diy lighting

Budget background projections (part 4)

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:
Barn Doors
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. 

Diagram for the photos of Rick Sammon

Diagram for the photos of Rick Sammon

Home-made cardboard gobo to create the projection on the background via the speedlight. In the photos of Rick Sammon I had one of these on each side of the set.

Home-made cardboard gobo to create the projection on the background via the speedlight. In the photos of Rick Sammon I had one of these on each side of the set.

Main light and fill card only

Main light and fill card only

Adding a projection to the background created by a speedlight, a cardboard gobo, and a red gel

Adding a projection to the background created by a speedlight, a cardboard gobo, and a red gel

Replaced the cardboard gobo with a piece of Cinefoil with holes cut in it and replaced the red gel with a blue gel

Replaced the cardboard gobo with a piece of Cinefoil with holes cut in it and replaced the red gel with a blue gel

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.

Cardboard gobo 9"x12"

Cardboard gobo 9"x12"

Cinefoil gobo 12"x13"

Cinefoil gobo 12"x13"

**This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

Spotlight Effects on a Budget (part 3)

It's all done with mirrors

My last two posts have shown how to make home-made barndoors for your lights and how to use a sheet of foamcore to create a spotlight effect on a budget. Part three shows a technique I learned from Matthew Jordan Smith when we worked together on CreativeLive** a few years ago and it uses the same strobe head with a 7" hard dish reflector. This time we move the light around back behind the subject and use a small mirror to create the spotlight effect. This has the added benefit of providing a kicker or rim light to hightlight the hair and help separate the subject from the background. Two lights for the price of one. (**This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.)

The first image off to the side shows what the scene looks like using just the one light. Not the most flattering light for our subject. But take a small hand-held mirror and place it in front of the subject to camera left and we get the spotlight look shown in the second photograph. For these images I simply held the mirror in one hand and pressed the shutter button with the other. It would be easier to have an assistant on hand to hold and aim the mirror while you look through the viewfinder and take the photograph.

Experiment with different size mirrors. For the first photo I held up a 3x4" mirror.  For the next image I used a 5x7" mirror to light a larger area of the face. And then I moved the mirror off to camera right position to give a broad light effect. Finally, back to camera left, I covered the small mirror with black tape to just have about a 2x2" surface showing to highlight one eye.  As with the previous spotlight effect, you can add a gel over the lamp head to add color. 

At the bottom of the post is the lighting diagram for the images with the alternate (camera right) position shown in gray)

Links to previous posts in this series:
Part 1, Barn Doors
Part 2, Budget Spotlight

3"x4" mirror casts a spotlight type of effect onto the subject's eyes

3"x4" mirror casts a spotlight type of effect onto the subject's eyes

5x7" mirror

5x7" mirror

Smaller mirror to highlight one eye

Smaller mirror to highlight one eye

Mirror on camera right as a broad light

Mirror on camera right as a broad light

Adding a red gel to the strobe head

Adding a red gel to the strobe head

Examples of mirrors used for these photographs

Examples of mirrors used for these photographs

Spot Light effects on a budget (part 2)

Foamcore Gobo

I recently wrote about budget barndoors for your lights. Today I want to show the first of two ways to simulate spot light effects on a budget. Both methods use one strobe head. While you could possibly do these effects with speedlights, having a strobe head with a modeling lamp in it is much easier as you can see what you are doing. **This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

Today's method has a single strobe head with a standard 7" reflector dish off about 45-degrees to the left of the camera and pointing straight at the subject. In between the light and the subject is a 20"x30" sheet of black foamcore with a 9"x2" hole cut out of the middle of it acting as a gobo (short for Go-Between, something that goes between the light and the subject to modify the light). You can vary the size and shape of the hole to suit the effect you are going for. You can control the edge of the effect by the placement of the light and the foamcore. The closer the foamcore with its aperture is to the subject, the more defined the shadow will be. I know I always have to stop for a second to think this through. A way to remember it is to think of the sun as your source of light and the difference in shadow from an airplane crossing in front of the sun (soft edge, barely noticeable shadow) and the shadow cast by a street sign a few feet away from you (hard edged, well defined shadow). For the image to the right, the strobe head was about 5 feet away from the subject and the foamcore was a few inches away from the subject, almost coming into the frame.

In the second image, I placed a red theatrical gel** over the light for a different effect. Note that the gel is on the lamp, not on the slit in the foamcore. If the gel was on the slit, the white light from the strobe head would dilute the color as it bounced around the room.

Small sheets of foamcore or heavy-duty black card stock should be available locally at arts & crafts stores, department stores, sign shops, art supply stores, etc. Attach the board to a light stand using spring clamps. Another option is to use Cinefoil** instead of foamcore. Cinefoil is a heavy duty black aluminum foil that can be easily shaped and cut and can be used as here as a gobo, or you can make a snoot or barn doors.

Below is a photograph of the black foamcore with the hole cut out and a utility knife for scale. Below that is the lighting diagram for the example photos shown above.

20"x30" foamcore with slit cut out

20"x30" foamcore with slit cut out

Home-made lighting solutions (part 1)

For that crisp edge light...

**This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

If you have been watching Lindsay Adler's recent classes on CreativeLive** you have seen the results of using barn doors on your lights. When used on kicker lights from the back they give a nice crisp edge to your subject and let the rest of the image go dark. On the last show, Seeing and Shaping Light, we briefly mentioned making your own barn doors because there might not be specific barn doors made for your brand of lights or you might not want to spend a lot of cash on a set of barn doors that you won't be using every day.

My solution involves a pair of relatively inexpensive Manfrotto Multi-Clips** and some black cardboard, heavy cardstock, or foamcore cut to around 8"x10".

Below you can see some photographs of commercially made barn doors (with 4 doors and with 2 doors) and you can see the DIY version using the Multi-Clips and black cardboard. Below these photos is the lighting diagram for the above image.

PS: another option mentioned is forming barn doors (or snoots or flags or gobos) out of Cinefoil**, which is a heavy duty black aluminum foil that you can bend into the shape you want.

Barndoors with four leaves/doors

Barndoors with four leaves/doors

Barndoors mounted on a 7" dish reflector

Barndoors mounted on a 7" dish reflector

Barn doors with two leaves/doors

Barn doors with two leaves/doors

The Multi-Clip and black cardboard

The Multi-Clip and black cardboard

Mounted on a 7" reflectos

Mounted on a 7" reflectos

Mounted on a 7"reflector on a strobe head

Mounted on a 7"reflector on a strobe head

Close up the Manfrotto Multi-Clip used to make the home-made barn doors

Close up the Manfrotto Multi-Clip used to make the home-made barn doors

Barn doors don't have to be restricted to only working with small lights and hard reflectors. I also use the Mulit-Clips and foamcore to create barn doors for my softboxes and strip ights to help control light from spilling into areas where I don't want it. Here I show a barn door solution for use with my  Westcott strip box **. The spring clamp is there to balance the weight of the foamcore so the box doesn't spin in its speedring.

Barn doors don't have to be restricted to only working with small lights and hard reflectors. I also use the Mulit-Clips and foamcore to create barn doors for my softboxes and strip ights to help control light from spilling into areas where I don't want it. Here I show a barn door solution for use with my Westcott strip box**. The spring clamp is there to balance the weight of the foamcore so the box doesn't spin in its speedring.

Part 2 and and part 3 of home-made lighting solutions are available now, too. As the barn doors are mounted right at the light, the shadow edges they project are soft edged and not very controllable. The next couple of posts will show two ways to simulate spotlight effects with harder shadow edges using one strobe head and modifiers made of items you might already have available around your house or studio.