Sunday, January 23, 2011

Lighting Gear Makes A Difference

By Jeff Greene Published in Shooting
Positioning your flash to the side and using a modifier to sculpt the light can take a basic portrait into the realm of the dramatic.
Positioning your flash to the side and using a modifier to sculpt the light can take a basic portrait into the realm of the dramatic.

Flash output can be modified and controlled by affixing any number of attachments directly to the flash. When bouncing the flash off the ceiling, for example, you can redirect some of the light by simply attaching a reflector to the flash head. LumiQuest is one of the leading suppliers of flash accessories, offering a wide variety of detachable flash reflectors. The concept is simple: By attaching a reflector to the flash, your subject now will be illuminated from two directions from one flash—from above with the light bouncing off the ceiling and from the front by the light from the reflector. This is an excellent method for kicking extra light onto facial features, eliminating dark shadows in the eye sockets and ensuring that the subject’s eyes receive the critical “catchlights” that illustrate the spark of personality.

Honl Speed Grid

Advanced Modifiers

For even greater control, most flash units can accept a wide variety of customized lighting-control attachments that once were reserved for large strobes in a professional studio. ExpoImaging, Honl Photo and Interfit each offers an extensive selection of softboxes, snoots and grids that enable photographers to fully control the quality of light emanating from the flash. By softening the intensity, narrowing the beam and manipulating the spill of light on the subject, photographers now can exert complete creative control—all from a single flash in the camera’s hot-shoe. The ExpoImaging Rogue FlashBender is a particularly interesting and multitalented device that can act as a bounce card, snoot and general light-shaper. The Flashpoint Q Series Beauty Dish Reflector is a 6-inch modifier that attaches to your flash and creates a flattering, shadowless look.

RadioPopper PX

Using Multiple Flash Units

The best lighting situation, however, is the one the photographer can fully manage and sculpt. This requires multiple flash units set up around the subject or scene and controlled remotely from the camera. Multiple Canon and Nikon flash units can be operated remotely using an optical-based firing system where the main flash or “master” fires the remote or “slave” flash units. This system is built into the flash itself and requires no extra equipment.

Litepanels MicroPro Hybrid

However, the working distance is limited to approximately 50 feet indoors, and the slave units must be within “line of sight” of the master unit. A more effective method for firing remote flashes is a radio-based system that offers greater range and avoids line-of-sight issues. Two of the most widely used systems are PocketWizard and RadioPopper, with a basic three-light RadioPopper JrX available for less than $400.

Flashpoint FPVL 112

The primary advantage of using a multiple-small flash studio setup is lightweight portability. A basic starter kit would consist of three flash units and two or three light stands with cold shoes, brackets and umbrellas. The kit is scalable and, as your needs and budget allow, can be upgraded by adding additional flash units, large softboxes and other third-party lighting accessories. This system is extremely versatile and will provide excellent creative lighting for everything but perhaps the most exotic lighting scenarios.

Lowel Blender

Continuous Light

Portable continuous light sources are an alternative to flash for providing artificial lighting. The advantage is that you can see exactly how the lighting looks in a darkened scene and make any needed changes before capturing the image. Several manufacturers now are producing LED-powered studio lighting equipment that leverages LED technology to produce a stable, cool and portable continuous lighting source. Although primarily targeted for video production, still photographers should consider them as well, since DSLRs now serve a dual role as an HD video camera. The Litepanels company offers a wide variety of products that offer the benefit of low power, low heat and adjustable light sources that retain their color temperature, with no color shifting at different power settings. The ikan iLED package and another small LED panel, the Flashpoint FPVL 112, are other DSLR-friendly LED solutions. Lowel has a new product that’s quite versatile for both still and video photography. The Lowel Blender is a small LED light source that combines the best of both worlds in artificial lighting. Its versatility stems from its ability to emit daylight- or tungsten-balanced light, or a combination of both (hence the Blender moniker) to match virtually any light source. In addition, it can be powered by AC or battery for total portability. Finally, for fashion or beauty lighting, Kino Flo offers the Kamio 6 System, a ringlight that attaches to the lens and casts flattering glamour-style lighting on the subject. The advantage is that the LED source is cool and won’t cause any discomfort due to heat, which other light sources may emit. It also features daylight and tungsten options for proper color balance.

The Bare-Bulb Look

Sto-Fen Omni-Bounce

Gary Fong Puffer

For an omnidirectional, or bare-bulb, look, there are several good modifiers to choose from. The Sto-Fen Omni-Bounce and the Lightsphere by Gary Fong attach directly to most models and can be used to cast light in all directions. They offer an effective way to light small groups, and they’re widely used by special event and wedding photographers to provide soft, even lighting in nearly every conceivable situation.

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