Dave Honl Goes Soft on Us

Long known for the hard, restricted light of his snoots and grids, Dave has just introduced an 8", circular soft box for speedlights.

It's small, collapsible and is best suited for close-in people shots. More details and an example of how to use it, inside.

I shot classical guitarist Mark Edwards earlier this month for the Howard County Arts Council. During that shoot, I played a little bit with Honl's new diffuser, high speed sync and … TTL flash.

There, I said it.

Actually, I have nothing against TTL flash. I just don't use it very often. As in, hardly ever.

And shooting in tight (with flesh tones filling much of the frame) is exactly the kind of photo that TTL flash likes to figure out. So this was a good opportunity to step over to the Dark Side for a moment, kill my depth of field and try out the new mod.

Provided you have the capability, the easiest way to bleed some depth of field in a daylight portrait is to shoot with high-speed FP sync. This allows you to go way above your normal 250th of a second limit on the shutter speed, and gets you a correspondingly wide-open aperture. Bye-bye background.

I was in manual mode at a 2000th of a second and f/2.0, to blow out the focus on my background. This exposure also left Mark underexposed with a little ambient coming in from back camera right -- a good platform on which to light a headshot.

I used two flashes, both SB-800s. I played around with the on-axis flash (a hot shoe-mounted SB-800 in a Ray Flash ring adapter) and set it around 2 stops under in TTL mode. This would fill anywhere the key light did not hit. The key is another SB-800 (with a 1/2 CTO gel) in a Honl traveller8.

Here is the setup, with the key light at or near straight TTL in terms of compensation. I say 'at or near' because I tweaked them around a lot. I am not used to the on-the-fly variability of TTL (one reason I do not normally use it) so the camera and I were both trying to drive the car.

Note how close the soft box is. An 8" light source can be hard or soft depending on how close you place it to the subject. And I like to get it right next to people for head shots, for a couple of reasons.

One, you get decent softness in close, as you can see by the nose shadow.

Two, it really allows you to control where the beam hits and where it falls off. This closeness gives the light very little traveling power, which in turn gives me nice tones on the white shirt.

Deja Vu?

This is the same technique I used on the portrait of Ben for the LumiQuest ad. And they are, in fact, very similar light sources.

The Lumiquest Soft Box III is rectangular: 8x9", or 72 square inches. The Honl Photo traveller8 is an 8" circle, to figure out the area of which I think you need to eat a piece of pie or something. (~50 square inches.)

They are both ideally suited for close-in people, and fold flat in your bag.

Differences are:

Lumy SBIII is rectangular, which means you can vary the quality of the light with the orientation. It also has a double-diffused center, to control the hot spot.

Honl traveller8 is circular, which creates a different kind of light (think beauty dish vs. soft box) with circular eye highlights if you are into that kind of thing.

While we are speaking of hot spots, you can get a more even light out of either by using a dome on your flash inside of the boxes. And if you slap a piece of black gaff on the front of the dome, you get an even more even light source -- all bounced off of the internal surfaces before it is diffused. Since these things tend to be used in very close, efficiency not really an issue.

They both fold flat for easy packing. The Honl model can also be rolled up, if that helps you.

It's a pick 'em, based on what is more important to you. Or you can always play with both, given neither will break the bank. At $69.95, the Honl version is a little more expensive, but comes comes with the full speed strap required for mounting. That strap can is the same one on which his other mods are based.

Used in close, either can give you a very polished look in a jiffy when shooting close-up portraits. Check a bigger version (open in a new window) to see what I mean. And controlling the shadow depth with an on-axis fill (or your ambient exposure) gives you an extra layer of control.

Both David Honl and LumiQuest's Quest Couch are going at it, in terms of designing competitive mods for small flashes. And I doubt the traveller8 will be the last shot fired, either.

Which is way cool for small flash photographers.

:: HonlPhoto traveller8 Product Page ::


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Blogger Jeff Wolski said...

Wow, very beautiful and simple.

May 20, 2010 12:13 AM  
Blogger Spevas said...

Very cool. I'd buy one if they were half the price.

May 20, 2010 1:04 AM  
Blogger John-Paul said...

Awesome post, you made me want to buy one of those now!

Would an alternative to using high speed sync (if you didn't have that option) be to throw an ND filter on and raise the power of your flash(es)?

May 20, 2010 2:02 AM  
Blogger Nicola Zingarelli said...

Honl and LumiQuest are producing a lot of fine products for small flash photographers, which is way cool for us. Since I take "different" pictures of people, which is usually a guy holding a big fish (I work for fishing magazines), I wonder would be a better option for me between this Honl diffuser or the LumiQuest SoftboxIII, if any. I mean, altogether they are quite large subjects and is not like lighting a face. So far I have used the LumiQuest Pocket Bouncer, but the light spread you can get out of that is probably wider than the one you can get from any of the above mentioned.

Suggestions would be highly apreciated

Thanks, ciao


May 20, 2010 5:45 AM  
Blogger gretsch said...

Thanks Dave. Quick question - I find the FP fast sync heavily munches flash power and end up opening the aperture two stops for every stop of faster shutter speed. Am I doing something stoopid, or is this the way it is? D200, SB600. I see you are at 2.0, 2000 with the mod on his face.


May 20, 2010 6:09 AM  
Blogger John said...

Very cool!

Thanks for doing a review on this. I love all of Honl's products and as a fan of the Lumiquest SBIII, this looks like another cool tool to have in the bag.

Nice to see you venturing in to Nikon's Auto FP High Speed Sync mode. It can be a fun option to play with. I leave that feature turned on in my camera all the time so its there whenever I need it when using CLS/TTL.

May 20, 2010 8:39 AM  
Blogger Nikhil said...

Thanks for this review David. I was hoping that you would review this product soon as I was looking to buy it. It was a toss up between the LSB III and the HONL. I am getting this product as it seems better built. I will be using this primarily for macro shots of bugs, so am excited to get this.

May 20, 2010 2:27 PM  
Blogger Shaka M. said...

How did you achieve that high speed sync? What camera were you using?

May 20, 2010 3:41 PM  
Blogger martin said...

A very nice shot & thanks for posting this David. I'm getting very interested in Hi-Speed sync and can see it becoming more usefull when the power issues are sorted out. You're setting the SB800 in the ray flash as master,yes?

May 20, 2010 7:25 PM  
Blogger Max said...

cool tip on the gaff tape/dome inside.

cool modifier, but i think he's gotta sell it for 40

May 20, 2010 10:10 PM  
Blogger stan said...

Portrait of Ben has great catchlights. Eyes seem kind of dead here, with only pinpoints from on-axis. Skin tonality and shirt are beautiful. Difference between LSB III and HONL is shape of catchlight, right? Seems like this is all about texture, tonality and blurred background; not the eyes, not the catchlights.

May 20, 2010 10:22 PM  
Blogger Ryan S. said...

Looks interesting. I shoot a lot of bare speedlight action flash(Shutterdrag.com), but have been considering Quantum Q flashes for nearly the same portability of speedlights with an added diffusion reflector for a better quality of light. But, the price of Qflashes have kept me away so far. Products like this could be an answer for me, being able to use my speedlights with a similar quality of light as Qflashes. Larger diffusers aren't always an option, as we're often setting up and shooting very quickly in outdoor, public settings.

How much light do you lose through the Honl box?

May 21, 2010 1:41 AM  
Blogger M said...

Here's some useful information on High Speed Sync for those who, like me, don't really know what that is :)

May 21, 2010 2:23 AM  
Blogger Luke said...

I am missing some technique you are using. How were you able to operate the on camera flash in commander mode with the ring-light sitting on the end of the flash blocking the IR receivers? Did you do something special to get it to still communicate with the remote flash?

May 21, 2010 9:55 AM  
Blogger johnf said...

Regarding the differences between the Honl and the Lumiquest III. Doesn't the latter cover up the senor on the front of the flash making TTL ( or high speed sync) impossible to do ? It appears from the picture that the Honl product could also possible interfere, and yet you had no issues ?

Can you explain this ?

May 21, 2010 10:11 AM  
Blogger diegonyc said...

i know honl makes good stuff but this thing is a bit on the pricey side.

not in this economy.

i'll stick with my lumi sb3.

May 21, 2010 12:04 PM  
Blogger Arthur said...

When you say " black gaff on the front of the dome", do you mean the top of the dome?

May 21, 2010 1:55 PM  
Blogger StudioBlu said...

Very cool - but I agree - $69 is too much for a modifier for a small flash unit. I picked up a used Morris softbox for less than that.

May 21, 2010 4:07 PM  
Blogger Trystan said...

Hi David

Silly question, is there a difference (other than aesthetically) between this and the highly comedic Strobrella?

From my experience you can get similarly soft, diffused light from both a softbox and a shoot-thru umbrella, albeit the softbox is more contained.

If they do the same thing, surely for the non-pros and experimenters like me out there, the price alone would make the strobrella a no-brainer alternative? (As long as you can suffer the raised eyebrows)

May 21, 2010 7:55 PM  
Blogger admin said...

@Luke - Commander mode uses the strobe light itself to communicate to the remote flash unit. Only the remote/slave unit needs line of site back to the commander flash for the IR receiver. If you are close enough, like in this situation, the reflections off the subject's white shirt bouncing back to the IR receiver on the slave would also allow you to control the slave's flash output

May 21, 2010 8:53 PM  
Blogger Matt Birdsall said...

Luke - CLS (and Canon's wireless IR based system) both use light from the flash head to send the control/triggering info to the remotes. As long as light from the ringflash can see the receiver sensor on the remote speedlight it'll work.

May 21, 2010 9:26 PM  
Blogger Matt Birdsall said...

Johnf - The sensor on Nikon flashes is on the side, not the front, and for other makes such as Canon, just rotate the flash head to point the sensor at the camera.

May 21, 2010 9:27 PM  
Blogger Erfon said...

yeah definitely looks really cool, but $70 for that thing is almost offensive to me. come on guys, it should be like $35 or $40 MAX...

May 22, 2010 3:58 AM  
Blogger info said...

Cool tips.

May 23, 2010 4:56 AM  
Blogger Knut said...

Stop whining about price guys - the Danish importer has it priced at $100... ;o)

May 25, 2010 4:45 AM  
Blogger fotografia said...

I have been thinking I wanted a modifier just like this. the circular light is very useful for a lot of situations and dramatic lighting. But $70! I'm thinking some DIY'ers are gonna come up with something clever. I'm sold.

May 27, 2010 9:24 AM  
Blogger diego said...

Great stuff but man, $60 for this?

June 05, 2010 11:14 PM  
Blogger Samuel said...

I've been using the Honl Light mods for a while now with some very good results. I'm eager to give this product a go because I really would relish having a small portable softbox tool on my 580EXII. Has any one used this light mod to produce some good head shots and would it come recommended?

June 07, 2010 5:28 PM  
Blogger John said...

I just picked up one of these and did a short video on my blog about what comes in the bag and how to set it up. Thought some readers might like to see it first hand.


June 27, 2010 11:13 AM  
Blogger Robin said...

I've been thinking of purchasing one of these softboxes to use at an upcoming wedding. I have big lights for the formal portraits, but I need something to use for the informal documentary style photos before and after the ceremony. Would this be suitable?

July 02, 2010 12:30 PM  
Blogger Robin said...

Also, this softbox is leading the poll for next months special at Midwest Photo Exchange. Looks like a great time to pick one up.

July 02, 2010 12:32 PM  

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