Environmental Report #2

The white “cave.” A similar setup was used for the dark environment.

The white “cave.” A similar setup was used for the dark environment.

What a difference the space makes

In our previous episode I compared various modifiers used in a very dark environment which limited the light being able to bounce off of surroundings to fill in shadows and reduce contrast. Today I am comparing the same modifiers used in a small white space versus used in a small black space. The environment was controlled by building a cave made of foamcore v-flats in the studio. In one “cave” the walls, ceiling, and floor were black. In the other they were white. Too often photographers neglect to take into account the environment they are working in, especially when using studio strobes. We know that the strobes will overpower the ambient light, but the walls, floor, and ceiling will still have an effect on the outcome.

The effect is on the shadow density or the contrast in the image. We know that a larger light source, as seen by the subject, gives a softer light by stretching out the shadow edge transition and filling in the shadows. If the size of the light doesn’t change, the environment has an additional effect on the shadows without affecting the shadow edge transition. This gets confusing. As you will see, the photos made in the white surroundings could be described as softer, even though the shadow transitions are the same. Just as we shouldn’t confuse harshness with brightness, we shouldn’t confuse quality with contrast. We can have a small hard light that is diffused (spread wider) or more focused. We can have a large light that is more focused or spread out more. Diffused doesn’t equal soft. Diffusion spreads the light to cover a wider area. And in doing so it might bounce off of walls to lower contrast. And that might look softer, but in a dark environment we can see that this isn’t true. The size determines the quality (hard/soft) and the diffusion and environment control the contrast.

Let’s look at some of the comparisons.

Same modifier, same distance, totally different look due to the environment. With the white surroundings the light bounces all around and fills in the shadows. The shadow edge, though, is the same quality due to the size being the same.

Same modifier, same distance, totally different look due to the environment. With the white surroundings the light bounces all around and fills in the shadows. The shadow edge, though, is the same quality due to the size being the same.

Here is a 36-inch deep parabolic softbox (16 ribs). Again, a totally different look by changing the environment.

Here is a 36-inch deep parabolic softbox (16 ribs). Again, a totally different look by changing the environment.

Here with a smaller, harder light source, an 11-inch deep metal dish reflector it is easier to see the shadow edge quality remaining the same while the density of the shadows (contrast) changes depending on the environment.

Here with a smaller, harder light source, an 11-inch deep metal dish reflector it is easier to see the shadow edge quality remaining the same while the density of the shadows (contrast) changes depending on the environment.

The same modifier as above (11-inch deep zoom) with a diffusion sock on it. Little difference between the open face and the diffused face in the black surroundings. But when in a white room the shadows open up much more with the diffuser spreading the light to bounce off the walls. But the edge transition range is still the same.

The same modifier as above (11-inch deep zoom) with a diffusion sock on it. Little difference between the open face and the diffused face in the black surroundings. But when in a white room the shadows open up much more with the diffuser spreading the light to bounce off the walls. But the edge transition range is still the same.

With a narrow, controlled light, such as from a snoot, there is less difference between the two environments. The light isn’t allowed to spread out to bounce off the walls, so contrast is similar.

With a narrow, controlled light, such as from a snoot, there is less difference between the two environments. The light isn’t allowed to spread out to bounce off the walls, so contrast is similar.

OK, so much for light vs dark environments. What difference does diffusion make vs. undiffused in the same environment? Let’s take a look at the 60-inch Photek Softlighter with and without its diffusion panel in both environments.

Here in the white cave we see the Softlighter with its diffusion panel on the left and without the diffusion panel on the right.

Here in the white cave we see the Softlighter with its diffusion panel on the left and without the diffusion panel on the right.

And now the same comparison in the black cave.

And now the same comparison in the black cave.

I will leave it up to you to decide how much of an effect the diffusion panel has with the Softlighter. Tell me what you think in the comments below.


Thanks!
John