I mentioned last week on the show how I felt like a speedlight and an Alien Bee looked very different through the same umbrella at the same subject. So I thought I would put it to the test.
Conrad sat in for me while I shot her from approximately two feet with:
A Paul Buff Einstein w/
- 7″ reflector
- 32″ shoot-through umbrella
- 32″ silver umbrella
- 22″ beauty dish
- 22″ beauty dish with 30 degree grid
- 22″ beauty dish with sock
- 24×36″ softbox
- 24×36″ softbox with grid
A Lumopro 120 Speedlight w/
- 32″ shoot-through umbrella
- 32″ silver umbrella
- 16″ softbox
The images were color corrected in Lightroom using the color chart on the wall.
And you know what? At least for the soft sources, they all don’t look THAT different from one another. So maybe I’m wrong. What do you think?
So I’ve taken a look at them after a short night’s sleep and I wanted to point out a few things. While the light from the umbrellas and softboxes and such look pretty similar from a couple of feet away, you will notice that there is a huge difference in their spill into the rest of the scene. So if you need control over your lighting, some options are definitely better than others.
Also even though I was using strobes that ‘should’ more or less be about daylight balanced, there was a wide variation of white balance settings in post to get them in line with each other. The light from the Einstein for instance had color temp of 6000º, 5950º, 5250º, 5100º, 5500º, and 5000º depending on the modifier being used. The speedlight was even worse, 6600º, 6900º, 7500º. Remember that next time you use a strobe and think you can just set your WB to Daylight or Flash and call it a day. Nope. When in doubt, shoot a grey card at the beginning of your session so that you have a reference in post.
For me, it comes down to convenience to a large extent. If I have to carry my gear to a shoot I want to get the most bang I can get for the size/weight buck. For me lately that has been a couple of 36″ Softlighters from Photek. They fit criss-cross in my Pelican rolling case and can be used as white umbrellas, shoot-through umbrellas, and as designed with the front diffuser. Three tools in one. (Plus they’re cheap!) That said, yesterday I was shooting some corporate headshots and brought along an Alien Bee with a 46″ Softlighter and the light from that much larger source (remember, the area of a circle is π times the radius squared so it’s about 50% more area than the 36″) was lovely. Wrapped around so nice that I didn’t even need a reflector.
In the end though, soft light is soft light. How you make it and how ‘soft’ it is largely academic. If what you’ve got is an umbrella, it’ll be fine. If you’ve got a softbox, use the softbox. Stop worrying about the 5% difference in the quality of light and start worrying about making better photographs. Let me put is this way to wrap up: If you’re pictures aren’t good enough, it’s not the umbrella’s fault.
On Saturday I wrote a post about my ideas for using a couple of giant pipe segments in a conceptual photo. I ended up having a couple of lovely friends Francisco Graciano and Eran Bugge come over and play the roles of savior and damsel. Here is the result (Click to enlarge):
As you can see it ended up a bit differently than I had originally planned (as things like this usually do). First, I gave up on the caving idea, no exciting enough, plus I couldn’t get my hands on the equipment I’d need to make it believable anyhow. That’s when I came up with the idea of them running from the imagined jaws of a cthulhu-like monster from beneath the ground.
The first thing I had to do was move the pipes and gravel pile to a more desolate location, so I co-opted a landscape I took on the salt flats at the bottom of Death Valley at dawn. Much better. Cisco and Eran showed up and we shot about 30 pictures of them if various forms of the pose with Cisco standing on the edge of a table (with my friend Guillaume serving as a counterweight. As you can see I had a soft light from below blasting them to match the light from the pipe, plus one behind to rim light Cisco a little bit. There was also another strobe next to the camera bouncing off the wall to give some overall illumination to the shadows that the other two lights caused.
Compositing the two together was the hard part, along with the random science photos of tentacles. That stuff took a couple of hours. Cleaning up the masks on each element, playing with curves to try to get the contrast and brightness to match between layers.
I posted a version on facebook and G+ last night at around this point. I knew normally I’d spend another hour or two playing with it to really polish things up, but I was tired so I went to sleep. This morning however I added the final touches. Smoke coming up from the pipes, a minor lens flare or two, a lightning bolt, plus a whole lot more 1 or 2 pixel clean-ups.
Is the end result believable? Well it is a giant underground octopus attacking my friends in the middle of Death Valley so let’s be reasonable about the answer to that question. That said, I think it’s successful and silly, and a lot of fun. It ended up very different than I originally intended, but also much better. Not bad for a weekend project.
So I was doing a little research about film scanners today and came to realize that most of what’s left in the market are either way too cheap and low-res (basically to preserve family photos) or too expensive and from companies I can’t trust will be around in 6 months. I’ve been unsatisfied with scanning on my Epson 4990. It’s fine for large format and even 6×6, but for 35mm I’m never happy with the results. I’ve tried using the film holders and end up with soft images; I’ve tried laying the film on the glass and then have to fight Newton’s Rings.
I remember a few months ago I read a post somewhere about using your dSLR and a macro lens to shoot slides and thought about trying it with negatives as well. In the end I found this post on petapixel which was very helpful. I didn’t have a light table handy, but I had a little battery powered LED light which I diffused through a stack of tissue paper, set the camera up on a tripod with a 100mm macro lens and pointed it straight down toward the film The results are very impressive. Now these are not the sharpest film shots ever, but they give you some idea of the quality you can get out. MUCH better than I’ve ever gotten from my flatbed and using gear I’ve already got.
I tried some color film as well with less than ideal results. The color temp and spectrum of the LED just wasn’t up to the task. Color negative film is REALLY hard to get the color right when scanning, in my opinion. The only time I’ve ever gotten great results was when I rented time on an Imacon with custom profiles for each film type.
TIP: Use live view and 10x magnification to get the focus right. Also stop down on the lens a bit to get to the sweet spot and handle any slight depth of field softness.
Here’s a 100% blow-up of the above:
So I gave in an bought myself a Pelican model 1510 rolling case for my camera and such. Everything I’d need for a typical editorial portrait shoot. Packed in there I’ve got:
Canon 5D Mark III Body
Canon 580 EX Speedlight
Nikon SB-80 Speedlight
2 Manfroto 6′ mini light stands
and I think I can fit two 36″ Softlighters diagonally across the top before I close it, or at least the umbrella parts. This is my first attempt, I’ll get more refined in time. I won’t need to carry all those lenses all the time of course. I just wanted to see how much I could fit.
It’s not light though. Weighs in at just over 30lbs all in. Not bad considering the shear number of options it gives me and it’s very compact size. Let’s just say that I’m glad it’s got wheels.
Speaking of wheels, I’m considering replacing them with softer/quieter rollerblade wheels like this guy did:
UPDATE: I did in fact find replacement wheels on eBay. Here’s a link for as long as it exists. Just look up 60mm x 20mm luggage wheels. I got mine from a place in Hong Kong. $15-20 with shipping and they installed fine and are much quieter.
If you’re going to buy one, do so from this amazon link and I’ll get a few cents to support the site:
My good friend Grant Stoddard interviewed Helen Park and myself for an article in the Canadian newspaper of record The Globe and Mail. Check out some of my advice. Apparently the good stuff where I point out that “YOU are not Kubrick” was cut. Too controversial perhaps.