studio strobe

Diffusion Confusion (take 4!)

Diffusion will be my epitaph

So I lied last time. It is more than once a year that I find myself writing about diffusion. But i still see so much misunderstanding about this topic. This time I will try to be short and sweet.

Diffusion scatters light. Diffusion can come from passing light through a translucent material (such as a white shower curtain, or a scrim, or diffusion material from the camera/cinema store) or by bouncing the light off of a mat surface (a painted wall, a sheet of foamcore, a sheet of art board, etc.). Here I will be concentrating on shining the light through translucent material placed right on the light source (or the metal dish reflector on the light source).

As I said, diffusion scatters the light. But it doesn’t soften the light. Diffusion possibly lowers the contrast as it scatters the light that will then bounce of of nearby surfaces like the floor, walls, and ceiling. This will cause the shadows to be filled in or lighter in density. But the shadow edge transition won’t change if the size of the light source doesn’t change. Don’t confuse contrast with hardness (quality). In a small studio space this is more apparent than in a large space (in the large space the light has to travel farther to a surface to bounce off of to come back and fill in the shadows).

How many layers of diffusion did you use???

It pains me when I read someone saying the put 3 or 4 or 5 (or more!) layers of diffusion over their light to soften it. All they actually did was lower the output of the light, causing them to either have to use a more powerful light, go to a higher ISO, or work at a wider aperture than they might have wanted to. But the one thing they did not do is change the shadow transition to make the light softer. To make the light softer would require using a diffuser that is much larger than the light source. If the diffuser and the light are the same size the light quality remains the same. The time to use double diffusion is if your diffusion material is rather thin and you can see the hot center spot of a light pointed through the material. (NOTE: This is separate from the concept of a softbox or octabox that has an inner and outer diffuser. In that case the inner diffuser’s job is to spread out the light from the strobe to completely illuminate the larger front panel diffuser and is not the same thing as double diffusing the front of the softbox or octa.)

7-inch reflector without and with diffusion

The opposite of diffusion is to narrow the light with some sort of baffle. This could be a snoot, a set of barn doors, or a honeycomb grid. I want to talk about grids here for one big reason. I often see photographers mixing a grid with a diffuser by putting the diffuser between the grid and the subject. I am not sure what they are trying to accomplish with that other than again losing a lot of light (2 stops or more in my testing). And they also lose the effect of the grid. If you feel you need a diffuser with a grid, you need to place the diffusing material between the flash tube and the grid, not in front of the grid. See the Deep Zoom Reflector examples photos later in the article.

First, let’s go to the standard 7-inch reflector that is common to most strobe systems. In the accompanying photos (click on the photo to see a larger version) I have used the 7-inch on its own, then with one layer of diffusion clipped on, and then with two layers of diffusion clipped on. There are a few things to notice. First is the large shadow on the background. Without diffusion there are actually multiple shadows with distinct edges. This comes from the combination of the flash tube itself, the reflector behind the flash tube, and the dish reflector around the flash tube each putting out a little bit different amount of light from their different sizes. When we add diffusion the light is homogenized or evened out so the shadow on the wall is more even. Then look at the shadow of the nose and the highlight on the tip of the nose. By adding the diffusion (one layer, two layers, or a dozen layers) we do not see any changes to these from one photo to the next. The edge of the shadow is still the same hardness and the highlight is still the same brightness in relation to the overall exposure. As noted above the density of the shadow might be a little brighter from light bouncing around the room, but that doesn’t affect the edge quality of that subject. If we want to lessen the brightness of the highlight on the nose one solution is to bring the light in closer, which will make the light bigger and cause it to fall off quicker (See! Everything in photography is interdependent and full of trade-offs). As a specular reflection the brightness will actually stay the same while getting larger, but the exposure on the rest of the face will also get brighter and we will power down the strobe to compensate for that which will then also bring down the brightness of the hot spot.

7-inch reflector bare, with a grid, and with a grid + diffusion

Now let’s look at combining a grid with diffusion. Three examples again this time. The first is with the same one we saw with 7-inch dish in the above examples. Then the 10-degree grid is added which limits the spread of the light for a more dramatic look and deeper shadows because there is less light bouncing around the rest of the room. This is the look I suspect that everyone is looking for with the grids. But then some people put a diffuser over grid. And look what happens when the diffusion material is placed over the grid—the diffusion material does its job (scattering the light into a wider pattern) and completely obliterates the effect from the use of the grid. Take a look at the diagram at the bottom of this post. And that is at the cost of two or more stops of light (translating into using more battery power if you are using a portable battery powered system). If you do feel the need to diffuse the light when using a grid you need to place the diffusion between the flash tube and the grid, not in front of the grid (yes, I am repeating myself for emphasis). We will take a look at how that works in the next set of examples below.

Diffusion scatters light

Baffles restrict light

Don’t confuse light contrast with light quality

Deep Zoom Reflector examples

One more example, this time with the Deep Zoom 11-inch reflector kit from Interfit. The Deep Zoom kit comes with a set of three grids (10-, 20-, and 30-degree) and a diffusion sock. Six examples this time. First we see the Deep Zoom by itself providing a nice crisp look. Adding the diffusion sock lowers the contrast, but retains the same shadow edge quality. Next I put on the 10-degree grid providing a more dramatic look with falloff of light across the background and a bit more contrast. Then I tried the grid with the diffusion sock over the grid and POOF there goes the grid effect that you spent good money on to purchase the grids. The next thing to try was with the sock behind the grid, between the flash tube and the grid. We get the drama back, but with a bit less contrast. So, while we’re at it, what happens wit with the sock behind the grid and a sheet of diffusion material in front of the grid. Again we can see that by adding diffusion in front of the grid we are negating the effect of the grid.

In all six examples we need to take a look at and compare the transition edge of the nose shadow. By now I hope that you don’t really need to look at it to know that it is going to be the same because the size of the light didn’t change between photographs.

So, to recap…

Diffusion scatters light in all directions and makes it cover a wider area. As the light is scattered and some is absorbed by the diffusion material you will lose some power.

Diffusion material can be specific products like those from Lee and Rosco. Or it can be a sheet of tracing paper or a bedsheet or a frosted shower curtain. Here I am assuming that the diffusion is dense enough that you won’t see a hot spot from a light shining through it. This is usually called a full-stop diffuser. Your diffusion material should be neutral in color, but often isn’t. That white shower curtain might contain brighteners that make it cause the light to be more blue, or it might have yellowed with age. Be prepared to have to do some color compensation when processing your raw files.

The opposite of a diffuser is a baffle (though I am befuddled as to why some softbox manufacturers and photographers call their scrims and the inner diffuser on their softboxes baffles). Baffles restrict the flow of light. Common examples are snoots, barn doors, and grids. Grids maintain the shadow edge while restricting the coverage of the light. Hard grids are available for use with metal reflectors like the 7-inch, the Deep Zoom, and beauty dishes. They are rigid with a honeycomb pattern of openings and snap onto the front of the reflector. They usually come in densities from 5-degrees to 40-degrees. The lower the number the narrower the light coming out of them. Soft fabric grids are available for most softboxes and octa boxes. They are usually around 40-degrees and allow you to have a large directional soft light.

Don’t confuse contrast (the difference between the light and dark areas of your image) with quality of light (how quickly the shadows transition from dark to light). While thinking about that, also do not confuse brightness with harshness. Moving a light in closer makes it brighter, but also softer as it becomes bigger in relation to the subject (or as seen by the subject). The exception to this is when using hard grids. Because the light rays are restricted by the honeycomb only the center rays from the light going through the grid will reach the subject, making the light appear smaller as it is brought in closer.

Expanding on this illustration from a  previous blog post

Expanding on this illustration from a previous blog post

Well, thanks again for indulging me and reading through my thoughts on studio lighting. Now go out and make some photographs! Until next time…

Cheers!
John Cornicello



The Interfit Line of Studio Flash Units

High quality, good customer service, reasonable prices

The Honey Badger and the Badger Unleashed

The Honey Badger and the Badger Unleashed

This blog contains affiliate links. If you purchase items directly from Interfit Photographic USA using my discount code, cornicello10, I will be compensated for the referral.

I was first introduced to the Interfit line of lighting gear at WPPI in 2017. I visited their booth to find out more about the LED panels they were distributing at the time. I was impressed with the people I met and came away from the meeting more interested in their studio strobes, which I hadn’t been very familiar with before. I kept in contact with Interfit over the next few months and signed on as one of their Creative Pros in June of 2017.

Along with the quality of their products, I was impressed that they have US-based operations in California and Georgia and that I was able to meet their staff not only at large shows like WPPI, but also at regional events. Their CEO and lead engineer both attended Glazer’s Camera PhotoFest in Seattle, for example. While I have not had a reason to contact their customer service department, I have heard a number of good stories from satisfied customers.

I started my relationship with a pair of S1 strobes. In August of 2017 Interfit released their Honey Badger line of strobes. I added those to my studio along with some of their modifiers. In early 2018 they introduced a line called Studio Essentials that included a 200Ws Value Flash head and an LED monolight. Their latest release is the Badger Unleashed battery powered strobe heads. 

Here is an overview of each of their studio strobe offerings.

FLASH HEADS

Interfit S1 battery or A/C powered strobe

Interfit S1 battery or A/C powered strobe

clean, clear, easy to use controls on the Interfit S1

clean, clear, easy to use controls on the Interfit S1

S1 - Interfit’s most powerful strobe at 500 watt-seconds. It uses S-mount accessories (as do all of their strobes). It has a built-in handle to help adjust the angle of the light on a light stand. It is battery-powered with the option of plugging it into an a/c wall socket. Controls on the back are clearly labeled and easy to use. This flash offers high speed sync (HSS) and TTL exposure control when used with their dedicated Canon, Nikon, or Sony remote triggers (the receiver is built into the strobe head). The S1 uses IGBT technology to offer very short flash durations at the lower end of the power range. The modeling lamp is a 10-watt LED, which is equivalent to around a 60-watt incandescent bulb. The low wattage helps make the battery last longer. There is a glass diffuser dome covering the flash tube and modeling lamp for protection and for even light spread inside of the light modifiers you use with the flash.


Interfit Honey Badger studio strobe

Interfit Honey Badger studio strobe

Control panel on the Honey Badger

Control panel on the Honey Badger

Honey Badger - The bright yellow strobe offers 320 watt-seconds of power and has a 60-watt daylight color balanced LED modeling lamp that is as bright as a 300-watt incandescent lamp. As it is an LED, it does not get hot, so no burnt fingers changing modifiers as you would with other strobes with incandescent modeling lamps. In addition to the standard S-mount for modifiers, the Honey Badger also accepts pop-up modifiers and comes standard with a 24-inch square softbox. This strobe is all manual and has a very fast recycle time. It is compatible with the dedicated remotes and the generic remote that works with just about any camera with a hot shoe. Controls are clearly marked and easy to use. A radio trigger receiver is built in. There is a glass diffuser dome covering the flash tube and modeling lamp for protection and for even light spread inside of the light modifiers you use with the flash. The Honey Badger is my go-to light for most studio situations.


Interfit Badger Unleashed battery powered studio and location strobe

Interfit Badger Unleashed battery powered studio and location strobe

Control panel on the Badger Unleashed

Control panel on the Badger Unleashed

Badger Unleashed - This is the new cousin of the Honey Badger, though it is also a mini-S1. It is 250 watt-seconds (which is only one stop less than the S1, or power level 9 out of 10) with a 15-watt LED modeling lamp. Like the Honey Badger, it offers S-Mount and pop-up modifier compatibility. The Badger Unleashed is IGBT controlled and offers high speed sync (HSS) and TTL automatic exposure control with the dedicated remotes for Canon, Nikon, and Sony. It also works in manual mode with the generic remote trigger. The Badger Unleashed has a short flash duration to help freeze motion and recycle time is 1.5 seconds at full power. This light can power down to 1 watt-second for those times you want to work wide open with your fast lenses or just need a little kiss of light to augment your scene. The battery is rated for over 400 full power flashes per charge and recharge time is around 90 minutes. Extra batteries are available, too. There is a glass diffuser dome covering the flash tube and modeling lamp for protection and for even light spread inside of the light modifiers you use with the flash.

The new battery-powered Badger Unleashed from Interfit Photographic is now available. I took one out for its first spin this evening. Check it out here.

Interfit Studio Essentials Value Flash

Interfit Studio Essentials Value Flash

Control panel on the back of the Studio Essentials Value Flash

Control panel on the back of the Studio Essentials Value Flash

Studio Essentials Value Flash - This is a compact and light weight “starter” flash with 200 watt-seconds of power. It has a built-in radio receiver that works with the $20 remote trigger. There are kits available, including the $300 two-light softbox kit which I use to light the Egg Chair as part of my Chair Series photos. This includes 2 strobe heads, two 20x28-inch softboxes, two light stands, a remote trigger, and a carrying case. A similar two-light kit with umbrellas (but no carry case) is only $200. These lights use a 75-watt incandescent modeling lamp and there is a built-in handle to help adjust angles. Operation is all manual with an easy to use control panel on the back of the strobe heads. Recycle time is 2 seconds at full power. Power can be dialed back 5 stops to 12.5 watt-seconds in 1/10th stop increments. Modifiers attach via the built-in S-mount. A very good value for $99.99!


Accessories

The new Nomad portable battery pack is a sine wave inverter with two A/C outlets and a USB charger port. Additional batteries are also available for the Badger Unleashed and S1 lights.

Interfit-nomad-1.jpg
Interfit-nomad-2

MODIFIERS

Another thing that endeared me to Interfit is their collection of high quality and reasonably priced light modifiers, most of which come with a fabric grid included. Here is a list of the modifiers I use regularly. Scroll down for some example photographs.


Example Photographs

Interfit Badger Unleashed with Deep Zoom reflector and 10-degree grid

Interfit Badger Unleashed with Deep Zoom reflector and 10-degree grid

Interfit Badger Unleashed with Deep Zoom reflector and diffusion sock

Interfit Badger Unleashed with Deep Zoom reflector and diffusion sock

Interfit Badger Unleashed with 12x36-inch strip box

Interfit Badger Unleashed with 12x36-inch strip box

Interfit Honey Badger with 48-inch deep parabolic softbox

Interfit Honey Badger with 48-inch deep parabolic softbox

Interfit S1 with 28-inch folding beauty dish

Interfit S1 with 28-inch folding beauty dish

Honey Badger with 24x36-inch softbox

Honey Badger with 24x36-inch softbox

Interfit Studio Essentials Value Flash (two) with 20x28-inch softbox

Interfit Studio Essentials Value Flash (two) with 20x28-inch softbox

Interfit Honey Badger with 65-inch silver parabolic umbrella and diffusion sock

Interfit Honey Badger with 65-inch silver parabolic umbrella and diffusion sock

Badger Unleashed with 7-inch dish reflector

Badger Unleashed with 7-inch dish reflector

Interfit Studio Essentials Value Flash (two) with 20x28-inch softbox

Interfit Studio Essentials Value Flash (two) with 20x28-inch softbox

Honey Badger with 24-inch pop-up softbox

Honey Badger with 24-inch pop-up softbox

Honey Badger with 24-inch pop-up softbox

Honey Badger with 24-inch pop-up softbox

Interfit Badger Unleashed (two) with 36x48-inch softbox from camera left and 12x36-inch strip box at camera position for fill

Interfit Badger Unleashed (two) with 36x48-inch softbox from camera left and 12x36-inch strip box at camera position for fill

Honey Badger with 36x48-inch softbox as the background

Honey Badger with 36x48-inch softbox as the background

There you have it! Since getting into the Interfit line of studio lighting I have been able to retire my Dyna-lite, Speedotron, and Einstein flashes. Let me know if you might be interested in purchasing a Speedotron Force 5 monolight or Speedotron 202VF heads locally in Seattle.

Remember that you can get a 10% discount on any products purchased directly from Interfit USA using the code “cornicello10” at checkout.

Thanks!
John Cornicello











Revisiting Shutter Speed In Relation to Flash Photography

How shutter speed affects flash in and out of the studio

Does this ever happen to you?

Does this ever happen to you?

From in-person discussions, q&a sessions in CreativeLive classes I’ve been involved in, and from online discussion groups I have come to the conclusion that shutter speed when using flash is a difficult concept for photographers to grasp when first introduced. We’re all familiar with the three legs of the exposure triangle: ISO (sensitivity), Aperture (amount of light passing through the lens), and Shutter Speed (how long the light is allowed to reach the sensor. For a more in depth look at how shutter speed affects your photos please visit this guide on the PhotographyTalk site). When we add flash into the situation there are another two legs added, the amount of light and the duration of the flash. And at the same time, the Shutter Speed leg’s effect is somewhat tossed away. This makes it sound more complicated than it actually is.

exposure_variables

It is a double exposure
I find that it helps to think of flash photography as making a double exposure with one click of the shutter button. We have an exposure for the existing ambient light that is controlled by the big three (ISO, f/stop, shutter speed). And we have a second simultaneous exposure for the flash that is controlled by ISO, f/stop, and flash power. As ISO and f/stop affect both exposures we can eliminate them from the exposure equation. That leaves us with shutter speed to control the ambient light and flash power to control the flash light. More about that when I talk about working with flash outdoors in sunlight. Let’s start with studio lighting.

In The Studio

What I am saying is that in studio flash photography in the studio the shutter speed doesn’t matter all that much within a certain range, usually around 1/30th of a second to 1/200th of a second. That’s around a 3-stop range. How can that be? What about motion blur at 1/30? 

In the studio we have control over the ambient light situation. We can make the studio completely dark so that even a full 1-second shutter speed at a typical aperture of f/8 or f/11 will not record anything on the sensor. Then we add the flash. The flash provides the powerful light that does record on the sensor. But it only records for that split second that the flash is firing (the flash duration). So out of that 1-second the shutter is opened, the flash is only firing for a fraction of the time. Maybe 1/300 of a second for a big old powerful studio power pack and head system or only 1/9000 of a second for a newer flash unit. The flash duration has effectively replaced the shutter speed in terms of both providing the light for the exposure and for providing the speed necessary to stop motion. Now I am not advocating a shutter speed of 1/30, just using that as an example. Go ahead and test this yourself. Set the ISO and aperture you would be using in the studio (ISO 100 and f/8 is a good starting point) and turn down the ambient light to have a darkened studio. Before connecting and turning on your flash take a photo with those settings to see what gets recorded. In many cases the frame will be black, or show just a faint image. If you see too much image raise your shutter speed to 1/60 and try again.

So why set 1/200 as the other end of the range for studio flash photography? That comes down to how the focal plane shutter in our camera works. With a focal plane shutter (which is what we have in most dSLRs and many mirrorless cameras) there is basically a set of two curtains (simplified, as some have multiple blades, but the effect is the same). When you press the button to take a photograph the first curtain slides out of the way to allow light to reach the sensor. Then the second curtain slides across covering the sensor to end the exposure. To synchronize this with a flash the flash has to fire when neither curtain is covering the sensor. The fastest shutter speed at which there is no curtain in the way is the sync speed for that camera.

Here is an illustration of what happens. On the left we see the first curtain open up to expose the entire sensor in the camera. Then the flash fires, exposing the entire scene. Then the second curtain closes to end the exposure. On the right we see that above the sync speed the first curtain opens, then the second curtain starts to close before the first curtain clears the sensor. Then the flash fires and gets blocked by one of the curtains causing a black band along one edge of the photograph.

Syncronized shutter

Syncronized shutter

Out of sync shutter

Out of sync shutter

Your camera specifications might tell you that the sync speed is 1/180, or 1/200, or even 1/250, so why not go that high with the shutter speed? That number is usually in relation to using a dedicated flash on your camera in the hot shoe. As an example, look at the user manual for the Canon EOS 6D mark II. On page 280 it says:

Non-Canon Flash Units
Sync Speed

The camera can synchronize with non-Canon compact flash units at 1/180 sec. and slower speeds. With large studio flash units, the flash duration is longer than that of a compact flash unit and varies depending on the model. Be sure to check before shooting if flash sync is properly performed by test shooting at a sync speed of approx. 1/60 sec. to 1/30 sec.

Additionally, the use of a remote radio signal flash trigger can add a little bit of a delay to the firing of the flash, requiring a slower shutter speed than expected.

So, what happens if you do set your shutter speed too high? You will notice a dark band along one edge of your photo or no image at all. Here is a set of test images I created with the Canon EOS 6D Mark II and studio strobes (two Interfit Honey Badger flashes, one on the subject and the other on the background). The shutter speed for each photo is shown above the mannequin head. You can clearly see that the flash synced at speeds up to 1/125, but at 1/250 there is the start of a black band along one edge and at 1/2000 the frame is completely black. With some lower cost remote flash triggers you would even see the black band at 1/125, so you would need to set your shutter speed to 1/80 sec. or 1/60. If you have had that black band along the edge of some of your flash photos, here is the explanation.

Studio flash at various shutter speeds

Studio flash at various shutter speeds

High Speed Sync

For some time now dedicated camera flashes (I will refer to them as speed lights here) have offered a feature called High Speed Sync (HSS). This feature is now becoming available in studio flash units like the Interfit S1. It allows the flash unit to synchronize with faster shutter speeds. This comes in most handy when working outdoors in daylight and you want to make photos at wider apertures such as f/2.8 or wider and want to provide some fill light from the flash or even use the flash as your main light source. The issue there is that a typical mid-day exposure at ISO 100 and f/2.8 might call for a shutter speed of 1/2000. As we saw above, the flash won’t have any effect on the image at 1/2000 sec. 

Another situation is where you want to darken the ambient light exposure so that the flash is the main light on the subject. Changing your ISO or aperture will affect the flash exposure as well as the ambient exposure, so your control over the ambient light is your shutter speed. We’ve seen that you are pretty limited in available shutter speeds with normal flash sync. Only being able to speed up to 1/180 or 1/200 doesn’t give you all that much control to darken the ambient light.

Enter HSS
With HSS the flash fires in a stroboscopic fashion (pop, pop, pop, pop, pop) synchronized to the movement of the shutter curtains during the exposure. This happens very quickly, too fast for the human eye to see the multiple flashes, so it still looks like one flash burst. Here is a visual explanation of high speed sync...

On the left there is too much available light to be able to work at f/1.8, everything is overexposed. On the right HSS has been enabled and the shutter speed set to 1/8000 sec. to take the background ambient exposure way down and have the Interfit S1 battery-powered flash provide the main exposure on the subject. Here the S1 is being modified by a 2x3-foot softbox.

On the left there is too much available light to be able to work at f/1.8, everything is overexposed. On the right HSS has been enabled and the shutter speed set to 1/8000 sec. to take the background ambient exposure way down and have the Interfit S1 battery-powered flash provide the main exposure on the subject. Here the S1 is being modified by a 2x3-foot softbox.

Trade-offs
While HSS allows the flash to sync at shutter speeds up to 1/8000 sec., there is a catch. Everything in photography is a trade-off. With HSS the trade-offs are power loss, battery life, and a shorter lifetime for the flash tube. If you have used flash before you are most likely familiar with recycle time. Each time the flash fires it releases energy stored in capacitors. Those capacitors need to charge up again to provide the power for the next flash. Depending on the flash, the time for the recharge can be from  a bit less than 1 second to 8 seconds or more at full power. The time to recycle goes down as the power of the strobe is turned down. Do you see where this is going? In order to have immediate recycle times to allow a number of rapid fire flashes within 1/8000 of a second (as per our example) the power of the flash has to be set way down--you get much less light out of the flash. Right now it seems that most HSS flash units have a maximum power output of around 500 to 600 watt seconds. Anything more powerful would not recycle fast enough or would require larger/heavier power units and be much more expensive. This limits us in that the flash has to be in pretty close to the subject, especially if using big modifiers like soft boxes or umbrellas. Or you end up using smaller/harder light sources and have to deal with the consequences of that. And all that rapid firing of the flash can shorten the lifetime of the flash tube (which is usually a user-replacable item).

Without High Speed Sync you can see the shadow of the shutter curtain when the shutter speed is set higher than the sync speed of the camera

Without High Speed Sync you can see the shadow of the shutter curtain when the shutter speed is set higher than the sync speed of the camera

Do we need High Speed Sync?
It depends.
Yeah, I hate non-commital answers like that. But it does. If you want to totally blur the background on a portrait of one person yes, you might want to make the photo at f/1.4 or f/2.0. And for that you will need to use HSS to be able to work at the high shutter speeds you need in daylight with those apertures. But if you have multiple subjects like a family group you will often be working at f/8 or f/11 or even f/16 to get everyone in focus. At those apertures there is a good chance your shutter speed might drop down to 1/200 or slower and you won’t need HSS.  Even with an individual, if you can pose them someplace where the background is far enough away, you might be able to still get some separation at smaller f/stops and not need HSS. 

For more information about shutter speed in general and how it is used in non-flash photography please refer to this excellent article on the PhotographyTalk website

Thanks for following along! I cover all this and more in my book Anatomy of a Studio Portrait. I also teach lighting classes in the Seattle area at Glazer's Camera and at Photo Center Northwest. Private instruction is also available. Now please go out and light up the world!

John

 

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.

Chasing the elusive spot light

I WANT IT! aka "GAS" (gear acquisition syndrome)

UPDATE: September 2018: I found the Bowens S-mount optical spotlight on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2CVcdCJ (Affiliate link, I will be compensated if you purchase via this link).

UPDATE: March 2019: Here is another one from Ali Express for around $250. I have not seen or tried it yet myself, but the it looks good in the advertisement. It also has the option of an Elinchrom or Profoto mount as well as the Bowens S-mount. I like that it appears to have a helical (twist) focus on the lens. If you get one of these please comment below about it. Thanks!


I've had this lust for a spotlight for some time. I've kept a web alert in place for a Norman TriLite that I could convert to work with a Speedotron pack. I have a Speedotron Shakespeare optical spot light and a Light Blaster (both available for sale). I saw Zack Arias talk about a new device with a zooming fresnel lens and I got one of those (photo of it appears below). And there is the tried and true snoot.

Profoto SpotSmall

Profoto SpotSmall

But the holy grail for me has been for a small optical spotlight. Profoto has one called the Spot Small that sells for around $1,000. Though it comes with a Profoto mount, I found that I could easily replace the mount with a Speedotron or Balcar mount and probably some other mounts. But the price was out of my range for the amount of use I expected to get out of it.

Bowens Universal Spot

Bowens Universal Spot

Elincrhom MiniSpot

Elincrhom MiniSpot

Then I discovered that Bowens had what appeared to be an identical product they called the Bowens Universal Spotlight Attachment. It cost only $575 and I wouldn't have to change out the mount to fit my lights. I considered it for a while, but still couldn't justify the cost--I kept on saving my pennies, though. Then one day I noticed that it went from Available to Backordered and to Special Order over a few days at two of the big online camera stores and that got me worried a bit. Another day or two later things got clearer as word came out that Bowens was shutting down operations. Now it is listed as Discontinued. There went that opportunity.

NOTE: It sounds like Bowens made the Profoto SpotSmall and now that Bowens is in liquidation the Profoto spot is no longer available.

That got me looking again and I found the Elinchrom Mini Spot Projection attachment for $500. But I couldn't find one to see in person to figure out what it would take to change the mount to fit any of my studio lights. And $500 was still a bit pricy for something I knew I wanted but didn't know where or when I was actually going to use it. But it did include a few gobo patterns in the price...

WHAT TO DO???

One day in August I somehow typed in the right combination of words in Google and was taken to the Aliexpress site. There I found an optical spot made in China for around $230 -- and it had a Bowens S-mount that would work with my Interfit lights. That was tempting, but I still kept on procrastinating. Finally, I decided my birthday was coming up in September and I would buy the thing for myself. I typed in all my info and pressed the buy button and my credit card was declined. Got a text from my bank immediately asking if it was really me making this purchase in China. I said yes and they said OK, try it again. I did, but accidentally used the wrong credit card and was again declined. But this time the site came back with a "others who looked at this item also purchased..." list that had the same spotlight from another vendor for $160 including shipping. And while the original vendor said it could take up to 30 days for delivery, this vendor said it would be about a week.

UPDATE: Now available via Amazon at https://amzn.to/2CVcdCJ

Chinese optical spotlight attachment

Chinese optical spotlight attachment

Got out the right credit card, placed the order and waited a day or so for it to process from Alibaba to the vendor. Then I got the shipping notification and I saw it. A typo in my address. I left a number out. The vendor wasn't much help in getting the address corrected, but once it was in the hands of UPS they were able to correct the address (whew!). I watched it track from China to Japan to Alaska, to Kentucky, and finally to Seattle a day earlier than promised.

The item was well packed and arrived in perfect condition. It includes a gobo holder and a few different gobos. It also has a set of 5 plexiglass filters (red, green, amber, yellow, and blue). No instructions are included, but it is a simple device and pretty obvious how to use it. My only "complaint" with the device are that the gobo holder is not standard. It doesn't look like any standard size gobos from various manufacturers will fit in it. They would have to be trimmed down, which is easy to do. As I will be using the spotlight attachment with Interfit strobes which have LED modeling lights that don't get hot, so I can make my own gobos out of black card stock (don't even think about trying this with your 250-watt quartz-halogen modeling lamps) or thin sheets of metal. 

So, does it work? Yes! Here are some images comparing a spot on the background using the optical spotlight, a snoot, a snoot with a grid, and the fresnel device Zack introduced me to. Of those the spot light and the snoot were the most effective for this use. The fresnel just doesn't seem to be tight or narrow enough for what I wanted. Let's go to the photos...

The optical spotlight attachment with 3 sizes of circle gobos and with no gobo

The snoot by itself on the second row (same distance as the optical on the left, moved in closer on the right) and with a grid on the end of the snoot in the third row (again moved in closer on the right)

The NG-10X zoomed out and then in on the second row and moved in closer in the third row

Here are a few more images all made with the optical spot and a variety of gobos and filters.

Gobo patterns and color filters on the optical spotlight on the mannequin and on the background of the selfies (main light on the selfies is a 2x3 Interfit softbox).

barbara-jan2018-27.jpg
barbara-jan2018-12.jpg
barbara-jan2018-21-2.jpg

UPDATE: Added the three images above which were lit with the three lights. The main light is an Interfit Honey Badger with the Chinese optical spotlight. The kicker light is another Honey Badger with a 7-inch metal dish reflector and a red gel. The spot on the background is an S1 with a snoot and a yellow gel. I also joined Interfit as one of their Creative Pros and you can get a 10% discount on purchases directly from Interfit by using the code CORNICELLO10 (all caps) on the checkout page.

Now to figure out how I am going to integrate the spot light into more of my projects. Do you have GAS? What photo gear are you lusting after? Let me know in the comments below.

And, did I mention the LED modeling lights in the Interfit S1 and Honey Badger strobes? No more burnt fingers or overheating when using enclosed attachments like snoots with the modeling lights turned on. 

 

LED Modeling Lights In Studio Flash

It's not about the watts!

With the announcement of the new Honey Badger studio flash from Interfit Photographic I've seen some comments about the brightness of the modeling light in these flash units. I think the confusion comes from using the term watts to describe the lights. Watts is a measurement of energy used and doesn't tell us anything about the brightness of the light. Please note that this discussion is about the modeling lamps, not about the flash power (which is even more confusing, but watt-seconds is a topic for a different post). I picked the Einstein for comparison because it uses a typical 250-watt modeling lamp and I had one available when I decided to write this. You can substitute just about any other light that uses the same 250-watt bulbs. Paul C. Buff has also recently released a new Alien Bee lamp head that uses an LED modeling lamp that has the same advantages as the Honey Badger.

The Honey Badger and the Einstein

The Honey Badger and the Einstein

LED modeling lamp on the left, quartz modeling lamp on the right

Mr. Heat Miser

In the past, studio strobes have used tungsten modeling lamps that could range from 25 watts to 300 watts or more. Some units use standard household bulbs. Higher end units use quartz halogen lamps. These share some common features. They are on the warm end of the Kelvin scale at around 2500 to 3200 degrees Kelvin (yellowish compared to daylight color). They are also very hot to the touch. I measured the 250-watt quartz modeling lamp on an Einstein flash with a laser thermometer and got a reading of 210 degrees F on the 7" reflector and above the scale on the bulb itself. You don't want to touch the reflector when the bulb is on or for a while after turning it off.

The cool kid on the block

The Honey Badger comes with a 60-watt LED lamp. The key here is LED. LED lights are much more energy efficient. The 60-watt LED puts out as much light, actually a little more, than the 250-watt quartz light.

Daylight balance LED Honey Badger on your left, tungsten balance quartz Einstein on your right. You can see that they are similar in brightness, but the Honey Badger uses 60 watts and remains relatively cool to the touch vs the 250-watt bulb that will burn you if you touch it or the modifier.

Daylight balance LED Honey Badger on your left, tungsten balance quartz Einstein on your right. You can see that they are similar in brightness, but the Honey Badger uses 60 watts and remains relatively cool to the touch vs the 250-watt bulb that will burn you if you touch it or the modifier.

Here are my comparison measurements of the Honey Badger and the Einstein:

Einstein
250-watt quartz halogen modeling lamp
Tungsten white balance
Temperature over 200 degrees F (93.3C)
Modeling lamp metered at 39" (1m) = 1/15 second @ f/6.3 at ISO 100
Flash metered at 10-feet (3m) f/20 (640 watt-seconds)

Honey Badger
60-watt LED modeling lamp
Daylight white balance
Temperature 86 degrees F (30C)
Modeling lamp metered at 39" (1m) = 1/15 @ F/9 at ISO 100 (brighter than the 250 watt  quartz bulb)
Flash metered at 10-feet (3m) f/16 (320 watt-seconds)

Why LED?

Some advantages of the LED technology include the mentioned fact of it being a lot cooler and safer to work with (yes, I have had a small softbox catch on fire from the heat of the modeling lamp). It is easier to change modifiers without getting burned. You don't have to worry about accidentally touching the modeling lamp (even when it is not on) and causing damage to the lamp from the oils on your fingers. You can use the modeling lamp for a longer time period when using modifiers that enclose the light, such as a snoot, barn doors, or grids. You can use the modeling lamp for video without heating up the room. And on the Honey Badger you can turn the flash tube off via a switch on the back to make sure it doesn't accidentally flash when you are doing a video session. The lower overall operating temperature of the unit should help prolong the life of the internal components of the flash.

Get a discount!

If you are interested in purchasing Interfit lighting equipment I urge you to visit your local independently owned camera store who really needs your support. However, if your local dealer cannot get these for you, as an Interfit Creative Pro I can offer you a 10% discount if you order directly from Interfit by using the code CORNICELLO10 (all caps) when you order.  And yes, I do get a small commission if you use this code, thanks!

 

American Speedlight Corporation (ASCOR)

We've come a long way, my friends

Many, many years ago I worked as a photo assistant in New York City. In 1979 I started at a catalog studio on West 23rd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues. Yes, that is where the New York High Line is now. Back then it was an abandoned elevated train track full of weeds and dead birds. In that studio we primarily used Mole Richardson hot lights to photograph things like ceiling fans and large room sets for Montgomery Ward and other similar retailers' catalogs.

Hot Lights!

These were 750- to 2000-watt hot lights. Within the first few days on the job you quickly learned to have a pair of leather gloves hanging from your belt along with some wooden clothespins to use when adjusting the lights. Ouch! And the lights were often mounted on large boom stands that had big maroon color counterweights on one end of the boom arm. Somehow, one of those counterweights, at about forehead level, often managed to find its way to a spot between the elevator and the light switch. Ouch! 

There was a fashion studio on one of the floors, though, that used electronic flash. Balcar was the brand. I don't recall if they were 1200 or 2400 watt second packs. But I do remember the small rectangular plugs that had a habit of arcing. One day the photographer I was working with, who was a bit ditzy, decided to change a head by himself. Unfortunately, I was standing next to him and he unplugged the light as I was yelling at him to turn the power off first. BANG! Lost my hearing for an hour or two. Luckily he didn't electrocute himself.

And that brings me to the subject of this post. My buddy Tony left this studio to go work as a photographer at another studio over on 7th Ave between 25th and 26th street. Shortly after that he brought me over there as a still life product photographer, too. This place was more modern and we used Speedotron 2400 watt-second packs and heads. (As an aside, I still have a Speedotron 2401A pack and one or two model 105 heads that still perform great. I even have a Dyna-lite D804II that is probably 40 years old and still going strong. See the photo below of these units alongside a modern Interfit strobe.) 

Speedotron 2401A and Dyna-lite D804ii pack & head systems, along side an Interfit S1 (self contained, including battery, no A/C power required, but optional).

Speedotron 2401A and Dyna-lite D804ii pack & head systems, along side an Interfit S1 (self contained, including battery, no A/C power required, but optional).

This studio also had a fashion studio, but it had these monster ASCOR Series 800 Sunlight strobes (which ASCOR called speedlights, noting in the instruction manual that strobe was a misnomer, as strobe implies repetitive flashing).

The ASCOR Sunlight

I have to assume that most of my readers might not have any idea what these Sunlight units were like. So, I will quote some things from the instruction manual for these monsters. Before that, I just want to add that almost everyone I talk to who was familiar with these speedlights mentions needing to keep a wooden broomstick nearby just in case they had to pry someone away from the unit in the case something went wrong.

So, from the user manual, dated around 1955...

"ASCOR has long stood for the best in electronic flash. The company (starting as Parker & Young and the trademark Fotolux in 1946, changing to American Speedlight Corporation in 1948) has, from the beginning, specialized in building the most advanced types of speedlights for exacting professionals."

"The tremendous number of speedlights in all shapes, sizes, and prices exhibited at recent photo shows leaves even the electronic flash engineer confused. With all the claims, counter-claims and partial information, it is no wonder that the dealer is wary...think of the poor customer...it is amazing that so many have the courage to buy. What is sorely needed are a few simple facts that can be used as a basis of comparison."

Not much has changed

Wow, not much has changed since the 40s and 50s. The manual then goes on to talk about guide numbers, and the "serious faults" in using guide numbers. 1. high guide numbers can be achieved by concentrating the available light in a narrow beam from the reflector, which results in uneven coverage or hot spots. 2. a guide number can honestly be chosen over a wide range, depending on how the film is developed, the latitude of the films, etc. 

They next talk about watt-seconds, "For too long most people have rated speedlights in watt-seconds. Just what is a watt-second? If you really know, you are one of the unusual photographers. Then again, what photographer really cares? Watt-seconds is not a rating of light output of speedlight equipment. The use of watt-seconds, microfarads, and other terms has so confused the photographer that many are thoroughly baffled about electronic flash."

How do you compare lights?

So, what are the points of comparison between various studio strobes? "Speedlight is just light." Photographic effectiveness comes down to...

  1. Strength of the light

  2. Color of the light

  3. Coverage of the reflector

  4. Speed of the flash or exposure

  5. Recharge or recycling time of the equipment

"The ASCOR Speedlight (ASCORLIGHT) is an electronic device for converting electrical energy from a relatively small power source into a high-speed, high intensity flash of light. Essentially, the energy is drawn slowly from the power line or battery, converted into hight voltage, and stored in a capacitor (an electrical storage tank). Then at the moment the flash of light is desired, the energy is dumped instantaneously out of the capacitors through the flashtube (watt-seconds) which converts the electrical energy into light."

Enough of the boring stuff. What I really wanted to point out was the size of the units and the simplicity of operation. The manual then lists 23 important features of the ASCORLIGHT SERIES 800. Things such as "from 800 to 40,000 watt-Seconds" and "Economical (average power drawn is less than drawn by a 200-watt light bulb." But the one that really stands out to me is #22: "Designed for One Man Operation and Portability." Keep the word portability in mind as it then lists the specifications.

Portability!?!?

ASCOR A801 power supply with 4 800w-s conders

There were two power supplies available. The power supply is the control unit and does nothing on its own until you add condenser (capacitor) units to it. The Sunlight Maste Power Supply A801 weighed 85 lbs. The Super Master Model A805 weighed in at a svelte 355 lbs! The A801 dimensions were 9-38"H x 12-1/8"W x 21-3/8"L. The A805 was 42"H x 22"W x 17"D. Remember, designed to be "portable." And this is just the power supply.

In addition to the power supply, you need condensers. Each condenser stores 800 watt-seconds of power and each weighs in at 60lbs. These are metal boxes filled with oil as the dielectric element. Slightly smaller than the A801 power supply, each condenser was 9-3/8"H x 8-5/8"W x 21-3/8"L. Remember, "portable." And we still haven't added a flash head and the required cables. The manual doesn't list the weight of the heads, but they were pretty substantial. If I remember correctly, the flash tube was around 9" long. The standard head reflector was 14" across and other reflectors were available from 9" to 24" across. And we still haven't added the light stands, which could range from 10 to over 100 lbs each. The model 503 flash head could handle up to 3200 watt-seconds of energy. The model 623 head used a model FT623 flash tube, and could handle up to 45,000 watt-seconds and could be attached to forty-eight (48!!) condenser units. 48 metal boxes, weighing 60 lbs each. That is almost 1-1/2 tons of lighting gear for one flash head!

Guessing that there are about 20 condensers ganged up here for 16,000 watt-seconds of power. Each condenser is oil-filled and weighs 60 lbs.

You are advised to "Stack the model A802 condenser units on the Type 3200 Dolly (M251) which is designed to hold six condenser units. Place the Platform Adapter M261 on top of the condenser units, this Platform Adapter will fit down over two condenser units placed side by side. If the model A801 Power Supply is to be used, it is placed on the Platform Adapter." At least the dolly has wheels (portable!). Then you took these very thick 3-foot and 6-foot cables and plugged them in between the power supply and condenser and then between each additional condenser and then plug the 25-foot cable to the flash head into the end of the chain. Then use dummy plugs to seal any condenser or power supply connectors not being used.

"Next, connect the Power Cord AC, D102, to the power supply outlet and plug it directly into any 117 volt 60 cycle AC source, "NOTE: MAKE A SOLID CONNECTION OF AC CORD: If a flimsy connection of the AC cord is made this condition can cause trouble. A momentary interruption of the power will cause the discharge relays to make contact. If the power is then applied before the capacitors are allowed to discharge, and arc can be started, which can damage the relays and the discharge resistors. The third wired should be attached to a ground." In total, there are 15 steps (each a paragraph) involved in turning on the unit. Step 15 is to plug your camera sync cord into the end of the sync cord which is connected to the power supply. Flash the unit by tripping your camera." Whew! Portable and fast operation. 

They then talk about strobing or repetitive flashing. That is done by "firing several speedlights successively with the ASCOR Strober, each unit powering its own set of lights. The operator can vary the speed of flashing and ONE POWER UNIT IS REQUIRE FOR EACH IMAGE DESIRED ON THE FILM." Emphasis mine. You want 10 images of the swing of a tennis racket? That means 10 power supplies and at least 10 condenser units. At least you could attach two lights to each condenser unit. A spider box was available if you wanted to use three heads. 

Many of you might have heard of sync voltage of older flash equipment and the damage it could do to digital cameras as the current goes through the shutter contacts. Well, ASCOR took care of that way back when. "ASCORLIGHT units use an electronic tube in the triggering circuit or sync circuit which directs the current through the flash tube--not into the shutter contacts. NOTE: Here we have incorporated ANOTHER SAFETY FEATURE to prevent electrical damage to the shutter contacts and to personnel."

For my friends such as Tony Corbell and Matthew Jordan Smith who live by the light meter, I should mention flash meters here. Take a look at this page from the ASCOR manual that pictures the M333 General Radio Light Meter in use. Might be why Joel Grimes says he doesn't want to know what a flash meter is. It is bigger than my cameras.

So, how much light did these monsters put out? The manual claims that using one condenser (800 watt-seconds) at 6-feet using the standard reflector would give you F/22. They don't list an ASA or ISO number, but earlier refer to daylight Ektachrome. I don't know the ASA rating for 1950s Ektachrome. However, they do provide a nomograph that says at ASA (ISO) 100 the guide number for one condenser would be about 400. So that is F/40 at 10 feet. 

The Interfit S1 has 500 watt-seconds of power and weighs in at a little over 6 lbs.

A modern flash, like the Interfit S1 that is 500 watt-seconds gives me f/18 at 10 feet with the standard 7" reflector. That is 2-1/3 stops more light with the ASCOR (which was rated at 800 w-s), and which has a brighter, more focused reflector. It is also with the ASCOR weighing in at close to 160 lbs plus a heavy-duty light stand, while the S1 weighs in at 6.3 lbs and is battery operated. We have a very different view of "portability" now. 

I am sorry, but I don't know who to credit the photos of the ASCOR equipment to. If these are your photos, may I please ask for permission to keep them in this blog post?

If you used these ASCOR lights and have any stories about them please share them in the comments here. We've come a long way since these units from the 40s. Let's keep some memory of them alive.

Thanks!
John