A New Toy
Since I started with off-camera flash, my main tool of choice for diffusing the light was a Photek Soft-Lighter. It’s a superb piece of kit in many ways, but has two pretty significant disadvantages. First and foremost, umbrellas on location (particularly outdoors) are a pain to manage! The slightest bit of breeze and they either take off or are bent of out shape. In fact one of my brollies is now so badly misshapen, it looks nothing like a circle anymore. The second problem is that they are a pain to move, particularly if you get into the larger sizes. So with this in mind, I treated myself to a new piece of kit over the Christmas holidays.
Photo copyright of fotobyteHK
It’s a 40cmx40cm softbox made specifically for hot shoe flashes It comes flat packed (like hand held reflectors) accompanied with a bracket for the flash, a front curtain and an internal baffle for additional diffusion (particularly to kill the central hot spot). Internally it is made up of a silver reflective material which really helps spread the light around within the softbox, before throwing it out.
Photo copyright of fotoByteHK
There were no instructions what so ever with the softbox, so it took a little bit of time figuring out how exactly the unit was assembled and attached to the bracket. But after a few minutes fiddling around, I eventually worked it out. And what is really nice, is how compact it is when packed away again. I actually purchased two of them and both fit easily into the available space in my light bag (thank God I didn’t have to buy ANOTHER bag for my camera gear ❗ ).
Photo copyright of fotobyteHK
Whilst still a soft diffused light source, the softbox has more direction to it than an umbrella and it’s spill is far more contained. With an SB900, zoomed out to it’s widest setting, I used it to take the image of Fiona Ryan above. This set was taken towards the end of the day, when the light levels were really starting to drop.
My primary light source was still ambient, via a large window to Fiona’s left. As I had positioned her so close to the window, there was a reasonable amount of fall off/shadow in the image – too much for my liking; and this is where the soft box came in. I used an SB900 with the softbox, zoomed all the way out (maximising the spread) and triggered using a pocket wizard. It was positioned at more or less head height, although looking more closely at the shadows it could probably have done with being positioned slightly higher. The softbox was slightly offset, so that it wouldn’t be facing direct on to the window and Fiona.
To meter the scene, I used the white board behind Fiona as the white point and metered to retain detail in this. This pretty much gave me the settings I used for the final shot (f:3.5, 1/125 @ iso400), so from there it was a case of dialing the power of the flash way down to give me the level of fill I wanted. I actually didn’t bother metering, (which I would normally do), taking a more “click, look, adjust” approach.
The goal of the shot was very subtle flash, just lifting the shadows. The light source had to be soft enough that it wouldn’t jar with the beautifully soft main ambient light, and in fairness I think the softbox did really well here. I think there’s a tendency for people to really go all out when mixing ambient with flash, killing the ambient by a stop or so, giving the “strobist” look. But I didn’t want the image to look flashed at all. Apart from the stray catch-light in Fiona’s eye… can you tell it was flashed ❓
Could I have used a reflector instead of flash? Quite possibly. Although the light levels were pretty low, so there wasn’t a lot of light to throw back on to her. I’d imagine I would have had to get the reflector in really close, restricting Fiona in her posing. Plus, with a reflector, unless you have a fancy stand to hold it, you need an assistant. Besides, I wanted to play with my new toy. All in all, I reckon it was a bargain for €40 from fotobyte.