studio lighting

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

Environmental Impact Analysis

Can you tell what modifier was used to make each of these photos?

This is a test, only a test. Below you will find 26 photographs of my favorite mannequin. Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to pair up the numbered photos with the lettered modifiers listed below.

In random order the modifiers:

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A. Optical spotlight
B. 24-inch square pop-up softbox
C. 1x3 strip box mounted horizontally
D. 11-inch deep zoom reflector with diffusion
E. 40-inch metallic silver umbrella
F. Snoot
G. 60-inch umbrella (Softlighter without diffusion)
H. 7-inch metal dish reflector open face
I. 11-inch deep zoom reflector with 10˚ grid
J. 42-inch white shoot-through umbrella
K. 45-inch Parasail mounted horizontally
L. 60-inch Photek Softlighter
M. 2x3 softbox mounted horizontally
N. 36-inch deep parabolic (16 rod) softbox
O. 11-inch deep zoom with 40˚ grid
P. 2x3 softbox mounted vertically
Q. 36-inch deep parabolic softbox both diffusers
R. 11-inch deep zoom reflector open face
S. 60-inch octabox
T. 45-inch Parasail mounted vertically
U. 36-inch umbrella
V. 46-inch umbrella
W. 1x3 strip box vertical
X. 36-inch deep octa with only inner diffuser
Y. 28-inch folding beauty dish
Z. 22-inch beauty dish

All of the photos were made in a black box so that the environment would not have an effect on the images (no environmental fill bouncing around the subject). Black v-flats on each side, black foamcore on the floor, and a black fabric draped across the top. The only opening was towards the light and camera. The light is in pretty much the same position and distance (4-feet) from the mannequin head. The beauty dishes were in at about 3-feet.

Click on each of the three images below to view a larger version (1097 pixels tall) or click on the links below for an even larger version (2632 pixels tall). White balance is as shot (Daylight) so you can see the color differences between the various modifiers. They vary quite a bit!

Building the light

From the shadows come…

I have been working on a “headshot” project for a large company over the past month or so. I put headshot in quotes because they are using a wider view than a typical headshot. I am actually coming in late on the project. It started with one photographer traveling around the country to do the bulk of the photos (around 600 individuals). After that sprint they are finishing up with local photographers around the country to photograph new hires and do re-takes on some of the originals. That’s where I came into the project to finish up the Seattle office photos. As there were already more than 500 headshots done, I had to match the lighting from the previous photographer.

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I was given a rough lighting diagram, seen here, of the five light setup and a few example photos to reference. But I still had to build up the light with the equipment I had available. And here I want to show what went into the build.

There are a few ways to build a lighting setup. Some photographers start with the fill light and build up from there. I like to start with my key light and add the fill and accent lights onto that. So, with that in mind, here we go…


s1 main light

I started with an Interfit Photographic S1 strobe in a Deep Zoom Reflector with a 40-degree grid coming in from camera left. The grid is being used to restrict the light on the subject so it doesn’t hit the background and cause a shadow on the right side of the frame.




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The next light is an Interfit Honey Badger in a 7-inch metal dish reflector with a 10-degree grid. This light is placed directly over the lens and is concentrated on the subject’s face. Again, the grid is used to contain the light and not affect the background too much. I had a number of concerns about this light as I was sure that some subjects would be wearing eyeglasses. But with a little bit of angling the direction of their faces, it did not end up being an issue.


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The third light in the mix is a 60-inch octa powered by another Honey Badger. This light is directly behind the camera, giving an overall fill and providing a base for the shadows. It doesn’t look like much on its own, but in the overall final image it becomes important.


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The fourth light is from another Honey Badger pointed into a 60-inch Photek Softlighter without the diffuser (basically a large umbrella) from camera left to bring out the color of the background and to provide a space for the employee biography that appears with their photograph.


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The final light in the setup is another Honey Badger in a 1x3 strip box with a grid. It is set up on a boom arm coming over the top of the roll of seamless paper. It is there to give a tiny bit of separation between the subject’s head and the background.


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And finally, all the lights combined for the final image to be delivered. All of the power settings on the lights remained the same from the individuals to them all combined. I found it enlightening to see how they all came together in the final image after looking at how dark most of them were on their own.


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Here is what the final setup looked like. The background is Savage Ultramarine seamless paper. About half of the photos were made on this color, and the remaining were photographed on Savage Slate Gray.

The yellow dot on the small extension arm is a tennis ball to make the arm more visible so a klutzy photographer doesn’t walk into it. The client specs called for all persons to be seated on an apple box. The second apple and the foot stool are there to position the feet and legs in different ways to give some variety to the photos.

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.

Cheers!
John


Good Catch!

Catch light, that is. The life of the portrait.

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They say it is all in the eyes. And in portraits the eyes come alive with the presence of a catch light. But before we talk specifically about catch lights, a refresher on reflections. After all, we don’t photograph people, places, or things. We photograph the light that reflects off of those people, places, and things. There are two basic types of reflections. Diffuse reflections define the subject and its texture. We base our exposure on the diffuse reflections, whether that be skin, a tree, a flower, etc. Specular reflections are direct reflections of the light source, like a mirror. We also have shadows, which are areas that don’t get lit.

As you change the distance between your light and your subject the diffuse reflections get brighter or darker. Move them closer together and you have to lower your exposure to maintain the correct exposure. Move them farther apart and you need to provide more exposure. Pretty simple and intuitive. The diffuse reflections loosely follow the Inverse Square Law of physics. I am going to skip the math and science part here, but basically it tells us that changing the distance between the light and the subject will have a bigger effect on the exposure than you might expect. Light falls off rapidly as you move the light farther away.

Then we have the mirror-like specular reflections. Specular reflections are the same brightness as the light source, no matter the distance. You can easily see this by pointing a flashlight (torch) at a mirror and observing the brightness as you move the light closer or farther away. At this point you might start to ask why these highlights don’t follow Inverse Square. The answer is that they do! But in a different way. As you move the light source farther away from your subject the specular reflections get smaller, as you move the light closer the specular reflections get bigger.

Once you have an understanding of this you can start to consciously control the relationship between the various highlights. And that is where we come to discussing the catchlights in the eyes of our subjects. This stems from a question I recently received, “Can I make the catchlights less noticeable by moving the light farther away from my subject?” And the answer is, No. Moving the light farther away will make the catchlights MORE noticeable. They will be smaller, yes, but they will also be brighter in comparison to the diffuse reflections. The followup question was if dimming the light would reduce the brightness of the catchlight. Again, the answer is no. Dimming the light lower both the diffuse and specular reflections and you will need to increase the exposure, leading to the same relationship between them.

Let’s look at what is happening. Start with a light in a softbox at about 36-inches from our subject. We meter the light and find that the proper exposure is at f/8. Now move the light back to 48-inches from the subject. To maintain the same f/8 exposure we have to raise the power of the flash up about 1 stop. Now the face is still at the same exposure level (moving the light back and raising the power level compensated for each other). But the light is 1 stop (2X) brighter and because the catchlight is a mirror reflection, it is now twice as bright than it was before, making it much brighter than the diffuse reflection.

We can also look at this going in the opposite direction, bringing the light in closer to our subject. If we bring our light in 3 times closer, say it was originally at 9 feet away and now we move it in to 3 feet away, what happens? We have to stop down (change aperture or lower the flash power) by 3 stops to maintain the proper exposure. That makes the specular highlights 9 times darker than they were. Let’s see that that looks like in pictures.

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In the top image the lights are set 36-inches away from the subject. In the lower image the lights have been moved back to 48-inches from the subject. In doing so I had to increase the flash power by one stop to maintain the correct exposure on the “skin.” This in turn made the catchlights one stop brighter in the lower image. So even though the catchlights are smaller in the lower image, they are brighter in comparison to the rest of the face.

For this next example I attached a small mirror to the mannequin’s forehead and made two photos lit with a 2x3 softbox being reflected directly back to the camera. The one on the left had the light 9 feet away from the subject. The one on the right had the light 3 feet away. You can see how bright the softbox reflection is on the left, causing a lot of lens flare and haze, compared to on the right. The exposure on the face, though remains approximately the same. The reflection in the mirror on the right is 9x less bright by bringing the light in to 1/3 the distance. You can also see the difference in the highlight on the tip of the nose, small and bright when the light is far away, larger and more translucent when the light is in closer. The catchlight in the eyes on the right gives away one of my little signatures, the black bars of tape across the front of the softbox to simulate a multi-plane window.

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Let’s look at a different example, this time a still life/product photo. This shiny can was lit with one 60-inch octabank. On the left the light is about 48-inches (120cm) away from the can. On the right the light was moved in to 12-inches (30cm) away. There are a few things to observe here. On the left there is a strong highlight that you can see in the red cap and behind the text on the label. While you can read the label text, it is a bit washed out by the highlight. On the right, with the light in closer, the highlight looks much nicer on the red cap and the text on the label is much easier to read. You might also note that on the right the overall look of the text and the can is lower in contrast and color saturation. That is one of the downsides of using a large soft light in close. A set of soft grids on the octa might have helped bring back the contrast, but at the cost of seeing the grids in the highlights. Below is another series of photographs of this can. This time lit with a 2x3 softbox. On the left the light is 48-inches from the can and we see the bright highlight making the text hard to read. In the middle the softbox is set 12 inches from the can and the text is more readable. Over on the right I added a soft grid to the softbox. I think I see a bit more contrast and saturation, but you can see the cells of the grid in the highlight, especially in the red cap and at the shoulder of the can (see my post about grids for more info).

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And now for the controversial question about what shape catchlights are preferred. My preference is for rectangular catchlights. That is the shape you get inside from a window, a doorway, or a skylight. It is also what you get from a wide open sky outdoors. So many people talk about, and advertisements for lighting modifiers mention, “natural” round catchlights. I have to assume they are referring to the shape of the sun. But when we photograph people out in the sun we don’t usually get a round catchlight as they are either squinting, or turning away from the sun. Sure, in many animal photos we see small round dot catchlights, but rarely with people. And they remind me of department store family portraits from the 1960s. It comes down to personal taste. It is a rare client who comments on or requests a specific shape to the catchlights in their eyes. Dare I bring up the topic of pupil size? Maybe next time.

round catch lights

Until then, if you have any questions about this or any other lighting questions please comment below or join my studio lighting group on Facebook.

Thanks!
John

Light as a Feather

Feathering the light is using the shadow edge of your light to control your shadows.

Most beginning photographers seem to start out in the studio with their light pointed directly at their subject. And this works in many situations. You can keep doing that and all will be well. But if you want to take things up a notch and gain more control over the light on your scene you will need to learn how to position the light to control its coverage. And that’s what we are here for today. Control the stamp of light on your subject be feathering the light.

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The first thing to learn about feathering your light is that it does NOT make your light softer. We know that the larger the light source as seen by the subject the softer the light. What happens when you feather the light? Take a look at the images on the right where we are looking over the model’s shoulder at the light. On the top the light is pointing directly at the subject. On the bottom the light has been pivoted towards the camera to point more across the face of the subject. In doing so the light has become narrower, which is smaller. If you think back to the post about shadows you will see this is more like a strip light where the shadow edge quality will be the same up and down (the long dimension of the softbox is still the same size), but the shadows from right to left across the face (the nose shadow) will be harder because the width of the light is narrower.

The light across the face is slightly harder, but it is more even. The coverage is wider. But it isn’t any softer.

We can also feather the light away from the camera, towards the background. This will make the light across the face narrower and harder with deeper shadows. It is more akin to a split light when you do this. Let’s look at examples.

Feathering the light using a hard light source (an 11-inch deep zoom reflector)

Here I am using a hard light source to emphasize the shadow edges. On the left the light is pointed directly at the subject. In the middle the light has been pivoted towards the camera to cover a wider area of the face, opening up some of the shadows while at the same time making the shadow edge harder and more defined. Over on the right side I pivoted the light towards the background for another look that is even more shadowed and contrasty. Again notice that the nose shadow to the side has become very hard edged due to the light becoming much narrower.

Feathering becomes an even more powerful tool when working with multiple subjects in the photo. Here I have two subjects and a hard light.

Again, with the light pointed directly at the pair there is a strong falloff in light from left to right with deep shadows on both faces. By pivoting the light towards the camera the light evens out between the two faces as seen in the middle. Pivoting towards the background makes the difference in exposure between the subjects even farther apart.

Now let’s look at it with a softer light, this time a 2x3-foot softbox.

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This time I changed the order and you will see why in a moment. I started out the same with the softbox pointed directly at the subjects. Turning it towards the background exacerbated the problem of uneven exposure on the two subjects. Feathering the light towards the camera for the third image evened out the exposure. And in the bonus image I turned the light even more towards the camera and you can see that this lit up the subject farther from the light more than the subject closer to the light.

Here is a diagram to help explain.

There is your control via feathering.

Cheers!
John


What does that modifier look like?

I had a few spare minutes yesterday (New Year’s Eve), so invited a friend and her daughter over to make some photographs with a variety of light modifiers. Here are the results of the 28 configurations we tested.

All photos lit with an Interfit Photographic Honey Badger strobe head. All photos metered to f/6.3. Subject seated about 2 feet in front of white seamless paper. All lit with the single light with no reflectors or fill light. Camera was set to “daylight” white balance (yes there is that big a difference in skin tone between them) and the only post-processing on the images was to crop them to a square.

Here is the list of modifiers used and some notes:

  • Interfit 48-inch deep parabolic softbox with both diffusers in place

  • Interfit 48-inch deep parabolic softbox with only the inner diffuser

  • Interfit 48-inch deep parabolic softbox with no diffusers (open face)

  • Interfit 48-inch deep parabolic softbox with 20-inch black foam-core disk blocking the middle of the light (looks like a ring light)*

  • Neewer 36-inch parabolic softbox with CheetahStand focusing rod with the flash head pulled all the way in to the softbox

  • Neewer 36-inch parabolic softbox with CheetahStand focusing rod with the flash extended to the opening of the softbox

  • Neewer 36-inch parabolic softbox with CheetahStand focusing rod with the flash extended to the opening of the softbox and a 20-inch black foamcore disk blocking out the middle of the light*

  • SPSystems 28-inch folding octabox with both diffusers in place Light boomed over camera on axis with lens

  • SPSystems 28-inch folding octabox with only the inner diffuser

  • 22-inch Speedotron beauty dish centered over the camera with diffusion sock

  • 22-inch Speedotron beauty dish without the sock

  • 20-inch metal dish reflector centered over the camera

  • 20-inch metal dish reflector with a diffusion sock on it

  • Interfit Deep Zoom reflector at camera left

  • Interfit Deep Zoom reflector with its diffusion sock

  • Interfit Deep Zoom reflector with 10-degree grid

  • Interfit Deep Zoom reflector with 10-degree grid and diffuser to show that the diffuser negates the effect of the grid

  • 7-inch metal dish reflector

  • 7-inch metal dish reflector with one sheet of #261 diffusion

  • 7-inch metal dish reflector with two sheets of #261 diffusion

  • 7-inch metal dish reflector with 10-degree grid

  • Interfit 2x3-foot softbox pointed directly at the subjects

  • Interfit 2x3-foot softbox feathered in front of the subjects

  • Interfit 2x2-foot collapsible softbox (which comes with the Honey Badger and has a recessed front panel)

  • 2x2 softbox with a flat front (old and apparently yellowed with age)

  • Interfit 65-inch** Silver Parabolic umbrella with the head pushed almost all the way into the umbrella

  • Interfit 65-inch** Silver Parabolic umbrella with the head pushed in (focused) and a 20-inch black foam-core disk blocking the center of the light

  • Interfit 65-inch** Silver Parabolic umbrella with the head mounted on a separate light stand about 5-feet in front of the umbrella

    * see the photo below
    **measured across the opening, other companies call this a 7-foot or an 84-inch as they measure around the back arc of the umbrella

The black foam-core disk was used in an attempt to make the lights act something like a defocused Broncolor Para. The sliding focusing arm in the 36-inch para was for the same reason. But looking at the photos, I think that I like the big 48-inch Interfit Parabolic Softbox in any of its configurations (2 diffusers, inner diffuser, no diffuser).

Some photos for clarification

Strobe head mounted on a separate stand 5 feet in front of the Interfit 65-inch Silver Parabolic Umbrella

Strobe head mounted on a separate stand 5 feet in front of the Interfit 65-inch Silver Parabolic Umbrella

Black foam-core disk blocking the center of the deep parabolic softbox

Black foam-core disk blocking the center of the deep parabolic softbox

Cheetah “Chopstick” lets you position the flash head inside the softbox, sliding it closer to or farther from the back of the softbox to focus the light

Cheetah “Chopstick” lets you position the flash head inside the softbox, sliding it closer to or farther from the back of the softbox to focus the light

What information lurks in the shadows?

Only the Shadow knows.

And he has something to say! Shadows are a very important piece of our photographs. Shadows help define our subject. They help set the mood of the photograph. They can hide things we don’t want to show. They can tell a story about how a scene was lit. And that’s what I am talking about today. What can we see in the shadows?

Here are my descriptions for the 14 images on the right (click on the image for a larger version):

  1. Standard 7-inch metal dish reflector
    Notice slight double-edge to the shadow due to the flash tube being slightly brighter than the surrounding reflector.

  2. Standard 7-inch metal dish reflector with one layer of diffusion material
    Contrast is lower from light bouncing around the room, shadow edge is more homogenized by the diffuser. The shadow edge is the same, no extra softening from the diffusion, just a brighter shadow.

  3. Standard 7-inch metal dish reflector with two layers of diffusion material
    Very similar to #2 but needing more flash power. Extra diffusion did warm up the color. Still has the same edge with no additional softening.

  4. Standard 7-inch metal dish reflector with 10-degree grid
    Narrow beam of light doesn’t hit walls, ceilings, etc. (environment), so more contrast. Still has the same shadow edge quality, just a darker shadow and restricted coverage on the background.

  5. Standard 7-inch metal dish reflector with 10-degree grid plus a layer of diffusion
    Brings us back to what we had in #1 or #2, but required 5 more stops of light power to maintain the same exposure. Don’t put diffusion in front of a grid! It negates the effect of the grid at the cost of a lot of your flash power.

  6. Deep Zoom 11-inch reflector
    Narrower light been from the deep reflector gives a darker shadow, somewhat similar to the grid in #4, but like #1 the shadow edge is doubled because of the difference in efficiency between the light direct from the flash tube and the light bounced off the walls of the reflector. Diffusion would help homogenize the shadow, but will also take away some of the contrast.

  7. Deep Zoom 11-inch reflector with 10-degree grid
    Even less environmental bounce producing a darker shadow.

  8. 1x3 strip box in vertical position
    Narrow modifier produces little shadow along its long dimension (up/down here) with much more shadow along its shorter dimension (left/right here).

  9. 1x3 strip box in horizontal position
    Rotating the narrow box moves the shadows. The left/right shadows are a little bit tighter while we now have up/down shadows. This is especially noticeable on the light stand holding the silhouette. In #8 it casts a wide shadow, while in #9 the wide pattern wraps around the narrow object and there is virtually no shadow.

  10. 2x2-foot square softbox in close at 3-feet
    This softbox has both an inner and outer diffusion panel. Shadow transition is soft

  11. 2x2-foot square softbox backed up to 6 feet
    The box gets smaller in relation to the subject when moved back.The shadow gets a harder and more defined edge. The background brightens up slightly (depth of light, inverse square law). More light bounces around the room picking up some warmth from the wooden floor.

  12. 2x2-foot square softbox at 6 feet with an extra layer of diffusion
    Shadow quality remains the same, but image picked up some warmth from either the wood floor bouncing in or from the diffusion material (or both). Requires more flash power.

  13. 46-inch Photek Softlighter umbrella WITHOUT the diffuser
    Large, round light. Even shadows all around. Background is brighter than #14 due to longer light path and depth. Although the umbrella is 36 inches from the subject, the light path is from the flash to the umbrella (24-inches) and from the umbrella to the wall (36-inches) so the distance of light is like having a forward facing light at 5-feet away instead of 3-feet, as you would get with the front diffuser (see #14).

  14. 46-inch Photek Softlighter umbrella with the diffuser
    Adding the diffusion cover has a slight effect on lightening the shadow density. Background is slightly darker as the light source (the diffusion panel) is closer to the subject. The closer the light is to your subject, the darker the background will be.

All the photos were metered to give the same exposure. In most cases the aperture remained the same (f/4.0) and the flash power was adjusted to maintain correct exposure. The exceptions are the exxamples with the Deep Zoom reflector, as it was very efficient and I could not lower the flash power enough so I had to stop down the lens to f/7.1. 

The main take-aways from this lesson is that the shape of your modifier determines the shape of the shadows and the size of the light as seen by the subject determines the size of the shadow width or the quality of light, that is hard or soft. Diffusion, along with the environment, controls the shadow density or contrast. Adding diffusion directly to a light, where it doesn’t make the light any larger, does not soften the light. It is a very subtle, but important concept. Diffusion does homogenize the light, making it more even across its field. And, depending on the environment, fills in the shadows making them less dark by bouncing off the walls, floor, ceiling, and other surroundings. Don’t confuse contrast with quality.

As I said, the difference can be subtle. Here we have three photos to compare. The first (A) was lit with a standard 7-inch diameter silver metal dish reflector. It casts a hard edged deep shadow. Next, I taped a sheet of diffusion material over the reflector (B) and you can see that the edge shape and transition (quality) has remained the same. What changed was the depth or darkness of the shadow (contrast). The diffusion spread the light around the studio and made the shadows lighter in tone, but the edge didn’t change because the light size didn’t change. For the third photo (C) I switched to a 20-inch diameter light modifier without diffusion and you can see here that the edge got softer and the transition got wider as the light was able to “wrap” around the subject for a softer light quality.

contrast-vs-quality.jpg

Now let’s look at what happens when we keep the same small 7-inch diameter reflector but add single and double diffusion. The first sheet of diffusion material makes the shadow brighter and also homogenizes the shadow edge so there is no longer a double-shadow (from the flash tube and the reflector not being equal in brightness). Adding the second layer of diffusion slightly lightens the shadow, but not appreciably. It does not in any way soften the light.

multi-diffusion.jpg
triple-diffusion

I can anticipate a comment and question. That’s all well and good for diffusing a small light. I am using a Photek Softlighter and want to double (or triple) the diffusion on that. What happens there? Let’s take a look! Here are four examples starting with the Softlighter umbrella on its own without the diffuser. Next is with the diffuser. Then for double diffusion I hung a roll of diffusion material in front of the Softlighter to double-diffuse it. Then I doubled that up to make it triple-diffused (see the photo on the right). Adding the diffusion panel to the bare umbrella actually limits the spread of the light and makes the shadow a bit darker. Adding additional layers of diffusion on top of that brighten the shadows ever so slightly and start to add some warmth to the color. But again, no change in the quality/softness of the light from extra diffusion. The size of the light remained the same.

This environmental bounce can also cause color casts if the room isn’t neutral in color. In a larger studio, or in a studio with black walls, ceiling, and floors, or in an open field the changes in contrast on the subject with or without diffusion and grids will be much less noticeable.

 

 

Well, this brings us to the close of another year. 2018 has been quite a year for me. The biggest event was the passing of my 98-year-old mom, Rose, in August. Thanks for everything you have done for me and for all the support for my taking my own direction in life. I could not have had a better mom. Rest in peace.

So, here is looking to a bright new year with new challenges and accomplishments. I wish you all a Happy New Year! Stay safe and be well.

Cheers!
John