Location Lighting

I’ve had a good few people ask me about the lighting I use on location, on shots such as the ones below. So here goes..


Both were lit using a single off camera flash and an umbrella called the Photek Softlighter II. The flash was triggered using Pocket Wizards, but sync cords or eBay triggers would work equally well.

The Photek soft lighter is effectively an umbrella whose purpose is to increase the apparent size of the light output from a hot shoe flash, hence softening it. I have the 46 inch umbrella, but it comes in smaller and larger sizes.

It has 3 “modes” of operation, which I believe makes it unique from other umbrellas on the market (although there maybe other brands that offer these features). The first is as a simple shoot through umbrella. The umbrella itself is made up of a white semi-translucent material. A flash is fired into and through the open umbrella, which diffuses it.

The second mode is where a black cover is put over the outside of the umbrella, whose goal it is to block light. Now the umbrella has a black exterior and a white (reflective) interior. In this mode the flash is fired into the open umbrella and the subject is lit using the reflected light,

The third mode is an evolution of the last (reflected) one. In this mode, a white translucent cover/curtain is placed over the open part of the umbrella (with the flash inside it – between curtain and umbrella). Now the reflected light is further diffused by this material, softening the light even more.

This system also comes with a gold and a silver disc which can be put inside the umbrella. These are meant to increase the output by about 1/2 a stop and will obviously add a colour to the light. They will also increase harshness and specular highlights. Personally I’ve never used them.

In order to attach the umbrella to a flash, you need a simple umbrella/flash bracket. This has a hot shoe fitting on the end and holes for sliding the stem of the umbrella through it.

I’ve attached shots below:

Umbrella/Flash Bracket

Umbrella/Flash Bracket with SB800

Photek as a shoot through

Photek with black cover

Photek with black cover and front curtain for extra diffusion

Photek with black cover and front curtain for extra diffusion, showing flash. In this one, I’ve just pulled away the curtain so as you can see the setup.


Photek with black cover with flash attached

For it’s price, it’s really a nice piece of equipment, but it does have it’s quirks. One thing I don’t like is that the stem of the umbrella is quite thin for a large part of it and only 7mm thick nearer the top. This means that you can not close down the screw on the flash bracket as the stem is too narrow for it. The screw only holds the umbrella if the umbella is quite close to the bracket, as at that point it’s 7mm. I’d rather be able to have the umbrella further away from the bracket and still be able to close the screw. As it is now, I can still have the umbrella away from the bracket, but only gravity holds it and any gust of wind can take the umprella away.

The umbrella itself is quite light weight. This is great when it comes to carrying it around (just strapped on to the side of my camera bag), but it isn’t sturdy enough to stand up to any breeze. For the more astute of you, you’ll notice that the one in the picture is no longer round – it’s quite bent out of shape. This is a result of the wind pulling it about the place.

With the front cover on it, the flash needs to be inside the cover. The issue with this is that it makes it very akward to make adjustments to the flash. Inevitably you end up pulling the curtain off (perhaps not in it’s entirety) in order to adjust your flash and then putting the cover back on. Another problem with this is that the LCD panel on the flash is hidden, so things like the “ready” light are not visible. More often than not, because of this, I shoot without the front curtain.

5 Comments

  1. Damn! Just bought 2 shoot through brollies. Been look for a softbox similar to a EZbox., could have saved some money. Do you find a single SB-800 suffient in the softbox mode?

  2. Yeah, I think there’s plenty of power in the SB800 for the softbox cover. Obviously it depends on what you’re using the flash for, i.e. if you’re trying to over power strong ambient it can be lacking. But for general use it’s more than enough. There’s about a stop of difference between shoot through and reflective modes and probably another 1/3rd of a stop when you put the front cover on.

    The only issue I have with the front cover is that you can’t access the flash controls and it can be difficult to see if the flash has recharged fully.

  3. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

  4. Hi I was just browsing around for lighting ideas and came across this one. I think the umbrella looks great. My question however is this: In the top photo, you seem far from the subject. I’m assuming you exposed for the background (polarizer?) and then fill lit the subject. Using the SB800 and the umbrella, how far from the subject did you place the light? Would you be able to describe your lighting diagram?

    • Yes and no… Yes, I exposed for ambient, but no, there was no polarizer used. The light was placed literally just out of the frame.. so maybe 6~8 feet away? (It was a long time ago)

Care to share your opinion?