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By Request: The LumiQuest Softbox III

UPDATE: Lotsa good questions coming up on this in the comments. Doing my best to keep up with the answers.

Those of you who follow my Flickr stream already know that I have been playing with the new LumiQuest Softbox III for a few months now.

It was created in direct response to Strobist reader input, and is one of several upcoming lights and light mods that have been designed for us. (Oh, yeah -- there's some cool stuff coming. I'd tell you more, but I'd have to kill you.)

More details, pics, and how this look was created, inside.

Working Without Stands

One of the advantages of using speedlights is that you can combine good lighting with portability. And you can create pretty sophisticated light without a light stand, too. Which not only makes you more mobile, but also can avoid the need for permits when shooting in a city.

Permits weren't really a issue on our recent camping trip up to the Catoctin Mountains in Maryland where I got a chance to play with the new SB-III. LumiQuest had sent me a pre-production model to test drive.

It's about 8x9 inches on the front, and has an area of double diffusion that is designed to compensate for the hot spot in the center. It folds flat, and will fit perfectly in the back pocket of a Domke F-2 bag, the standard PJ bag over the last 20 years or so.

The SB-III attaches to your flash with the included velcro straps, or better yet, a speed strap. It is about as big a thing as you would want to attach to a flash. So my preference is to use either a second speed strap on the outside, an extra-long single (DIY'd) strap to make another trip around the outside of the mount, or a ball bungee. I am a little anal about that kind of thing -- I like stuff tight.

Whether you are using an off-camera flash cord, remotes or using CLS /eTTL, the flash/SB-III combo makes for a very easy setup to hand hold. If you use it on a stand, you'll want to bring it in close to your subject. You can always move the camera back and shoot with a longer portrait lens, but a light this size excels at close distances.

Why? Several reasons.

One is power: You can nuke the sun very easily in close, and a light that is running 8x9 inches looks a lot better than a bare flash.

Second, bringing it in close (~2 feet from someone's face) really does turn an 8x9" source into a softer source. And last, getting the light in close kills its penetration past your subject, allowing your BG to be controlled separately with ambient or a second light. Also, you can see that it falls off nicely as the light travels down Ben's torso. I like the natural vignetting.

Lighting Ben

The photo of Ben up top was done completely handheld, and very quickly. I shot him with a 50mm lens. I held the Softbox III/SB-800 off to camera left, with a 1/4 CTO on the flash to warm it up. I underexposed the (backlit) ambient scene by about a stop and a half, and set the SB-III flash to run at straight TTL -- using Nikon's CLS wireless flash system. (Pause as DWBell rubs his hands in glee...)

This turned the sun (coming from back camera right) into a separation light, which gives the portrait some nice, 3-D shape. As a little kicker, I let the on-camera (CLS master) flash contribute some fill.

On-axis fill is something I have really been trying to learn more about, and you'll be reading much more on that here soon. The on-camera fill was between 2 and 3 stops below straight TTL.

If this sounds complex, it is not. There are only two decisions to make here. First, how far are you gonna drop the ambient light? And second, how far are you gonna drop the on-axis fill?

The result is a crisp, 3-D look that can be made just about anywhere you have directional ambient light. For something done in full-auto TTL (for the flashes, at least) I think it looks pretty slick -- especially when you consider that you are completely handheld and mobile with the light.

It's a good look to pull out of your bag of tricks during the ugly light portion of the day -- just stick the sun in the back on the opposite side as your key light from the front. This photo was shot in early afternoon on a bright, sunny day. It's the knd of light I used to hate to have for an outdoor portrait.

But with this little softbox, I'd be happy to sked someone at 1:00 p.m. The crappier the ambient light, the better.

Without the On-Camera Fill

Here is an example of pushing the SB-III (no gel) against the ambient in a front-left / back-right crosslight scheme without the on-axis fill. Straight CLS/TTL with underexposed ambient. Looks a little less polished, but fine nonetheless.

I am guessing this would be preferable to some of you, who will not like the double highlights in the on-axis fill version. (They do not bother me at all.)

SB-III, On-Axis Fill with No Sun

Wanting to experiment with on on-camera/off-camera light without a directional ambient source, I shot my daughter Emily using the same technique as in the top photo above. The only difference was there is no ambient rim light on her shoulder, as it was a cloudy day.

Instead of an on-camera master flash, I used the D300's pop-up flash both to trigger the SB-III main light and fire as a fill light - I think the pop-up was set at -2 2/3 stops from straight TTL. The idea would be to see how this setup would work in flat light.

You can see the soft shadow of the SB-III on the bottom right of her nose. But it is being filled exactly as much as I want it to be filled by the pop-up flash, with is even closer to on-axis light than a shoe-mount flash so it leaves a hard, very close-in shadow of its own. I think I prefer the pop-up flash as an on-camera fill.

This is a sweet little technique for anyone with an SB-600, -800 or -900 and a pop-up flash camera that can act as a commander. Which is just about any recent Nikon pop-up model.

One to the Face at Point-Blank Range

LumiQuest chose the top photo of Ben for the ad for the SB-III, which means I'll be buying a big yacht soon. At least that is what I am telling the missus. But they also wanted a shot of me, showing the SB-III, to go along with it. The rest of the family was away for the weekend, so I pulled a Strobist Flickr Pool Special and did a tripod self-portrait.

I setup an on-camera flash in manual and bounced it off of the ceiling. After adjusting the flash's power level so my photo looked good at f/2.8, I closed down three stops to turn that strobe into my fill. Then I lit myself to my new working aperture with the SB-III at camera left. (1/4 CTO included, to help my cadaverous skin.) There was no ambient in the photo at all.

If any of you work at the Ford Agency, or maybe at Elite, you can reach me by leaving a comment beneath the post. I am doing my best to avoid that "underweight heroin" supermodel look, too.


LumiQuest Softbox III's will be hitting shelves over the next few months, but they are already available at MPEX and direct from LumiQuest.

Supermodel not included.


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