Photogenic PL5R-Fresnel: A Special Purpose Light Modifier
Fresnel lenses are used to focus light. Many of the Hollywood glamour photographers of the 1930s and ’40s used them, most notably George Hurrell for his portraits of many of the screen legends of that era. Hurrell used 8x10 cameras, uncoated lenses, and bulky Mole-Richardson hot lights. You don’t have to go that route, but you can now replicate some of the lighting effects with this new offering from Photogenic.
The earliest use of Fresnel lenses was in lighthouses, and the name of the lens comes from the French inventor (thus the capitalization of the name). The design of the lens eventually found its way into photo studios because photographers liked the quality of the light it produced, namely a sharp, focused beam of light that somehow tapers smoothly at the edge of the field. In practice, Fresnel lights are most commonly used as a dramatic key light or to light a background.
To test their Fresnel light modifier, Photogenic loaned me their PowerLight 1250DR, a 500 ws monolight with a digital display. I own an older PowerLight so I was quite familiar with the controls, which are pretty straightforward. To use the PL5R-Fresnel modifier, you mount the conical reflector on the light using a simple and effective system—you slip the lip under one stationary prong while pressing down to hide two others, then releasing to securely fasten the modifier. It’s one of the better mounting systems out there. The barn doors and lens itself then fit onto the mount, although I did have to wrestle that attachment a bit the first time through, but you’ll get the hang of it. The barn doors, by the way, can be used to narrow down the light beam if you so desire and also to block any stray light that may strike your lens if used behind the subject.
To see how the modifier worked I made a series of three images onto a plain background: first with no modifier, then with the cone, and finally with the Fresnel lens. I find this extremely helpful with any new modifier, and highly recommend this procedure to everyone.
To test the lighting effect I worked with a couple of models to see how I could use the PL5R-Fresnel as a main or key light and also as a background light. Since the Fresnel lens also focuses light I used it to create a shadow in the background by placing something between the light and the background.
After my tests I decided that the PL5R-Fresnel is something I could routinely use in my work. It can serve as a handy background light with just the cone or the Fresnel lens attached, or as a main light for a unique look and a change of pace.
The Photogenic PL5R-Fresnel is $185 (street price). For more information, contact Photogenic at: www.photogenic.com.
Steve Bedell has been a portrait photographer for over 25 years. To subscribe to EPhoto, a free e-mail newsletter with tips for photographers, contact Bedell via e-mail at: email@example.com. Also ask about his lighting DVDs.