A few weeks ago, I got my hands on a light modifier I've always wanted to have in our studio. Westcott's brand new Optical Spot is one of the coolest and most useful light modifiers I've ever seen, and in today's video, I'm going to show you why you might want one or two for your photography!
Over the years, I've accumulated a ton of photography gear. Most of it is essentials like cameras, light stands, tripods, and sync cables, but I also have a ton of crazy and quirky light modifiers and gadgets I thought I'd use but wound up never touching. The Optical Snoot by Westcott falls in the essentials category, and I'm already thinking of buying a second or third one because they are so useful.
What is an optical spotlight modifier? An optical spot is a snoot with a lens on the front that allows you to make a narrow beam of light and focus it to create sharp edges. If you've ever tried to create a sharp shadow across your seamless paper or project sharp foliage on your background, you know it's almost impossible to get anything that has a sharp edge. There is an amazingly technical book called Light - Science, and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting that helped me immensely when I first started trying to understand how lighting worked with photography. Without getting too geeky here, as the light leaves your flash and passes by the object you want to project against your background (known as a gobo or go-between), the light refracts and scatters as it hits the final material. This causes the edges to be blurred or out of focus.
The solution to this problem is to focus the light after the Gobo. By focusing the light after your gobo, you can project as soft or sharp as you want. For a system like this to be practical, you are going to need a specific light modifier that uses small gobos and a built-in lens so everything is easily mounted and easy to use. Luckily, there are a few options used by professionals, but many of these, like the Profoto Pro Zoom Spot by Dedolight, are over $1,000 used, and many of them are out of production. Thankfully, fashion photographer Lindsay Adler understood the need for a reasonably affordable alternative and teamed up with Westcott to produce the Optical Spot.
In the video above, I outline many of the features the Optical Spot offers as well as some of my criticisms, but I'll quickly give you an overview here in written form as well.
This light modifier is super powerful and the possibilities are limitless. If you are a portrait photographer who wants to control the lighting on your background, the Optical Spot makes it incredibly easy to project any shape onto your canvas, seamless paper, or native wall. If you like shooting fashion photography and want to create strange and quirky lighting effects on your model's face, this thing makes that extremely easy as well. Perhaps you are a product photographer or shoot architecture and love to add specific highlights on your products or interiors. This will allow you to create the effect directly in camera and keep you from having to build it in Photoshop. Unlike large softboxes or tight reflector dishes, the Optical Spot is more than a one-trick pony and can give you a ton of options in a single package.
- Lightweight and can mount to different brands of flash
- Built-in metal leaves for creating simple four-sided shapes
- Tons of versatility with the ability to mount different projections and gobos
- One of the most precise light modifiers I've ever used, as you can literally place the light anywhere you want
- Ships with a 150mm lens but also mounts Canon EF lenses for even more flexibility
- Allows easy mounting of gels for color control
Every awesome light modifier comes with a few drawbacks, and this light modifier is not perfect. The main problem is it is designed for strobes with LED modeling lamps to help keep everything running cool. In the video above, I use the Optical Spot with a Profoto D1 that has an incandescent bulb, which is not recommended by Westcott, and the modifier gets extremely hot. Like, grab your oven mittens hot! Another issue I had with this light modifier is something not unique to the Optical Spot but with all modifiers using a lens or fresnel is that you need someone managing the light while you shoot. I found it to be nearly impossible to get the perfect lighting on my subject's face while also maintaining a fluid and organic photoshoot. Having an assistant work with you and your model is going to make your life a lot easier.
Finally, there are a few design choices that I think could be improved upon, like making the Gobo holder a different size, shape, or color to help differentiate it from the four other metal leaves. Also, the mechanism for attaching the gobo holder itself isn't quite as elegant as it could be, and I found myself inserting the holder off-kilter. The mounting isn't something you can do without looking at the modifier; instead, you have to perfectly line everything up, which isn't as easy as you'd think.
- Only safely works with LED modeling lamps
- Gobo holder is easily differentiable from other metal leaves
- Gobo installation isn't as smooth as it could be
- Can be difficult to position your light on a moving subject
- Projections are naturally upside down, so it takes practice moving leaves and gobos correctly
- Mildly expensive at $499 — not the most expensive light modifier but also not the cheapest
Overall, I love this light modifier and think it offers a ton of lighting flexibility and creativity. In the test shoot I did in the studio, I used the light modifier up front and center with some crazy effects lighting my friend Christie Trainer. I think they turned out well, and I'm excited to play around with this style of lighting more in the future. As fun as these fashion-forward shots are, I can easily see myself using this light modifier more subtly by blurring effects on the background or creating dabbled light across a full set. The Optical Spot could also be super handy in lighting video sets where you want a specific pattern, say late day sun shining through trees, to be projected permanently through a modeling light. The possibilities are endless, and if you want to start projecting multiple patterns at the same time, I can easily see myself buying one or two more of these just to give the maximum amount of lighting options on more complex shoots.
Gear Used in This Shoot