Can you name 2 frequent mistakes and 2 non-typical uses for softboxes

Started Jan 15, 2011 | Discussions
KevinTheMan Junior Member • Posts: 36
Can you name 2 frequent mistakes and 2 non-typical uses for softboxes

This could be interesting.

I'll start with mine.

MISTAKES

  • softbox centered on the subject so almost half of the light goes unused, in the subject's back (better to have the back edge aligned with the subject)

  • softbox put at a random distance from the subject, without taking into account the fall off (for close subjects) or relative size to the subject (for subject further away)

OTHER USES

  • strip light (when most of the active surface is covered with an opaque panel)

  • ?? (sorry, I don't know others)

Cheers,
Kevin

chasg Veteran Member • Posts: 3,413
a quick single tip

Here is a quick single tip:

Use your softbox as an illuminated white background (size permitting, of course).

Chas

Winslo Regular Member • Posts: 186
Re: Can you name 2 frequent mistakes and 2 non-typical uses for softboxes

KevinTheMan wrote:

...
MISTAKES

  • softbox centered on the subject so almost half of the light goes unused, in the subject's back (better to have the back edge aligned with the subject)

  • softbox put at a random distance from the subject, without taking into account the fall off (for close subjects) or relative size to the subject (for subject further away)

Hi,

These are are mistakes only if it is not done deliberately.

"mistake" 1: sometimes you do want to feather the light for certain situations.

"mistake" 2: This is a good way to control the tone of the background if you do not have supplementary lights.

Joseph S Wisniewski Forum Pro • Posts: 34,130
Sure. 2 and 6...
2

KevinTheMan wrote:

This could be interesting.

I'll start with mine.

MISTAKES

  • softbox centered on the subject so almost half of the light goes unused, in the subject's back (better to have the back edge aligned with the subject)

  • softbox put at a random distance from the subject, without taking into account the fall off (for close subjects) or relative size to the subject (for subject further away)

A common mistake is buying Elinchrom lights. Their softbox attachment system is so screwy that we went through at least 4 speedrings at MPW, as the two prong bayonet Elinchrom just tore the tabs out of the speedrings.

Another mistake is buying Pocket Wizard Plus II transceivers. Those things failed us so many different ways, from the fragile shoes breaking off, constantly, to a flaw in the power supply that can cause a Plus II transceiver to burn out if you leave it on long enough with a near dead battery.

OTHER USES

  • strip light (when most of the active surface is covered with an opaque panel)

  • ?? (sorry, I don't know others)

The big Westcotts and Chimeras have a Velcro system for attaching grids to the box. I rigged two strips of 2 inch wide black cloth that form a "+" on the softbox, and attach to the Velcro. Bring the boxes in close (closer than 4 ft for the 4 foot box, 6 foot for the 6 foot box) and this makes a lovely "window" catchlight, 4 squares of light.

Set two big boxes (my favorites are the 6 foot Westcotts) almost touching, at about a 60 degree angle, and squeeze in the gap between them. Softest light you'll ever see. Flat, too, so you have to know what to do with flat, wrap around light. Not a trick for everyday.

Take the front diffuser panels off every now and then. Without them, the soft boxes are like collimated "search lights", really big ones, and produce a very unusual quality of light, a lot like sunlight. Put the box up high, point it down, and for God's sake, add at least a 1:3 fill from a box that does have its diffuser in place.

Get a piece of black, rip-stop nylon the size of the diffuser panel and add Velcor so you can replace the diffuser panel with it. Then cut random (or not random) holes in it. Remember what I said about collimated light? Parallel beams of random, mottled patterns. Think sunlight through a forest. If the box has a second, inner diffuser, remove it, too. And give this a try with a light touch of a fog machine (or a heavy touch, if you're in a weird mood).

Get a spare diffuser panel and paint it in tribal patterns in black paint. Or get some white rip-stop and make your own panel. You can also use clear plastic, like visquine, and then you're doing a reverse of the black fabric with holes.

Black lace, draped over the softbox front, will cut from 1 to 3 stops (depending on the lace), which is handy for shallow DOF work. A loose weave black cloth can cut even more stops, if you want to go to f1.4 at ISO 200.

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MarkKarma Forum Member • Posts: 87
Re: Sure. 2 and 6...

I don't have a softbox but now I want one?

Archer66 Veteran Member • Posts: 3,888
Re: Sure. 2 and 6...

Great tips, thx for sharing.

Michael Firstlight Veteran Member • Posts: 3,375
My dirty dozen softbox tips

My Top 10:

1) The point of a softbox is to create a large light source most of the time - people get them and then move them too far away creating a small light source (not to be confused with reducing the amount of light (inverse square law) - get those boxes CLOSE if you want wrap-around light, gradual falloff and soft shadows.

2) Many don't understand feathering technique with a softbox. To get even even softer falloff (many see the term but just ignore it. The center of a softbox is the hottest (visually) part. If that is what you want, then when positioning the box use the inner angled sides of the box as the part aimed directly at the face.

3) Interfit softboxs are built great and are some of the most affordable on the market. The best you can buy are Larson - pricey for sure, but nothing comes close in terms of shallow depth, weight, build, and evenness - the best of the best portrait pros use these (and of course can justify the expense).

4) Don't like rectangular reflections in eyes? Some softboxes have Velcro baffles with a circular cut out or you can easily make one yourself out of black rip.

5) Background lights for white backdrops - I used to use two lights flanking a white paper background to get even high key lighting - now I use just one by mounting a long strip box above the subject pointed toward the 9 foot wide paper - it provides even illumination, I use only one light instead of two, and you can position the box to control whether the box doubles as a hair light (drop into any mall where the is a PicturePeople studio and you'll see how they use it- that's where I first got the idea a few years ago).

6) Louvers are wonderful - especially for the Key light - they allow you to provide directional light on the subject and prevent spill on the background.

7) Strip boxes are great for kicker/accent lights - though using a grid is sometimes a better choice if you want more control over where the accent lighting should not go.

8) Use of a softbox for fill - debatable subject. Some love to use all softboxes in a setup - lots of large wrap-around soft light. I prefer using a reflective umbrella for fill for a little more overall specularity. Plus, fill lights are often much further away from the subject and the way a box saps light they are much less efficient used as fill IMHO.

9) Medium softboxes with louvers, or large and extra-large softboxes are heavy beasts - buy a decent counter weight that usually slides into the auxiliary umbrella holder on most monolights and they'll not only be easier to manage, but you'll keep from breaking your lightstand tightening handle mechanisms.

10) If you are like me, you love remote control of monolights (I hate to have to climb a ladder to adjust a hair light which is necessary for light versus dark hair), or having to walk around to the back of each light to adjust them - even harder with softboxes. Use only RF remote systems (I am partial to Paul C Buff's remotes).

11) Use Air cushioned light stands – recommended with or without a softbox but all that weight makes air cushioned stands and absolute necessity.

12) I like my lights off the floor and I don’t want to spend a fortune on a rail system. I LOVE Bogen wall boom arms – they can attach to walls or ceilings, can be adjusted in length and can swing left and right (or up and down when mounted on a ceiling, are nicely dampened and are strong as large light stands.

Regards,
Mike

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Michael Firstlight Veteran Member • Posts: 3,375
The Art of Feathering a Softbox

OK, so I admit I am way past my limit of two - but not two posts

It seems that feathering is mostly discussed in the context of using softboxes – but it is not limited to softboxes. Actually, feathering is easiest to do and most common with parabolic reflectors and less so with softboxes. Feathering is NOT recommended with umbrellas.

When I began listening to experienced pros wax on about feathering a softbox I began to listen intently and got it wrong. Why? We’ll, this is sort of funny – I read it in a book and the book got it wrong – the internet got it right (so I love using this as an example when I read someone’s post that criticizes “cause you read it on the internet!)” By the way, the book that got it wrong was Practical Techniques and Practices in Portrait Photography by Kodak – and unlikely one to get it wrong and if not entirely wrong – miscommunication an important concept.

Feathering involves three aspects of shadow control - the Umbra, the Penumbra, and the Antumbra. Where the book got it wrong is it called the Umbra the part of the light that fully and evenly illuminates the subject and cited the center of the light source as providing that. Actually the opposite is true (see Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umbra ) , that part of the light source is called the Antumbra. The Umbra is the part of the light source where the subject is in the dark.

When feathering a light – the part we want to control most of the time is the Penumbra – the part between the Umbra, and the Antumbra. That is where there is SOME light – the gray area. Here is a great example:

The ‘softer’ part of the light is in the Penumbra region. You often have to aim the softbox away from the subject somewhat to use the Penumbra of the light (and watch for excessive lens flare or too much BG spill in the process). The full on light (the Antumbra) will allow you to control specularity – so it’s a fine balance (and art form) when you are trying to get both nice catch lights in the eyes AND get gradual falloff in the shadow transition areas. A common error in portrait lighting easily corrected with better feathering is hot spots on the face – especially the forehead.

So, when lighting a portrait and trying to control shadow depth and falloff gradation, the art is seeing those gradual differences between the three and using the Penumbra most effectively to get that wonderful gradual falloff of light between the nose and cheekbones and the chin and neck (the transition areas) and so forth.

Note that the use of louvers on a softbox – while wonderful for controlling spill on the background, has this one con (or pro depending on your point of view) – it changes how the Umbra, the Penumbra, and the Antumbra behave somewhat.

I’ve not seen many discussion threads that discuss the detail of feathering technique – this is what I’ve figured out by trial and error.

I once read a great quote on the subject on another site: “Feathering IS ticklish business!”

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Joseph S Wisniewski Forum Pro • Posts: 34,130
Tar and Feathering a Softbox

Michael, really, really great posts. I enjoyed them, especially your trick for noting the softbox pattern.

(And I'm partial to Paul Buff remotes, too).

When I saw your title, somehow or other, my brain sorted the letters of "Art" into "Tar", and I did a double take at "Tar and Feathering a Softbox". LOL!

-- hide signature --

Rahon Klavanian 1912-2008.

Armenian genocide survivor, amazing cook, scrabble master, and loving grandmother. You will be missed.

Ciao! Joseph

http://www.swissarmyfork.com

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Winslo Regular Member • Posts: 186
Re: The Art of Feathering a Softbox

Big thanks to Michael Firstlight for elaborating on the feathering technique. I should have elaborated more myself with my original post. I forgot that most are unaware of that technique or how to use it properly. And you are right, to get a proper "feel" for feathering is all about trial and error. Of course it is easier now, back in the day when had to go through the film process;-)

-- hide signature --

There is a big difference between a photographer and someone who clicks a shutter. One learns his craft and the other looks for a quick fix.

Disclaimer: the comments and views are mine and mine alone, if you do not agree that's okay.

Michael Firstlight Veteran Member • Posts: 3,375
Re: Tar and Feathering a Softbox

ROFL - I'm in NC - which makes me a TAR HEEL - it must show!

Regards,
Mike

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jeffcpix Senior Member • Posts: 1,707
Re: Tar and Feathering a Softbox

Using big softboxes in small rooms = light bouncing all over thereby diminishing directionality of the source and uncontrolled 'fill'.

Not using a 'grid' on a box (to keep spill to a minimum).

Not using an air-cushioned stand and ending up with smashed fingers

Not setting up a stand properly and watching the whole rig keel over.

Digitalix New Member • Posts: 12
Re: Tar and Feathering a Softbox

jeffcpix wrote:

Not setting up a stand properly and watching the whole rig keel over.

gary stepic
gary stepic Veteran Member • Posts: 4,842
Re: My dirty dozen softbox tips

Mike,

I can see your posts will be very helpful as I am very seriouls about learning portrait photography, but at this point have so much to learn.

I have two Paul Buff x1600 sights at three AB400 lights. I have been trying to set up the cybercommander and have had problems. One of the battery contacts broke and had to send it in, now all my lights seem to not respond properly to even manual power levels I set. I am just venting and need to call Pual Buff tech support to figure this all out.

But it does lead me to a question. I mainly want to control the hairlight as I have it mounted to the ceiling and ldo not like having to use a step ladder each time I want to adjust. Adjust the key or fill light manually is really quick and even the background lights are not a problem. It seems like a waste to use the cybercommander for just one light but in your opinion do you think it woulld be quicker to just use it for the hair light? It certainly would be less complicated.

I had a tech guy help me set it up and I think he had me set my lights as a group. It seemed like I could never get the background lights bright enough with the commander.

Gary
--
http://www.expecttowinphotos.com

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andrewD2 Veteran Member • Posts: 9,022
Re: Sure. 2 and 6...

Joseph S Wisniewski wrote:

A common mistake is buying Elinchrom lights. Their softbox attachment system is so screwy that we went through at least 4 speedrings at MPW, as the two prong bayonet Elinchrom just tore the tabs out of the speedrings.

The effort required to mount a rotalux onto a elinchrom light is minimal. I can do it one handed with only the friction of the softbox on the floor as resistance.

Andrew

Joseph S Wisniewski Forum Pro • Posts: 34,130
Where Elinchroms fall down, literally...

andrewD2 wrote:

Joseph S Wisniewski wrote:

A common mistake is buying Elinchrom lights. Their softbox attachment system is so screwy that we went through at least 4 speedrings at MPW, as the two prong bayonet Elinchrom just tore the tabs out of the speedrings.

The effort required to mount a rotalux onto a elinchrom light is minimal. I can do it one handed with only the friction of the softbox on the floor as resistance.

Hi Andrew.

My issue with Elinchrom isn't the "difficulty" of mounting things. It's easier than many systems. I can swap a reflector for a shoot on an Elinchrom easier than I can on my White Lightning Ultras.

And sure, they can hold a Rotalux, which Elinchrom describes in their English language literature as "The featherweight box". It's one of those boxes that's built with thin cloth and thin rods, like an umbrella. The Rotalux is shallow and has a horrible center hot spot. It's little better than an umbrella as far as quality of light. And doesn't have a recessed front so it can take a normal grid, just the weird "slip on" grid.

We use "standard" softboxes, the kind that deliver years of trouble free service mounted on Broncolor, Profoto, White Lightning, Speedotron, etc. heads. They're much deeper than the Rotalux, and the better approximation of a parabola really improves the quality of light, it's less divergent and there's less hot spots. That depth, plus the deeply recessed front, gives a lot more moment arm to torque the ring. Like the old quote "give me a lever long enough, and I shall move the world". And the heavier cloth, double side panels (the reflectors are separate cloth from the outer light blocking shell, double diffuser, heavier rods, rolled edges, and Velcro lining puts a lot of weight on the end of that long moment arm. Again, it's nothing that bothers most other brands of lights, it's just the Elinchroms that get trashed.

MPW uses Westcott III (3x4, 90x120cm) and IV 4x6 (120x180cm) softboxes, but my own Chimeras are built similarly, as are Brons or Profotos.

The problem with the Elinchrom attachment system is that the mating collar is about a 85mm cylinder, about 10mm deep, with two curved slots cut into it for a bayonet, maybe 15mm long and 4mm deep. The light has two pins that engage those curved slots. The weight of a softbox is born on the projection that's left after a slot is cut into the collar, and that projection is simply too fragile to hold all that weight on a long moment arm. So it fails. Elinchrom collars fail. Westcott collars fail. Even the collars we had machined by a local shop, about twice the thickness of a stock collar, failed.

A White Lightning, for example, engages a speedring with 4 claws, not 2, and those claws grab the inside edge of a solid collar, not projections undermined by bayonet slots. An off the cuff engineering estimate, I'd put that system at at least 8 times the strength of an Elinchrom.

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Joseph S Wisniewski Forum Pro • Posts: 34,130
Ungroup them!

gary stepic wrote:

Mike,

Gary,

Hope you don't mind that I'm not Mike

I can see your posts will be very helpful as I am very seriouls about learning portrait photography, but at this point have so much to learn.

I have two Paul Buff x1600 sights at three AB400 lights. I have been trying to set up the cybercommander and have had problems. One of the battery contacts broke and had to send it in, now all my lights seem to not respond properly to even manual power levels I set.

Clear setups and start the setup again.

Do not do the "open all from studio procedure in the manual._

That's a great way to get going if most of your lights are Einsteins. If you have mostly (or entirely) non-Einstein lights, it just messes you up, setting any channel with an active (CSR+ plugged into an outlet or CSRB+ turned on) to useless defaults.

Manually "spec lights" for each channel you have a CSR+ or CSRB+ connected. Then save it, both to CyberCommander memory and to SD.

I am just venting and need to call Pual Buff tech support to figure this all out.

Well, they are friendly people. They also maintain a technical support forum that's pretty good.

But it does lead me to a question. I mainly want to control the hairlight as I have it mounted to the ceiling and ldo not like having to use a step ladder each time I want to adjust. Adjust the key or fill light manually is really quick and even the background lights are not a problem. It seems like a waste to use the cybercommander for just one light but in your opinion do you think it woulld be quicker to just use it for the hair light? It certainly would be less complicated.

I like having it set for all lights, because I've gotten into the habit of using the Cyber Commander as a light meter from the subject location, and that's where I do my light setups from. Sort of like having an assistant setting lights while you meter.

I had a tech guy help me set it up and I think he had me set my lights as a group. It seemed like I could never get the background lights bright enough with the commander.

Ungroup them. The reason you can't get your background lights bright enough is that they're grouped with something else, and you've got that ratio "locked in".

I've found grouping is handy only in a very limited number of situations. I've had 2 or 3 lights on a backdrop, and adjusted individual lights until my backdrop was nice and even, then grouped just the background lights. And multiple lights behind the big diffuser also are a "target" for a group. But in my general, day to day, "toss another light over here" style of shooting, groups get in the way.

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Michael Firstlight Veteran Member • Posts: 3,375
Re: Ungroup them!

Thanks for answering that one! Its OK, sonmetimes even I don't want to be me!

I feel fortunate to have all Einsteins now

Regards,
Mike

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yvind Strm Veteran Member • Posts: 4,130
Great thread (n/t)
andrewD2 Veteran Member • Posts: 9,022
Re: Where Elinchroms fall down, literally...

1) The deep octas are as deep as you could want.

2) You can add a center defector if you are having a problem with a hotspot (one is supplied).

3) The bigger lightbanks have softbox supporting the head, not the other way around.

Have you ever broken a genuine rotalux speedring with a rotalux softbox on an elinchrom light?

Andrew

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