Portable Studio Gear: Lights, Modifiers, Seamless Paper

A while back, I decided it was a good idea to buy some studio style gear.  In my online travels, a brand that kept coming up over and over again was Elinchrom.  Not only for the quality and durability of their lighting products, but also the huge range of modifiers that are available, including the massive 6.3 foot Octa light.

One of Elinchrom's entry level kits is their D-Lite line, designed for digital output control in 1/10 stop increments over their 5 stop range from ~12Ws up to 200Ws (D-Lite 2s) .  The To-Go kit comes with 2 D-Lite monolights (self-contained units which require power) in either 200Ws or 400Ws versions, plus a couple of light stands, two softboxes and carrying cases.  They're designed to be portable (though require AC power) and durable but still light weight. 

In comparison to typical hotshoe strobes or flashes, which carry about a 50Ws output, monolights typically have an edge in recycling time, more granular output adjustment and maximum power output which is important when using larger modifiers...

I picked up a set of D-Lite 2s, plus a Manfrotto background kit which is basically a couple of lightstands and a telescoping crossbar that you can hang rolls of seamless paper or other backgrounds on. 

Initially, I didn't buy any seamless paper, opting to use bedsheets instead.  After much frustration with trying endlessly to get the sheets wrinkle free, and to hang evenly, I decided that seamless paper was something that had to be put on the shopping list.

The softboxes which come with the D-Lites are not huge, one being 65x65cm and the other being 53x53cm.  Softboxes are popular because they take a small, hard light source which would normally cast very pronounced shadows and diffuse the light over a larger surface area to generate softer, more pleasing light.  The larger the softbox and surface area, the softer the light, which is why the 6 foot Octa is such a popular modifier.

Here's an example from a shoot of musician Christopher Lee lit with a single D-Lite 2 modified with a 65cm softbox:

While the D-Lites are great, and fairly portable, they still require AC power, and are still more to carry than small strobes.

Small strobes used off-camera can produce amazing results and don't require power, but light modifying options for them are more limited, and expensive.  I was eager to see how light from a softbox modifier for a strobe would look, so in digging around, found some promising reviews of Lastolite's EzyBox Hotshoe.  It folds up neatly into a small circular pouch, but unfolded, creates a nice 60cm softbox with a clamp which holds the flash inside its rear opening.  It can then be mounted on a swivel adapter and lightstand, or directly on a lightstand.

The EzyBox itself has two layers of diffusion, one layer which sits directly in front of the flash in the middle of the softbox, and then another on the front of the softbox.

Umbrellas work well to diffuse and soften light from strobes, but they don't allow a lot of control over where that light goes.  One of the big differences between umbrellas and softboxes is that softboxes are directional soft light, where umbrellas to a large extent spray soft light everywhere.  Umbrellas are much better for fill, while I find softboxes are nice as key lights.

This weekend, my assistant and I converted our dining room/family room into a studio on a couple of occasions to test out some new seamless paper, the EzyBox and a large umbrella for some fill.

The seamless paper is 9 feet wide, so finding the right location took some time.  I think we've found a setup that works.

I'm extremely happy with the seamless, though have only shot against the white so far, with black to follow.  The EzyBox proved to produce a nice light and some great shots, some of which include my assistant, and my mother's forgotten glasses.

Here's a shot of the setup as well, though as I found out later on, my assistant had forgotten to connect the cable from the Pocket Wizard to the flash, so the flash modified by the umbrella didn't fire in any of the shots.

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