Fun with portable portraiture lighting
being a keen amateur photographer without a fixed studio, I'm always on the look out for ways to have a easily set up mobile portrait lighting kit, so I ordered a Westcott Apollo umbrella softbox for strobes which is a cool accessory as it is just a black lined silver umbrella with a white diffusion material to create a softbox effect. Your strobe is placed INSIDE the softbox attached to the umbrella via a normal umbrella bracket which is fitted on a normal light stand.
for this exercise I was fortunate enough to come across an unused health education mannequin, not a bad subject although the skin was a bit more reflective than I would like. It also happened to be creatively draped in white, a feature which helps to ascertain whether we would be getting blown highlights, and added to the images.
perhaps of some concern was the variability in exposure despite using the latest Canon flash gear in ETTL-II exposure mode:
I routinely lock focus on the subject's eye using only a central AF point and then recompose - this type of shooting caused problems with the first version of Canon's ETTL but was supposedly addressed in the new ETTL II algorithm. Given these results in the second set of shots on this page, I am not so sure Canon has got it right!
maybe I will go back to manual flash and flash meter, and just use ETTL II for rapidly changing conditions.
Let's see what we can achieve with just a simple one flash setup:
Firstly, a shot with just a single on-camera flash (a 580EXII on a Canon 1DMIII with EF 85mm f/1.8 lens at f/2.8, ISO 100 via ETTL II).
The middle image is with the flash moved off-camera and placed toward the rear of subject, camera left - for better portraiture it should have been raised a bit, but this was just a quickie to demonstrate a few things to my friends. Note the background is now darker, but we also have a stark, harsh nose shadow, might be great fro some circumstances such as theatrical lighting, but not what I want.
Now, the 3rd (right) image, is with the flash in the SAME position BUT now enclosed in the brilliant little Westcott 28" x 28" umbrella softbox. What a difference! Even though flash has not been raised to a more ideal height, the shadows are now beautifully soft and models the subject far better.
Now for a fill-in as well:
Now let's see what we can do by using the Westcott a bit more elevated, and then introduce a fill light (another 580EX II in slave mode, held near camera, I have also added a black backdrop for this part).
Aperture for this part is f/4, camera exposure mode is manual and flash exposure mode is ETTL II via Canon ST-E2 with both 580EX II strobes set to SLAVE and different groups (A and B) so a ratio can be set on the ST-E2 transmitter controller.
Keep an eye on the highlight under the subject's left eye to help you judge how the contrast is changing.
I presume the variation of total exposure is a "feature" of Canon's new ETTL II flash exposure algorithms.
The above shows the Westcott light alone without any fill.
Above is with fill ratio on the Canon ST-E2 set to 1:8 (ie. 3 stops difference)
Above is with fill ratio on the Canon ST-E2 set to 1:4 (ie. 2 stops difference)
Above is with fill ratio on the Canon ST-E2 set to 1:2 (ie. 1 stop difference)
Above is with fill ratio on the Canon ST-E2 set to 1:1 (ie. Westcott and fill the same exposure)
This one makes the subject look a bit pasty but does bring out the lipstick colour and removes most of the harsh shadows.
I had wanted to use my Olympus ring flash as a fill in for even less shadows, in manual mode triggered by an optical trigger from the 580EX II in the softbox, but couldn't get it to sync - kept firing with the pre-flash. Have to work on that one!
On my initial tests, the Westcott Apollo umbrella softbox looks like it will be money well spent. I'm looking forward to having fun with it.
see Westcott Apollo 28" umbrella-style softbox for flash
for other flash modifiers, see flash modifiers.
And, here is what you can do with a Canon 1DMIII, 85mm f/1.8 lens at f/2.8, Westcott umbrella softbox and 2 flash guns to turn day into night:
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