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Archive 2011 · Softbox vs Umbrella for Outdoor Shots?
  
 
Stephen Elms
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p.1 #1 · Softbox vs Umbrella for Outdoor Shots?


I have been using umbrellas for most of my off camera flash stuff (I am fairly new to this). I am having huge issues using the umbrellas outdoors for obvious reasons (ie the slightest bit of wind makes them act as huge sails and they blow over constantly). I would assume that a softbox would be a better solution for these situations? The aerodynamics alone make it look as though they would be more stable, and even easier to handle for an assistant. Am I correct in this assumption?

I should say that I am trying to keep my gear as "portable" as possible...I understand I can get sandbags etc for the umbrella but that is a lot of extra weight to carry on engagement sessions etc which often take me off the beaten path...



Mar 01, 2011 at 09:32 PM
dpcassil
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p.1 #2 · Softbox vs Umbrella for Outdoor Shots?


A soft box will help a little bit. most of the ones i have seen made for speed lights are really flimsy though. if you can find one that is well made and tight you will be much better off. I also made a white nylon showcap-ish think for my 32" umbrella (to make it act more like a soft box) I have not tried it in the wid but imagine it would help some with the wind. or consider something like this http://www.google.com/products/catalog?q=umbrella+softbox+cover&hl=en&safe=active&prmd=ivns&biw=1600&bih=1038&um=1&ie=UTF-8&cid=7302272856343952727&sa=X&ei=hWltTbn2HoP98AbAkt2MDQ&ved=0CHgQ8wIwBg#




Mar 01, 2011 at 09:48 PM
24Peter
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p.1 #3 · Softbox vs Umbrella for Outdoor Shots?


You don't say how large an umbrella you're using, but this is pretty much a fact of life when shooting outdoors. I use a small 16"X16" and 24"X24" pop-up softbox when using my Speedlites outdoors, and a 22" beauty dish and one of the aforementioned pop-up softboxes when using my AlienBees. These seem a little more areodynamic than an umbrella (which I gave up on using outdoors a long time ago.) But even with 10lbs of weight on the stands, a strong gust can still take the pop-up softboxes down. I also bought super heavy duty (and heavy weight) light stands for shooting outdoors. These puppies weight 16 lbs just for the light stand and also don't bend/sway in the wind like my regular aluminum indoor light stands do.

http://www.calumetphoto.com/eng/product/calumet_7_cine_stand_with_casters/mf6070

The only other option is to find an assistant to hold the light while you shoot.



Mar 02, 2011 at 03:47 PM
cgardner
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p.1 #4 · Softbox vs Umbrella for Outdoor Shots?


Depends how you use the natural light. With sun at the backs the sky and front of the subject is in shade the flash becomes frontal fill and flash is creating highlights over top of it. As a result the flash modifier doesn't need to be as big and wrap as much as indoors where you don't have that foundation of wrap-around soft fill.

If you add a second flash over the camera as fill to control the tone of the shadows (skylight alone renders them quite dark when sunny highlights are exposed below clipping) the off axis flash winds up overlapping sky + flash fill. The primary cause and effect resulting from a larger key light modifier will be larger catchlights and smoother less specular skin highlights. The effect of the modifier size on the shadows will be less because the sky and the fill flash will trump any wrapping effect.

You can see this for yourself with a simple comparison test outdoors. Set up a subject in white shirt in backlight (face totally in shade) in an oblique view with fill over the camera and key light 45/45 from the center line of the nose (key will wind up 90 from camera axis).

Start with a baseline ambient only shot, exposed SUNNY 16 to keep sunlit parts of shirt below clipping. First add direct flash from the key light until you get a highlight pattern on the face that looks normally exposed relative to the sunny parts. The shirt will help you visualize the balance. If its not clipping on the back in the sunny parts you see it will need to be a bit darker than you would expose it indoors with flash in the front to retain the ambience.

When you get the highlight exposure on face and shirt balanced to ambient backlight note the appearance of the highlights (specularity) and the tone of your shadows from just the sky fill.

Next add the fill flash from over the camera (flash on bracket works good for that) again with direct flash. Raise fill until you get a ratio you like by eye. You will find as you add fill you will need to reduce key flash power because they overlap.

When you get the exposure and ratio balanced to taste in front on the face and shirt again note the appearance of the highlights (specularity) and the tone of your shadows. You will find that even with direct flash the gradients of contrast on the front of the face are quite smooth. That's because God's own SB, the northern sky is providing a foundation of wrap around fill that the flashes complement and lift instead of fighting. It's a real eye opener regarding the underlying cause and effect.

Now from that direct flash baseline add modifiers to the set-up. FIrst just to the key light. Compare against the direct flash baseline. You will see more change in the character of the highlights, less in the shadows.

As you try bigger and bigger modifiers you will reach a point where the logistics of wrangling them in the wind trump the difference vs smaller ones in the character of the lighting. You may conclude that you can get by with a much smaller modifier than you assumed before the test. The test is necessary because you need side-by-side comparison of images to grasp the subtle differences.

For whatever size you find works pluses of a SB vs umbrella are shape ( you can pick a round or square SB) and reflection of the source in the catchlights (the ribs of an umbrella seen in the catchlight reflection can be distracting) and efficiency (smaller foot print, less of the power wasted lighting things not in the photo).



Mar 02, 2011 at 04:27 PM
colinm
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p.1 #5 · Softbox vs Umbrella for Outdoor Shots?


Depending on what you're lighting with, beauty dishes can be a great option for the out of doors. They don't work quite as nicely with Speedlites, but if you're using monolights or a pack & head system they're brilliant.


Mar 02, 2011 at 05:53 PM
Mark_L
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p.1 #6 · Softbox vs Umbrella for Outdoor Shots?


Softboxes are measurably better but are still not great in any wind. I use tent pegs on the legs of my lightstand and can shoot with an umbrella in some pretty reasonable wind if it is facing into it and with no extra weight. The limitation is obvious though!

I have found hanging my camera bag off the stand helps a lot too.



Mar 02, 2011 at 09:46 PM
Stephen Elms
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p.1 #7 · Softbox vs Umbrella for Outdoor Shots?


Thanks for the input so far guys, I totally appreciate it....I am likely going to be using an assistant for future shoots so the wind issue will not be as big a factor....Now I just have to determine what kind of lighting I prefer...


Mar 02, 2011 at 09:56 PM
allstarimaging
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p.1 #8 · Softbox vs Umbrella for Outdoor Shots?


With an assistant available another option for you is to shoot the speedlight through a lastolite tri grip panel. It is a method that I saw Joe McNally demonstrate and one I use on all of my outdoor senior portraits. Gives you great soft fill, and allows you to move things around very easily.
Jack



Mar 02, 2011 at 10:00 PM
Stephen Elms
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p.1 #9 · Softbox vs Umbrella for Outdoor Shots?


Hmmm I will check that out....Wow there sure are lots of options lol


Mar 02, 2011 at 10:02 PM
Stephen Elms
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p.1 #10 · Softbox vs Umbrella for Outdoor Shots?


Jack that idea is intriguing me...Can you explain how you shoot the flash through the Lastolite? Is the flash on a stand and the assistant holds the Tri Grip between the flash and the subject? What size Tri Grip are you using? I kind of like the versatility of this idea...

Thanks!



Mar 02, 2011 at 10:22 PM
 

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DigMeTX
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p.1 #11 · Softbox vs Umbrella for Outdoor Shots?


Stephen

He often has the assistant holding the trigrip in one hand and the flash in the other. Much quicker and easier to make adjustments. You should check out McNally's book The Hot Shoe Diaries. Lots of great ideas in there

brad



Mar 02, 2011 at 11:40 PM
Stephen Elms
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p.1 #12 · Softbox vs Umbrella for Outdoor Shots?


Hmmm so no lightstand or anything eh? I will check out that book as I have heard it is fantastic. I am just reading David Zisers book now so once I finish that I will get the other one.

Thanks again!



Mar 03, 2011 at 12:07 AM
allstarimaging
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p.1 #13 · Softbox vs Umbrella for Outdoor Shots?


Hi Stephen,

On the senior sessions that I do usually the mother is available to help out. I just have them hold the Nikon SB_800 against the Lastolite trigrip and you can easily move the light source closer or father away to the subject to get the fill you want. One of the things that McNally demonstrated was to keep the SB-800 right up tight to the panel and you get a better light by having the source as close to the subject as you can. I adjust the flash output using a Nikon SU_800. Couple of test shots to get the right look and your all set.

Jack











Edited on Mar 03, 2011 at 02:02 AM · View previous versions



Mar 03, 2011 at 01:59 AM
Stephen Elms
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p.1 #14 · Softbox vs Umbrella for Outdoor Shots?


Thanks Jack I have been looking into this since you mentioned it. What size Trigrip do you use for this?


Mar 03, 2011 at 02:01 AM
Gregg Heckler
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p.1 #15 · Softbox vs Umbrella for Outdoor Shots?


Nice work Jack, good, simple lesson.


Mar 03, 2011 at 02:19 AM
bobbyz
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p.1 #16 · Softbox vs Umbrella for Outdoor Shots?


If you holding the trigrip and flash in hands why not get painters pole with kacey adapter and use Qbox24" on it. Ask assistant to hold it which ever way you want. Not much problem with the wind.

Qbox24"



I have been using kacey beauty dish with dual speedlites also. Lot heavier setup than simple QBox24" with one speedlite though.

Kacey Dish


Edited on Mar 03, 2011 at 08:46 PM · View previous versions



Mar 03, 2011 at 08:42 PM
Stephen Elms
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p.1 #17 · Softbox vs Umbrella for Outdoor Shots?


Funny you say that as I ordered my Kacey adapter the other night as I plan on doing just that....hmmmm so many options. Once I put together my painters pole rig I'll have to experiment a bit I guess.


Mar 03, 2011 at 08:45 PM
bobbyz
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p.1 #18 · Softbox vs Umbrella for Outdoor Shots?


Stephen Elms wrote:
Funny you say that as I ordered my Kacey adapter the other night as I plan on doing just that....hmmmm so many options. Once I put together my painters pole rig I'll have to experiment a bit I guess.


My problem with painters pole is that my assistant (usually my wife tor models mom/friend) won't hold it steady where I want it so I have gone back to using lighstands. I am getting more solid stand today where I can roll it. That should atleast help on level surfaces when using vagabond.



Mar 03, 2011 at 08:48 PM
Stephen Elms
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p.1 #19 · Softbox vs Umbrella for Outdoor Shots?


Does the Qbox bracket allow a Pocket Wizard to be attached under the flash unit itself?


Mar 03, 2011 at 08:49 PM
DigMeTX
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p.1 #20 · Softbox vs Umbrella for Outdoor Shots?


allstarimaging wrote:
One of the things that McNally demonstrated was to keep the SB-800 right up tight to the panel and you get a better light by having the source as close to the subject as you can.


That's odd. In his book The Hot Shoe Diaries he talks about the need to have the flash about a foot and a half or so back from the trigrip and any other lastolite surfaced type panels that he shoots through such as the 3x3 and 6x3 panels in order for the light to disperse over a greater area and create more pleasing light. He also shows pictures of shots being taken with trigrips and the assistants are indeed holding the flash about a foot and a half back.

brad



Mar 03, 2011 at 09:38 PM
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