On Assignment: Spring Arts Guide
I'll tell ya, the longer I am away from softboxes, the less I miss them. Where I used to see them as the go-to, default soft light source, I now consider them to be expensive, light-sucking and limiting. Now, I only use them in special situations.
In the past I would have whipped out a 'box for this photo of a montage that was assembled just to be photographed for the cover of the Baltimore Sun's Spring Arts preview section. In many ways, it is is a copy shot. But the subject is three-dimensional enough to have to light it in a way that reveals texture.
This was to be a starting point for what would ultimately be a heavily altered illustration. For instance, I did not have to worry about the double-images on the tulips, as they would be taken out in the subsequent changes.
It's basically a shadowbox montage that exists out of the bounds of the shadowbox. So it was a little different than doing a copy photo of a painting or a document. I wanted the light to be directional enough to reveal form. But I also wanted it to be soft and smooth enough to evenly light the whole subject area from top to bottom.
My standard modus operandi is to abide by the K.I.S.S. principal, and keep things simple enough to not invent more problems to have to solve.
I decided to shoot this with one speedlight. Rather that put it into some kind of a light modifier, like an umbrella or a softbox, I find if more useful to shoot the light through a diffuser. That way I can have raw (undiffused) light spilling past the diffuser, for a more powerful fill light reflection.
If that sounds complicated, it isn't. Consider my diffuser, to start. I generally just look around for whatever piece of paper or cardboard or plastic is available and this time was no exception. The easy choice was the tupperware box in which the designer had brought the supplies to the studio.
It was a little clearer than I would have liked, and would not really diffuse raw light that much. So I stuck the piece of tracing paper that the designer had used to comp the shot inside the bottom of the box before placing it on its side.
Voila, one custom-made light diffuser, ready for action.
The shape of the box fit the subject on the long end, and was about six inches high when place on it's side. I wanted to raise it a little to gobo the light at the floor level and control the highlights on the far left. Remember, this shadowbox thing is several inches tall.
Thus, found object number two: A piece of wood. The flash was stuck on the floor on the left, with a snoot to control the beam spread. These cardboard snoots are the single most useful light accessory I carry, IMO.
Here's how the setup looks, without the light.
From here, you can also see the reflector I used - a bent piece of white cardboard. Hey, it don't have to be purdy to reflect light.
At first glance, you might not think this cardboard light enough to do the fill job smoothly. But that is where the diffused light/raw light equation comes into play.
The tupperware diffuses the raw light from the flash and knocks it down by about two stops. But it is only catching part of the raw light beam. After adjusting the aperture to allow for the light loss, the net effect is to make the raw light that spills over the top of the tupperware (and heads straight to the reflector) two stops brighter when it gets there.
The fact that my diffuse light (from the left) is basically two stops darker than my raw, soon-to-be-reflected light heading toward the right, makes for increased light ratio control. And I also have the ability to get soft light from two directions that is basically 1:1 in intensity if that is what I want.
By adjusting the angle and controlling how much raw spill hits the reflector, I can easily knock that fill ratio down to whatever I want. I can also do this by moving the reflector back some.
Theoretically, I could use a very efficient reflector and/or stick some more sheets of paper into the tupperware and end up with a stronger light source from the reflection side than from the diffused side. Total control, with one small light.
Here is the setup in action, and you can see that the spill light ended up hitting pretty high, which gave me the ratio I wanted. To make for a brighter reflection, I would have raised the flash a little (with a little board or a shoe under it) to make the raw light start hitting the reflector board at a lower spot.
That would have given me more light from the right side. That's so much more control that I would have with a softbox. And the cost is nil.
Here's something else to think about. By using the minimal gear (even though I was shooting in a studio full of Profoto lights) the solution becomes easily transportable to just about any location. I am using the stuff I carry with me nearly everywhere, and a couple of found objects that would exist in just about any home.
The more I do this, the more important I think it is to not think (or gear up) any differently just because you are in a studio. That makes your your lighting solutions as portable as your speedlights.