Thursday

Small inflatable softbox helps with location lighting

When I'm out in the field shooting I'm always looking for ways to lighten my load and give me the most flexibility. In the past couple years I've moved away from taking along my Norman 400b or my Lumedyne 400-watt packs and have relied more on Nikon speedlights to take care of my on-location needs. Fortunately, as both cameras and flashes have gotten better, this is easier and easier.

One thing that's helped has been the ability to mount two flashes on one stand, thanks to a jerry-rigged setup that combines the camera platform from a Bogen Magic Arm with two Stroboframe shoe mounts.

Two flashes together gives me much more flexibility and shortens recycling times.

The whole setup only cost me about 30 bucks, for the two Stroboframe mounts
and the brass 1/4-20 adaptor that threads on to the umbrella bracket screw. If you've
ever ordered a Bogen Magic Arm, you already have the camera platform.


But even though my abilities to shoot more and save my aching back have drastically improved, I still run in to the problem of how to soften up and modify the light coming from my SB-800's. As much as I like umbrellas, they have the problem of acting like a giant, flash-breaking sail whenever there's a breeze. So I'm often afraid to open my umbrellas outdoors.

I've tried a number of products, including the Lumiquest softboxes and bounce adaptors (the problem with them being size and sometimes too much rigidity) and the Harbor Digital system. Each of these also adds a lot of weight to your flash & mounting system — the Harbor Digital softbox setup weighs over a third of a pound on it's own, and I often find that I can't use my SB-800's at any of their mid-angle heights because that weight is too much for the mechanism that locks the angle stops in place. Plus that's a giant piece (or pieces) of hard plastic to stuff in my camera bag.

Thinking intently about this problem over a nice bottle of Shiraz a while back, I recalled a day many years ago when I was working on the Picture Desk at my local newspaper and saw a gaggle of photographers clustering in a scrum at some event in Italy. It might have been the collapse of the latest government, which would bring the number to 225 since World War II, or maybe the election of the latest porn star to Parliament. But the event is not important. What is important is that one of the photographers had a huge round inflatable diffuser attached to the front of his flash. This thing was probably one foot around, and looked to be strapped on to the flash somehow.

And I remember thinking, "that's flippin' BRILLIANT."

As I was editing at the time and not shooting so much I didn't do anything about it.

Now that I was a full-fledged shooter again I began to wonder if I could ever find such a thing again. Once in a while I'd look around at my local camera store, but I never quite saw it. Then on Ebay I did finally run across an inflatable softbox that was smaller than I was looking for but was pretty cheap and maybe worth trying out. They don't give you a giant surface to spread out the light, but they're small and they fit easily in the back flap of my bag or even in my pocket.

At 1.4 ounces and sporting an 8x6-inch face, I'm happy to have these in my bag.

Turns out that they're useful, but you kinda have to stack 'em up to get much softening effect out of them. Frankly, any time you get more than a couple feet away with most of the available small-flash light softeners you're really using the equivalent of a point source anyway. So unless you're using an umbrella or a full-sized softbox you're gonna get pretty hard light.

Because these are inflatable, they don't way much at all (only 1.4 ounces.) But I couldn't put them side-by side on my usual rig. Many years ago (probably about the time of that whole Italian porn star thing) I bought a light-stand or some gadget that would let me shoe-mount two flashes across from each other. This thing sat in a box for, oh, 20 years before I realized that I could use it with the inflatable softboxes.

With two softboxes side by side, you get a much larger surface area putting out light.

On my first few outings I used the two softboxes on two light stands, but as I'm always trying to carry less stuff (I'm not 20 anymore) I've tried to get it down to just one. That's where the dual-mount thingy comes in handy.

And I've also put them on separate light stands so I can place them more flexibly.

Putting two or more flashes with these puppies on one stand you can make a kind of "light bank" that then gives you a pretty big area to light from. True, the face of the softbox is only 6x8 inches, but compare that to the 2 & 1/4 by 1 & 1/8 area of an SB-800. If I've done my math right, that's 48 square inches of surface lighting you subject per softbox compared to 2.53 square inches coming from just the unmodified flash head.

The thing I love most about these is that they're super lightweight (clocking in at only 1.4 ounces) and flexible and I can fold them up (once deflated) and stash them in my jacket or a pocket of my bag. With bigger, more rigid modifiers I have to dedicate some Domke real estate to storage, and that means I can't carry as much other stuff like batteries or cords or snacks.

You can find varieties of these at B&H and other places, but I ended up getting mine off Ebay. Biggest reason? I'm cheap. I paid less than five bucks for mine, plus shipping, so they average well under ten dollars apiece. At that price, if I tear one or lose one, I can tape it up or just live with the loss because it's not as much as I'd pay for a sandwich at a restaurant. Granted, I am uncomfortable with the petro-miles cost that accompanies this purchase, but no more so than I am buying my Nikons and Fuji cameras shipped from Japan or my Russian brides, shipped frozen from St. Petersburg. (Wait.. I wasn't supposed to say that..)

See more detailed photos showing my setup and results here.

1 comment:

Alton Lake said...

Hello,
This post is giving an enhanced idea about softbox setup. This blog will be very assisting for photographers.Thank you too much...
softbox setup