I am a dyed-in-the-wool natural light shooter. Outdoor portraits are my specialty and 95 percent of my outdoor portraits are taken with nothing but daylight. Yet, unlike other photographers I know, I actually prefer shooting on sunny days, and my studio schedules all day, so there is no waiting for the “golden hour” to get soft, directional light.
Roger Hicks’s “Pro Lighting Report” is part of our continuing series of reports from the photokina show. With a giant hall filled with lighting products, Roger reports here on what caught his eye and what he saw as the key trends at the show. We will continue with new lighting product reports in coming issues, with a special report coming out of the WPPI show held in March, and will catch up on more new products not mentioned here then. We consider lighting a key issue for all photographers and will have more tests ahead throughout the year.—Editor
Like most photographers, I’m always trying to see just how versatile I can make my dedicated speedlights. In my case that would be Nikon SB-800 Speedlights. And when I really want to create a unique look I’ll sometimes use off-camera flash so I can vary the exposure on my subject in relation to the overall scene. That usually involves me adding light to my subject to either match or overpower the ambient light. When I do that I like to have a little more control over the quantity and quality of the light than what I’d have if I just aimed my flash at my subject with no modification.
Speedotron’s power pack and head systems are the studio lighting world’s equivalent of the American muscle car. They’re powerful, made in the U.S.A., and ruggedly built to take hard use. Since its beginnings the company has offered two lines of lighting systems for photographers with different requirements. The premium-priced Black Line is intended for commercial shooters, while Brown Line products are aimed at portrait photographers, yet when used normally both have similar quality, reliability, and longevity.
The important characteristics of any studio lighting system are the quantity, quality, and color of the light they produce. Other factors such as recycle time, type of output control, build quality, and the ability to accept accessories may be crucial, but for many of us the most essential element is price. I was impressed by previous Flashpoint monolights (April, 2012, issue of Shutterbug) because they’re rugged, dependable, and significantly, for the advanced amateur and aspiring pro, inexpensive. Now Flashpoint has introduced a new family of monolights—the DG series—that builds upon all of the positive aspects of previous models and takes them in a new direction.
The Nissin Di622 Mark II offered some notable improvements over the original Di622, but that flash didn’t offer the firepower of the Nissin flagship Di866 Professional. So I was curious and eager to see what the new Di866 Mark II Professional had in store.
I’ve worked with numerous macro flash systems. Most focus on the flash being on axis with the lens, often in the form of a ring flash mounted directly onto the lens. Alternatively, a twin-head system can be used, which attaches by way of a mounting ring. Here, the ultra-lightweight/ compact heads practically hug the lens. Usually, the flash heads are tethered to a controller, which also serves as the battery housing. While they may have some freedom of movement, the individual flash heads can’t be easily used entirely off-camera because they have nothing to support them when you’re shooting handheld.
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.
There are lots of companies making speedlight accessories but what makes Graslon’s different from the others are the mirrors. Most speedlight diffusers work in a similar way: translucent material is placed in front of the flash head to scatter light and soften shadows, but many times that light doesn’t scatter and some gets lost. Graslon’s Flash Diffusers use a series of patent-pending mirrors that enlarge the light source before sending it through the diffuser. This allows the light to travel to the corners of the diffuser so that light coming through the diffuser is balanced and, well, diffuse. Two types of diffusers, or lenses, as Graslon prefers to call them, are available: the dome spreads the light everywhere (think bare-bulb effect) to take advantage of bouncing light off walls and ceilings; the flat lens is more directional and useful when you’re using the flash as fill in no-bounce situations. Much like a Zeiss Softar filter it’s covered in hundreds of mini-lenses or bumps that spread the light evenly across its surface.
We all know what softboxes look like. They’re big, small, square, rectangular, sometimes round or shaped like octagons—we’ve seen them all. But there is nothing quite like the 16x60 Light Bender from Larson. It is long (48”), narrow (12”), and looks like a strip light that someone grabbed by the ends and yanked toward the middle. In this test I’ll take a look at just what this oddly-shaped light can do and why a photographer may consider adding it to his or her arsenal of light modifiers.
The Light Bender was designed by well-known photographer Larry Peters from Ohio and is produced and sold by Larson Enterprises.
After unpacking, I mounted the box to the backplate, a really snug fit, and then added the speed ring that allows me to mount and swivel the box on my light. After assembly, I mounted it on my Paul C. Buff Einstein unit. The light mounts dead center and the “wings” fly out to the side. There is no interior baffle in the design so the light is much stronger in the center and drops off rather dramatically as you move toward the edges.
One of the first lighting kits I ever owned was a set of Smith-Victor Adapta-Lights that had screw-base sockets for photoflood lamps. Son of a gun, the company still offers Adapta-Lights as an entry-level solution for beginning portrait photographers who want to work with hot lights. On the other hand, if you prefer making portraits using electronic flash, Smith-Victor’s three-light FL700K Strobe Light Kit may be just what you’re looking for.
The FL700K Strobe Light Kit that I tested is designed for amateur photographers and aspiring pros and contains two FLC300 (320 ws) FlashLite and one 110i (110 ws) FlashLite monolights. The FLC300 monolights offer continuously variable flash power settings, a test button, a ready light, and an optical slave for wireless triggering and have an umbrella stand adapter that’s compatible with 3/8” through 5/8” light stand posts. To expand the kit’s capabilities, Smith-Victor offers more than 100 accessories and light modifiers for the FLC300 monolights, including softboxes, reflectors, snoots, grids, and barn doors. The 110i monolight has a full- or half-power setting, optical slave, small built-in reflector, and umbrella mount. When used together, all three lights give you lots of flexibility for lighting studio or on-location portraits.
Recently I had an opportunity to test Profoto’s D1 monolight and their HR Softbox 1.5x3. To check out the combo the company sent along a Profoto D1 Air Kit that includes two D1 monolights, stands, umbrellas, and a case. I did not have the Air Remote to control the units from camera position.
One trend much in evidence for lighting these days is the use of LED as a light source. Rotolight, distributed in the US by R.T.S. Inc. (www.rtsphoto.com), has several new products in this space, beginning with their RL48-B RingLight. As a continuous light source, the Rotolight is useful for video or still photography. The basic RL48-B includes a filter holder and a Lee Filters Calibration Filter Kit (CTO: 205, 223, and 285; ND/Diffusion: 298, 209, and 216).
If you’re looking for European build quality at a reasonable price, Multiblitz’s series of Profilux monolights are a good place to start. Built in Germany, the two Profilux models—250 and 500 watt second versions—are the perfect tool for the serious amateur or established professional and feature fast recycling times, short flash durations, and consistent color temperatures. The Profilux 250 has a five-stop power range that’s adjustable in 1/10-stop increments with a modeling lamp that delivers an expected service life of 2000 hours. The Profilux 500 delivers all of the same features as the 250 but with twice the output power.
Studio lighting equipment is available in either continuous or electronic flash configurations. Continuous lighting is “on” continuously, much like a light bulb or the sun for that matter, enabling you to use your in camera light meter to measure and see how the light falls on your subject. Continuous lighting sources use photoflood, quartz, or HMI (Hydrargyrum Medium-Arc Iodide) bulbs, which can be hot, leading to the use of the term “hot lights.” An increasing number of continuous lighting tools use Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) or LEDs, producing what are, in effect, “cool” hot lights.