As photographers, most of us eventually stumble onto the world of flash and the myriad of options available for producing light as well as modifying it to produce different results. Speaking from personal experience, I have often been perplexed as to whether a softbox or an octobox would be a better choice or better yet, a cheap umbrella.
Looking to simplify this thought process, Lens Rentals recently featured an article by Zach Sutton, a Los-Angeles based photographer specializing in portrait photography, showcasing a variety of commonly used modifiers in a controlled setting to see how each performed under different circumstances. Most of the modifiers tested were Profotos, including a 24-inch foldable beauty dish, 21-inch white beauty dish, 64-inch white and silver umbrella, 47-inch white umbrella, 43-inch white umbrella, 47-inch Octobox with and without a front baffle, strip boxes with and without baffles, 30x60-inch softbox, Westscott’s 23-inch rapid box, and finally a 5-foot Octobox.
For his testing, Sutton utilized a Profoto B1 strobe shot at a direct 45-degree angle, camera right, with the exposure balanced for the subjects face and adjusted based on the distance to match the exposure. For each modifier, he captured three separate exposures at two, five, and eight feet from his subject. His results, while not new to experienced studio photographers, were interesting and concisely shown for quick and easy comparison.
The first and probably most obvious conclusion Sutton arrived at was that regardless of the type of modifier used, the distance of the modifier to the subject dictated how hard or soft the light appeared on the subject. When placed closer, the modifier is larger by relation thus providing a softer light. As the modifier moves away, the opposite occurs and the light appears harder.
More importantly was that as Sutton's testing continued, he began to focus more on how the light affected the background versus his subject. Naturally, the smaller the light source, in this case the smaller the modifier being used, the less spill there is on the background and vice versa. This is important because it is where the control aspect of lighting comes into play and you begin to see the importance of using grids, flags, or anything that can manipulate the shape and direction of your light.
All in all, this is a well documented test for anyone bogged down with the number of choices available when it comes to lighting. As you will perhaps notice, many of these modifiers provide similar results and despite their claims to be unique in some way, the results do not always differ that much. Sometimes the best course of action is to exploit what you have and then move on to something new.
Images used with permission of Zach Sutton.
[via Lens Rentals]