger (which is the same on the Interfit S1) is, to me, a very important feature. To add this to a Profoto B1 or D1 you need to purchase the Profoto Glass Dome for an additional $175 or so. And a new cover for the flash tube for $27. Total costs: Honey Badger (320ws) = $299, D1 (500ws) = $1416 Siros L (400ws) $2050 (battery operated).

Here are photos of the Honey Badger with the 46-inch Softlighter, both with and without the diffuser panel. I can see where the concern is coming from, but I have not had any problems with the setup with any of the Softlighters (36-inch, 46-inch o 60-inch). The umbrella fills nicely and the diffuser evens out the light across the fabric. The black ring around the flash tube that is used to connect the pop-up softbox that is is included with the purchase of the Honey Badger does make it a little tight to get the diffusion sock attached, but it also provides a way to keep the fabric from making contact with the flash tube (actually the frosted dome) without having to put a metal dish reflector on the head which would restrict the width of the light dispersion. It isn't an issue with the cool running LED modeling lamp in the Honey Badger, but I have melted the sock when using a Softlighter on an Einstein head with its extremely hot 250-watt Quartz-Halogen modeling lamp.

The bottom line for me is that I think the Honey Badger and the Softlighters play very well together. 





Diffusion Confusion

Diffusion will be my epitaph

Diffusion? Diffusion!

Let's start with a definition: The spreading of something more widely

Easy enough. In the case of lighting, diffusion spreads the light to cover a wider area. Light diffusers such as the Stofen that are the same size as the light do just that. They let you use your speed light with a wider angle lens with less vignetting. What they don't do is make the light softer. To make the light softer you have to make it larger in relation to your subject. Yes, spreading the light a bit more might let the light bounce off a nearby wall or low ceiling to help fill in shadows a little bit, but the effect is usually minimal unless you are in a very small room with white walls and ceiling.

Adding a diffuser directly onto the flash does not increase the size of the light. It just spreads the light out to cover more area at lesser intensity

Adding a diffuser directly onto the flash does not increase the size of the light. It just spreads the light out to cover more area at lesser intensity

To make a light source softer, that is to make the shadow edges more gradual, the light has to be made larger. A diffuser right on the light doesn't do this. This extends to studio flash heads, too. Some heads come with a frosted flash tube cover/dome. Some don't. How much effect on the quality of light does the frosted dome offer? Let's look at some examples. Here are eight images made with a Paul C. Buff Einstein and an Interfit Honey Badger. Both of these lights come with a frosted dome. The images with the blue card are from the Einstein and the ones with the pink card are from the Honey Badger. One set was made with a 7-inch metal dish reflector pointed directly at the mannequin, the other set was made with the flash pointing into a 46-inch Photek Softlighter umbrella without its diffusion panel (I wanted to see if the frosted dome on its own made any difference). Can you tell which (A or B) has the frosted dome and which doesn't?

Einstein in a 7-inch metal dish reflector

Einstein in a 7-inch metal dish reflector

Einstein in a 46-inch umbrella

Einstein in a 46-inch umbrella

Interfit Honey Badger in a 7-inch metal dish reflector

Interfit Honey Badger in a 7-inch metal dish reflector

Interfit Honey Badger in a 46-inch umbrella

Interfit Honey Badger in a 46-inch umbrella

In each of the above pairs of images A is without the dome and B is with the dome. Here is a slider you can use for closer inspection.

I will let you draw your own conclusion about how much the frosted dome has an effect on the softness of the light. Whether you think it softens the light or not, my preference is for a light that does have the dome for its protection of the flash tube and modeling lamp. It also helps match the look of the modeling lamp to the flash tube. I also expect that the dome will help even the spread of light when the flash has a softbox attached. But that is a test for another day.

A few words about the images here. All were made with a Canon EOS M5 camera with the white balance set to Daylight and the light metered for f/5.6. No adjustments to color were made when converting the raw files to jpg for this post. The Honey Badger showed a more neutral color of the white seamless paper background compared to the cool/blue look of the Einstein (which was set to Color mode and about 1/2 power in the umbrella and lower for the 7-inch).

Thanks, as always, for following along! 

In case you somehow missed it, my book, Anatomy of a Studio Portrait, is available for order.