"Why are you using that? The last photographer just used the light on their camera."
Meet Headly. Headly Lamarr*. While not modeling, she is the head of a styrofoam company. She's going to show the what-and-why of the effect of different light modifiers, as we look to answer the question ""Why are you using that? The last photographer just used the light on their camera."
The question comes up all too often, because many of my clients have used a photographer who may not have used a light modifier, didn't have one to use, or didn't know how. In any case, I hope you see the light in the eight examples below, which use a variety of Westcott modifiers, including three types of super-simple umbrellas, and two types of softboxes.
First, let's take a look at the beautiful Headly when we use a 'bare' speedlite, off-camera. Note the line made by her nose as the light spills onto her right cheek. Referred to as 'hard' lighting, this look is rarely flattering and is similar to a pop-up flash. Going off-camera is bettter, but we aren't where we need to be, yet!
To match the targeted exposure, the Canon 600EX-RT was set at 1/128 power. At this setting, very little power is drained from the batteries, and the flash has a very quick cycle time.
In the second example, a Westcott Convertible Compact Collapsible Umbrella - Optical White Satin with Removable Black Cover (43"), (retail priced at ~ $30) was used, without the black cover. This time, the line made by her nose as the light spills onto her right cheek is far softer. For most folks, this is a far more pleasing look! Note the background is a tad brighter as well, with the umbrella splashing light around the room.
Because of the added diffusion of the white umbrella material and the needed matching exposure, the Canon 600 EX-RT was set at 1/16. This will take a bit more power, and cycle time is longer.
In our third example, we'll use a Westcott Deep Umbrella - Silver Bounce (43"), retail priced at ~$129. Being a 'bounce', I pivoted the light 180 degrees, and adjusted the light to maintain a consistent exposure. While the shadow remains very similar, you'll see a slight color cast change because of the silver surface, and while the subject is metered the same, note the dropoff in the background exposure caused by the narrower splash of the 'deep' umbrella.
The Canon 600 EX-RT was set at 1/18 and a third. Again a bit more power to reach the same exposure, and cycle time is longer.
For our fourth, let's use the same Westcott Convertible Compact Collapsible Umbrella as before, but I've added the Removable Black Cover. It only takes a few seconds to do so, making this a very versatile, inexpensive modifier.
Like the silver umbrella, this white with black cover umbrella meant that the Canon 600 EX-RT was set at 1/18 and a third. Like the white shoot through, this umbrella is more likely to throw light about the room.
We move to a 'box', rather than an umbrella this time. The Westcott Apollo Strip Softbox (16" x 30") (retail priced at ~$129) isn't usually what you'd use for the main light or in a single light setup, but let's see how it affects Headly and the what adjustments may be needed for our flash output. Note the shadow is still soft as it crosses Headly, but notice how the shadows are more intense on her right check, and how the background is darker. With the light focused as much as it is (a strip box is a narrow focus!), the dropoff is more dramatic and increases rapidly with distance.
The Canon 600 EX-RT was set at 1/18.
What happens when we add the supplied diffuser panel to the same light? Do you see the subtle softness, and the deepening shadows on the far side of Headly? Look closely as the texture of her face softens, even with the light at ~ 6 feet, and imagine how much softer it could be when moved even closer!
The silver interior of this box provides ample reflection to set the Canon 600 EX-RT at 1/18 and a third, with the small increase in power needed to compensate for the added diffuser.
For our final set, let's take a look at the Westcott Medium Apollo Softbox (28" x 28"). The same price point as others in the Westcott lineup, (retail priced at ~$129), this box is more forgiving and more flexible in it's use. For our examples, I've kept all the lighting at the same axis, but this unit is commonly used for 'edge lighting' to create very impactful images. We can talk more about 'edge lighting' when you are ready, but for this example, let's see if you can spot the changes in the lighting.
Did you notice the spread of light? Unlike the narrow strip box, the Medium Apollo will light up a great area by design! It's not a 'splash' like an umbrella and does have very defined edges, but alignment with a single subject, like Headly, is easy!
Last example! The difference is oh so slight when we add a diffuser to our Westcott Medium Apollo Softbox (28" x 28") at this distance. Ideally, you might place this light close to your subject and have not only a softer light, but a more dramatic dropoff as well!
Key takeaways ...
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NOTES: In all examples, the light was a single Canon 600 EX-RT, placed at ~ 6 feet, 45 degrees high and 45 degrees forward, with the flash zoom set to 168mm. Adjustments were made to the position of the light to maintain the position as needed, e.g. from shoot-through umbrella to bounce umbrella, etc.. A Sekonic L-478DR meter was used to ensure consistent exposures from image to image. The additional light to the left of the image was natural West-window light. A Canon 5D MKIII was set in Manual mode, shutter speed 1/125, f/5.6, ISO 320. The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens was set at 168mm. The camera and lens settings were not relevant to the topic, as they were held consistent as well. Headly was used for the same reason; to stay consistent from image to image to allow for the best comparisons.
*tip of the hat to Mel Brooks
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