Small, Cheap and Underappreciated: Spill-Kill Reflectors

I acquired my first spill-kill reflectors by accident. There were two, included in a set of used Profoto Acutes I bought from a dentist. (One of them is pictured above, at left.)

My first thought: These things are useless. Should I throw them away or try to sell them on eBay?

But these days, I generally do not stick a studio head into an umbrella without one.

Umbrellas are a good news / bad news thing. Good news is that they are cheap, and radiate soft light in a variety of beams. You can shoot through them for a quasi-lantern look (180 degrees of light). Or bounce into a black-backed version for a more controlled spread.

The bad news is the raw light that likes to flow out of the edges. And that raw light is far more powerful than the reflected or diffused light you are making with the umbrella.

You can fix this (somewhat) by using a standard reflector on the head. But this focuses too much light into the center of the umbrella, making it effectively smaller.

You can also bury your bare-bulb head deep into the umbrella to kill the overshoot. But that also gets the bulb too close center to get a good spread.

The spill-kill reflector was made just for this one purpose: It lets you put your head at the umbrella's sweet spot and keep any raw light from leaking out the edges.

You'll still get bounce-back as well as diffused light when using a spill-kill with a shoot-through. But there is no super-strong raw light spilling around, bouncing off of walls, causing flare, etc.

And when used with a black-backed reflective umbrella, a spill-kill reflector will turn it into a surprisingly controllable light source. It gets all of the light's energy into the umbrella for a nice, even source -- with none of the nasty bits leaking out.

Here's where spill-kills really kick butt: shooting on blow-away white backdrops. Generally, you'll want a reflective umbrella on each side to light the paper evenly. And without spill-kills, you'll be burying the heads in the umbrellas, and/or sticking the umbrellas well behind your subjects to avoid the raw spill.

Even then, raw spill can create hot spots on the white paper "floor" behind your subjects. Or you might have to rotate your umbrellas to a bad angle to correct.

With spill-kills, it all just works. You can have your umbrellas right even on the sides of your subject -- even a little in front sometimes -- and get a good beam on the paper without nuking the subject.

If you are working in a huge studio, this is not that big a deal. But when space is an issue (and how often is it not), these babies are worth their weight in gold.

Generally, these guys are the cheapest reflectors in a given company's product line. Many people do not understand their uses, so often you can get them for a song on eBay. Heck, Paul Buff sells them for Einsteins and AlienBees new for $13.00.

If you do a lot of lighting with studio heads and umbrellas, do yourself a favor and try out a couple spill-kills. You'll be glad you did.


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