Gene Kelly had an umbrella while dancing to “Singin’ in the Rain” but he didn’t use it much, preferring instead to get wet. Photographic umbrellas won’t keep you dry but are the simplest to use and most inexpensive form of lighting modifier available, and that makes them the most popular as well. These umbrellas look and act like the kind of umbrella that keeps “raindrops from falling on your head” except that in a studio lighting situation they are usually reflective and light is bounced into them, creating a big, soft light source that’s directed toward the subject. Sometimes an umbrella is covered with translucent material and instead of mounting the umbrella so light is bounced into it, a light is fired through it, turning it into a direct source. While some light is lost shooting through an umbrella, it produces more direct light, and since more light is being directed at the subject it gives you the ability to shoot at a smaller aperture than when bounced into the umbrella. If you compare the apertures produced in the illustrations you’ll see what I mean.
If Dustin Hoffman’s character in The Graduate were graduating from photo school this year, the advice he would be getting instead of “plastics” would be “speedlights,” and why not? When compared to a monolight, the biggest advantage of using a shoe-mount flash is that they’re small and portable, which means you can take them anywhere. Today’s shoe-mount flashes—or speedlights as camera manufacturers like to call them—are sophisticated, seamlessly blending natural light and flash as well as having the ability to group several flashes together, trip them wirelessly, all the while calculating the correct exposure.
There are few things in digital photography more frustrating than problems with color fidelity. One of the most commonly heard complaints is “my prints don’t match my display.” While color accuracy is improved with LCD displays, it isn’t perfect by any means, and if you’re serious about your photography it’s important to calibrate your monitor. And, if you do your own printing, you’ll often find that you can improve the quality of your prints with profiles built specifically for your printer and paper selection.
Several of my fellow portrait photographers have been using cool lights for years. Interestingly, they have not abandoned their flash units but continue to use both, depending on the situation. Having been a strobe/available light photographer for the most part, I was eager to both find out how well they worked and for what subjects they’d be most suited. Interfit was kind enough to send me their very economical ($340 street price) set of two lights, each with an eight-sided softbox, so I could find out for myself. Could they do everything my studio flash units could? Were they a better choice for some subjects than others? After a few weeks of testing, I had my answers.
One of the biggest advancements in recent years in flash photography has been the ability to use your camera-compatible flash off-camera and wirelessly. Canon, Nikon, and others have developed their own systems where you can control multiple units that not only fire at the same time but also can be put into groups with their own settings.
Many of us use the speedlight’s built-in kicker panel to add catchlights to the eyes and thereby give the subject a more animated look. Regrettably, this built-in device plays a marginal role in filling in shadows. So we turn to much larger, more functional bounce panels, and although they offer distinct advantages, these third-party panels may not be as flexible as we’d like. Enter Rogue FlashBenders from ExpoImaging (www.expoimaging.com). These panels quite literally lend a unique twist to speedlight photography.
Photography is all about light and photographers are always looking at ways to modify it. Visit any studio of a working pro and you’re bound to see softboxes, umbrellas, cones, snoots, grids, beauty dishes, parabolic reflectors, etc. Each has their purpose in changing the shape and/or character of the light. Using the same light source, you can modify it from a sharp, harsh, point light source with distinct shadows to a soft, even light source with very little or no shadows. With that in mind I decided to give one of these modifiers a test, the Paul C. Buff PLM v.2.
I’m not an equipment snob. That applies to both cameras and lighting gear. I’ve always believed that it’s that gray matter in back of your eyeball that determines whether or not you get a decent image, not the price tag on your gear. I like fast lenses and dislike variable apertures, so I pay for them. With lighting equipment, higher prices usually mean more power, more features and flexibility, and better construction. With that in mind, let’s see what the very reasonably priced Genesis 300 B monolight ($399 with battery) from Calumet offers.
In all probability, most photographers could gain more from investing in lighting equipment than from investing in new cameras. Not professionals, perhaps, though studio lighting continues to come on in leaps and bounds, but countless amateurs could greatly improve both the range and quality of their work.
In keeping with our lighting theme this month, our Roundup entries cover the lighting gear and accessories beat. Keep in mind that Roundup is not a test report per se, but a place where we get to provide information supplied by manufacturers on new products and services.—Editor
Flashpoint Monolights The “M” series is the latest...
I prefer to shoot macros and close-ups handheld, so, when I need to augment the existing light or replace it entirely, I look for a compact solution. And for me, that often means a ringlight. It’s a simple and undemanding yet effective tool. For my really tight close-ups at or near life-size, I set focus manually in advance so there’s no worry about the AF sensor trying to lock on...
Interfit Photographic has introduced Strobies, a system approach to shoe-mount flash accessories. Strobies are designed to take many popular shoe-mount flashes and turn them into versatile lighting tools for studio and location use.
Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) are a highly efficient way to provide additional illumination to your shot. Not only are they small and portable, but LEDs consume far less power than tungsten units, can last over 100,000 hours, and give off little or no heat. If you are looking for studio lights that are easily metered (because they can stay on all day), cool to the touch, color temperature...
Every manufacturer has a slightly different take on how to do it and David Honl has come up with his own original solutions in the form of some nifty and very portable light shapers that fit practically any shoe-mount flash without recourse to special adapters.