Equipment I Use – Lighting

Following on from part one of a three-article series about the equipment I use, in this article I will discuss the lighting equipment I use.

Some people might be thinking “Wait, you’re a seascaper — why do you need lighting equipment?”, and fair enough; but seascaping is not all I do; I also shoot portraits and still-life, and for both of these, good lighting is important.

So, without further ado, here is a breakdown.

Flashes

I use two flash/strobe units, almost always off the camera.  I don’t like on-camera flash, as it is harsh, and frontal lighting obscures texture and form, and is unflattering on people.

The two flash units I have are the Canon Speedlite 580EX and Canon Speedlite 580EX II.  With a guide number of 58, these are the most powerful flash units Canon offers.  I tend to use the mark II more, but in most cases I shoot with both flashes, using one as a key light and the other for fill.

Umbrellas

I have three 42″ umbrellas in my rig:

  1. white translucent (shoot-through);
  2. white reflective; and
  3. silver and gold reflective.

I use my shoot-through and silver/gold umbrellas mostly.

The benefit of a shoot-through umbrella is that the light is diffused rather than bounced; it is softer and created a mood reminiscent of window lighting. Unlike a conventional umbrella off which the light is bounced, the outside convex surface of the umbrella is facing the subject, and the light shoots through the translucent material.

Of my reflective umbrellas, I use my silver and gold umbrella the most.  The benefit of the dual-colour umbrella is that the gold material produces warm tones, which is great when shooting people.

Here’s an example of one of my portraits in which I used only my gold and silver umbrella:

I'm Looking at You, Mister

I'm Looking at You, Mister

In this shot of model Stacey Reibelt, I placed my stand-mounted Canon Speedlite 580EX II to the left, 2.5m away and at a 45-degree angle.  On the flash I dialled in 1/8th power and 24mm zoom.

The ambient light was quite overcast and flat, but with a silver and gold umbrella I was able to create the appearance of afternoon golden sunlight.

Softbox

A more recent addition to my lighting rig was a softbox, albeit a small one at 40 x 30cm.  I picked this up in Melbourne incidentally, but have used it for a few shoots.

My softbox is a Photoflex LightDome Q39 XTX-20XTXS.

Like a shoot-through umbrella, a softbox contains translucent material through which the light is projected.  The difference between a softbox and a shoot-through umbrella is that a softbox contains black material on the rear, so there is no light spill.

The larger the softbox, the more soft and even the light.  I’ve had success using my softbox for model shoots as a key light, with an umbrella serving as a fill light or a hair light.

Light Stands

I have two flashes, and therefore two light stands.

The light stands I have are excellent, and I cannot recommend these highly enough.

The brand is LightPro, and these are 3.1m air-cushioned stands.  At 3.1m, they have plenty of height (more than I need most of the time), and the air-cushioning prevents the flash from impact in the event that a column drops suddenly after loosening the column screws.

These aren’t small sands, but they are light, have a good spigot, and have the capability to mount horizontal tubing for backdrops.  The spigot itself can also be positioned such that is parallel with the ground as opposed to the regular perpendicular arrangement.  It simply provides more options.

Triggers

What I have not discussed so far is how I trigger my flashes.  I use wireless (radio-frequency) triggers.  I have three PocketWizard PLUS II transceivers, which are industry-standard, very reliable, work at distances of up to 1,600ft, and offer four frequencies.

These units, being transceivers, can both send and receive signals.  Other wireless trigger systems work on the basis of a receiver connected to the flash, and a transmitter mounted on the camera’s hotshoe; PocketWizards do both in one unit.

I have three, as I need one on the camera, and one connected (via a PC sync cable) to each flash.

The only negative thing that can be said about PocketWizards is that they are very expensive.  I paid $350 for each unit, so it’s quite an expensive proposition to buy three in one hit, which was what I did.

What that money buys is reliability and peace of mind.  I have never had a problem with a PocketWizard; these units just work every time, and do not misfire.

One further down-side is that these units do not support ETTL.  I don’t consider that a show-stopper, as I shoot my flashes in manual mode and have always done so when working with off-camera lighting; but ETTL support could be handy.

Reflector/Diffuser Dish

Also in my rig is a Glanz 80cm five-in-one reflector dish.  This unit, which folds down to a 30cm (or thereabouts) diameter, contains a central unit containing white translucent material, and a reversible cover.  Each side of the cover contains a different surface, with black, white, gold and silver.  This gives the most flexibility, and the black material can be used as a backdrop when shooting table-top still-life images, or a flag to prevent light spill.

I also use it for a technique I’ve introduced to other photographers, and what I call “swooshing”.  The technique involves rapidly waving the dish near a model to make her hair blow up or back in the wind.  Here’s an example:

Terror

Terror

It can yield some interesting results.

Light Tent

The last item of lighting equipment I use is a light tent.  Mine is a Glanz 80 x 80 x 80cm tent made from a white translucent material.  A light tent works by creating a large, enveloping light source, with the illumination coming from lights positioned outside it, shooting through the fabric.  The light is bright and soft, and with backing fabrics it’s possible to create a seamless backdrop.  A light tent is great for product photography.

So, there’s a summary of my lighting equipment.  I’ll discuss the rest of my equipment as part 3 in a subsequent article.

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