Environmental Report #3

Comparing similar size light modifiers in light and dark environments

In a recent video I compared 7 modifiers in 9 configurations to show how they compare with each other and how much the environment affects the look of the modifiers. The modifiers in the comparison are the Photek 46-inch Softlighter II, the Interfit 48-inch folding octa, a Photoflex 45-inch reflective umbrella, a Westcott 43-inch white shoot-through umbrella, a 48-inch Parasail umbrella in both horizontal and vertical orientation, and an Interfit 32x48-inch folding softbox in both horizontal and vertical orientations.

The photos pass by quickly in the video, so I am including them in this blog post to make them easier to see.

Modifiers in a dark environment (click to enlarge)

Modifiers in a light environment (click to enlarge)

The dark environment has black v-flats on each side of the subject to reduce environmental bounce and make the shadows darker. The light environment is the same, but with white v-flats on each side to fill in and lighten the shadows. Note that the shadow edge quality is about the same in all the photos because the light sources are all about the same size. The shadow edge transition is controlled by the size of the light in relation to the subject and the contrast is controlled by how diffuse the light is and the tone of the environment.

You will also notice that all of these modifiers look pretty similar on the subject. The main difference will be in the shape of the catchlights in the eyes or on reflective objects in a still life.

Indirect light in an Octa

Continuing experimenting with indirect options in large modifiers.

Most softboxes, octaboxes, deep parabolic boxes are used with the light in a “direct” position. That is the light is mounted at the back of the modifier facing forward. This is as opposed to reflective umbrellas where you face the light into the umbrella and have it bounce back at the subject—indirect light. What I have been looking for is a combination where I have a large silver octa or deep parabolic with the light pointing into the modifier instead of directly at the subject. I covered this with the big 7-foot umbrellas in a previous post. Today I am trying this with a 60-inch octa.

To accomplish the reversing of the light I am using a device from Cheetah called a Reflective Focus-able System. This unit is a yoke-mounted speedring for your modifier and a movable rod to hold your light head and allow you to change the distance between the light head and the modifier. Here you can see I have an Interfit Photographic (this is an affiliate link, I will be compensated if you purchase directly from Interfit using my “cornicello10” discount code at checkout) battery powered Badger Unleashed strobe head mounted on the Cheetah device in a 60-inch octa.

By moving the flash head in closer or farther away from the modifier you get control over the pattern of light coming out of the modifier. If you pull the head all the way into the modifier only a small center section of the modifier gets lit and you get strong directional light, almost like a spot light, that will give you hard edged shadows. As you pull the light out farther from the modifier the light fills more of the modifier making it more larger which softens the shadow edges. It is also more diffuse, so it can bounce around the environment and open up the shadows, making them lighter in tonality.

Here are three selfies with the 60-inch octa stationary, but with the flash head adjusted within the octa. At the top the head is pulled all the way into the octa with the flash tube about 9-inches from the surface. You can see a small concentrated catchlight in the eyes and a dark shadow on the side of the nose. In the middle image the octa is still in the same position, but the flash is now about 16-inches from the back of the octa. The catchight has become larger and the shadows a bit softer. In the third image the light is pulled out to 24-inches from the back of the octa and you can see the change in the catchlights, with each panel of the octa becoming its own light, almost like a ring light. The overall light source is larger, so the look is a bit more flat and the background is a bit more open with the light being less directional.

Below is a set of images showing various configurations for the octa, starting with the standard direct mount with inner and outer diffusion panels. Then just the inner diffuser, then no diffuser. Then it gets switched to indirect placement of the flash at various distances from the octa. In all cases the light and the subject are in the same position, only the configuration of the light in the octa has changed. Power levels on the flash were adjusted to maintain the same aperture (f/13) in each of the examples. Click on the image to enlarge.

A big thanks to everyone who stopped me to say “Hi” at WPPI last week. It is always a pleasure to meet people and talk about light. Please check out the updated version of my book “Anatomy of a Studio Portrait” which is now available as either a Kindle Edition or in print.