Speedlights for the win!
Uh-oh! I am usually the "anti-speedlight" guy. I want my big boy strobes whenever I can. But in this episode of budget lighting solutions, I have to give props to the speedlight. In this case, my trusty old Canon 430EX II**. This is the fourth article in a short series about budget light modifiers. Here are links to the three previous posts:
Spotlight effect 1
Spotlight effect 2
Today's post is about something I learned from my friend, Rick Sammon, a few years ago when I worked with him on a class here in Seattle. RIck was in town today for a presentation and he stopped by to take part in my Chair Project, so I decided to use his technique for his photograph in the series. If you get a chance, check out Rick's latest book Creative Visualization for Photographers**.
It is such a simple and inexpensive technique that involves a speedlight, a color gel, and a piece of corrugated cardboard. Carefully cut out a pattern in the cardboard, mount the cardboard on a stand between your speedlight and the background. Light your subject so that no light falls on the background. I used my Einstein strobe head with a 36" octa for Rick's photo and I used a Westcott 12x50 strip bank for these mannequin examples. I then added my do-it-yourself foamcore barn doors from part 1 of this series) to keep the light from hitting the background (gray seamless paper).
For Rick's photo I placed a speedlight and gobo on each side of the set behind Rick and pointing at the background. I had a blue gel on one and an amber gel on the other (see the lighting diagram below). For the second photo, with Rick holding his Canon 5Ds I added a layer of textured bokeh to the image in Photoshop to give it a little different look.
This is another place that you can use Cinefoil in place of the cardboard, and can probably create more intricate patterns. But it will take more trial and error attempts to get something to look good. The first image below shows the mannequin lit by just the strip box, using the barn door to prevent the light from spilling onto the white seamless paper backdrop. Next I have set up the cardboard gobo and the speedlight with a red gel on it. In the third image I replaced the cardboard with a piece of Cinefoil in which I made some random cuts with a utility knife and changed to a blue gel on the speedlight. For these effects it appears that the closer the speedlight is to the gobo, the harder the edges of the light. If you try this out, be sure to experiment with placing the gobo various distances from the background and the speedlight various distances from the gobo. You may also need to block any light from the speedlight from hitting your subject. See the lighting diagram at the bottom of this post.
I tried to get this to work with a strobe head, but had no luck at all. I tried an open 7" reflector and I also tried adding various grids (10-degree and 30-degree), but couldn't get the crsip look that I got from the small speedlight. Below are photos of the cardboard and Cinefoil gobos used to create the background in the photographs above. In addition to the gobos, you will need to add extra flags around them to block extraneous light from contaminating and diluting the background.
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