softbox

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.

Baffled by Baffles

Is it a baffle or a diffuser?

Being my pedantic self again here. And maybe this use of the term baffle has been going on for a long time and I've just ignored it. But recently I have seen a lot of photography sites using the terms baffle and diffuser interchangeably. I see references to the "inner baffle" on a softbox (try this Google search on softbox baffle). One ad mentions a "white diffusive baffle." This isn't just photographers writing about light, it is also in the descriptions of modifiers on the websites of lighting companies.

Let's start with the dictionary and the definitions of baffle and diffuser...

Baffle 
noun
a device used to restrain the flow of a fluid, gas, or loose material or to prevent the spreading of sound or light in a particular direction.

Diffuser
noun
a device that spreads the light from a light source evenly

From the definitions, these seem to be opposites. A baffle would be more akin to a grid on a light that restricts the light to make it more directional and prevents the light from spreading out. The inner translucent panel in a softbox is diffusing the light and spreading it out and trying to avoid having a directional hot spot. The outer diffuser does the same thing. And some photographers put multiple diffusers over the outside of their softbox/octa/softlighter. None of these things are acting as a baffle in my mind.

Diffuser vs Baffle

Diffuser vs Baffle

Am I just the old curmudgeon who can't get with the new terminology? Or should we be more precise in our descriptions?

Umbrellas andSoftboxes and Dishes, oh my!

Choosing the lighting modifier to use for portraits

You have probably grown as tired of looking at me as I have. So this morning I hired my friend, Ny, to come over to help with more comparisons of light modifiers. For this series I used an Interfit S1 battery powered studio light and a variety of modifiers in different shapes and sizes. I photographed Ny with each modifier and with and without a white fill card on the shadow side of her face. The camera (Canon EOS 6D) was set to the Daylight color balance preset. You can see that some of the modifiers are very different in color temperature than others. The flash power output was adjusted for each modifier to give the same f/5.6 meter reading. Ny was seated about 4-feet in front of a white seamless paper backdrop. The lens was the Canon 85mm f.1.8 set to f/5.6 and ISO 100.

And without further ado, here are the test results.

Comparing the look of the 46-inch Photek Softlighter II with no diffusion (umbrella only), with a single diffusion panel, and with two diffusion panels attached. The softlighter is mounted on an Interfit S1 studio flash.

And for good measure, some full-length photos on the white seamless paper with the light at camera-left and no fill light or bounce cards.

Not the most exciting hour of photography for myself or for Ny. But very useful. If you find these comparisons helpful please consider helping to support this blog by purchasing my book Anatomy of a Studio Portrait or by purchasing lighting gear directly from Interfit Photographic where you get a 10% discount and I get a small commission if you use the code CORNICELLO10 (in all caps) during the checkout process.

Adding control to an Einstein or Alien Bee

Where's the Handle?

A week or so back I wrote about helping to control your flash head on a boom arm to prevent it from slipping and spinning. Today I'm offering another easy modification to help with aiming your lights.

I've had my Paul Buff Einstein strobe head for exactly a year now and have been impressed with it. It took me only a couple of hours to integrate it into my everyday studio lighting setups as my main light and relegating my Speedotron lights for the most part to fill and accent lights. But one thing about the Einstein (and the same goes for the Alien Bee strobes) bothered me. There is no handle on it to help adjust the angle of the light when you have a heavier modifier mounted. Every other strobe unit I've worked with (a dozen or more brands) have some sort of handle either on the strobe head or on the mounting bracket that helps you adjust the angle of the strobe head.

The solution for this is extremely simple and probably not original, but it took me a few months to get frustrated enough to figure it out on my own. And you probably have everything you need for this in your home or studio. The basic fix is just a standard phillips head screwdriver. But if you want to get a bit fancy, you can find a t-handle hex wrench at some larger hardware stores.

When you have a modifier like a large softbox or octa you are not using the umbrella receptacle, so I simply place the screwdriver or t-handle into the umbrella shaft slot and tighten it down. Voila! A handle to help adjust the angle of the strobe head. When using an umbrella this is not as much of an issue, as you can use the umbrella shaft as your handle to adjust the angle.