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Monday, March 18, 2013

Scott Stulberg: Using the new Photoflex LiteReach

Sometimes I find myself out on a shoot and in need of a LiteStand, though I don’t really like bringing along extra gear if I don’t have to. Many times I wish I had some kind of long pole to hold up a diffuser or silk that would allow me to capture a more wide-angle shot without the diffuser being anywhere near the borders of my camera frame. Fortunately, my gear-packing choices have just gotten a whole lot simpler, thanks to a new product Photoflex released called the LiteReach Plus®. Recently, the Photoflex team asked me to test out the LiteReach Plus® in the field and this post is essentially the report of that test with photos.

Coordinating with my friend Tiffany and a couple of assistants, we all headed up to the one-of-a-kind Gold King Mine in Jerome, Arizona, not far from my home in Sedona. This place is a photographer’s paradise with about a million old junk cars, dilapidated machinery and rambling broken down shacks as far as the eye can see. I love great locations for so many kinds of shoots and this one was perfect for testing out this new gear.

In addition to the LiteReach Plus®, Photoflex also sent me their 39x39″ LitePanel frame with Diffusion fabric and the new LitePanel Hardware, which makes for an incredibly fast setup. I've used similar systems in the past that were made out of plastic, would get bent and were pretty difficult to use. Mostly, that gear would just sit on the sidelines. This new system, however, is made out of metal. It's so well designed that I knew it would be perfect, even for windy conditions, which can be extremely difficult to work in. I decided to test it out before we got to Gold King Mine and stopped at an abandoned gas station along the way. It proved to be an ideal location for my first test. The ambient light was great and all I wanted to do was diffuse the light on Tiffany's face with the LitePanel.

The LiteReach Plus® is incredibly beefy and extends probably farther than you’ll ever need it to, and it really maintains its strength when extended. It immediately makes you feel confident that you can hold a reflector, diffuser or any kind of soft box extremely high and out of the shot without risk that it'll fall apart. The hardware is built so incredibly well that it locks down super tight in seconds and you really have a comfortable feeling about it. In the image below, you can see my assistant, Patrick, holding the LiteReach Plus® against his thigh with the diffused LitePanel way above my car and above Tiffany’s face and body.

Although the car still had too much sunlight on it, I knew my crop on Tiffany would be tight and the angle of the diffusion worked out perfectly. The tight crop and diffusion overhead allowed me to capture different angles of Tiffany with different elements in the background. Although it was fairly windy at the time, Patrick was able to keep the LiteReach Plus® steady without any problems, although I made sure he was sure he wouldn't dent my car!

Here, you can see Tiffany with and without diffusion. When you don't want any part of your subject blown out from the sun, diffusing sunlight is the best way to control the contrast.

In the first image, the harsh line of sunlight across Tiffany's face is pretty distracting and unflattering and her face is also darker. In the second image, however, notice how the diffused LitePanel provides a much more soft and pleasing light quality, even in bright sunshine. Compared to the first shot, her face, shirt and even her cowboy hat have a completely different look and feel. Diffused sunlight can produce an almost ethereal soft wash of light that can make people look gorgeous, and that’s why it's used on movie sets all the time in so many scenes.

The other great advantage to the LiteReach Plus® is that your assistant and the LitePanel can be far enough away from your model to allow more angles of capture. So often, assistants are holding a diffuser or reflector very close to the model and you don't have many point-of-view options. Using LiteStands can help at times, but they need to be moved constantly and they can blow over very easily outdoors, even with sandbags attached. To have an assistant be able to hold a diffuser or reflector at angles like this and move quickly at my direction is a HUGE bonus with this type of shooting, especially outdoors.

With the two shots below, the first was shot with a Canon 5D mark III and a 500mm lens and the second with a 24-105mm lens. Two completely different perspectives but both show the advantages of using a diffusion setup like this. It simply gave me just the kind of soft light that I was looking for.

Once we got to Gold King Mine, I wanted to have Tiffany inside one of the old cars, but I also wanted to keep the same lighting setup with the diffused LitePanel and LiteReach Plus®. I noticed a funny thing happening. I realized I was actually getting pretty addicted to this setup! Over the years, there have been so many times when I wish I could have had reflectors or diffusers or even a soft box way up in the air without having to use light stands or even a ladder. And once you have something like this, you find yourself looking for reasons and locations to utilize it!

With so many broken down old cars around, this was the perfect location to test this lighting setup out. I purposely made sure we were there at a "bad" time of day (with the sun high up) in order to demonstrate that you can shoot at any time of day so long as you have the right gear.

I had Tiffany sit inside an old beat-up Ford pickup and then had Patrick once again hold the LitePanel way above her to diffuse the sunlight. This time, however, Patrick placed the huge rubber ball end of the LiteReach Plus® on the ground, as opposed to against his leg, as he'd done in the previous shot. If you've got a tired assistant on your hands, this is the way to go. All Patrick had to do was position the diffused LitePanel just where it needed to be and then steady the LiteReach Plus®, which was resting on the ground. With Patrick supporting the LitePanel so high and further away, I was able to shoot Tiffany from a variety of angles and distances.

In the image above, you can see how I was showing my other assistant how to hold the Soft Gold LiteDisc to bounce more light on Tiffany’s face. I then was able to come in tight and get some shots in this modified lighting setup. I would never have been able to capture shots like this without having great gear to modify the light.

I would have to say that there is nowhere that I travel on this planet without my Photoflex Soft Gold/White LiteDisc and White/Translucent LiteDisc in my backpack. The images that these two LiteDiscs have allowed me to capture have been too many to keep track of, and it’s one piece of equipment I tell all of my students to carry with them. Coming across great photo opportunities all over the world is one thing, but having the right gear to get just the kind of shot you want is crucial!

My mission that day was to test out the new LiteReach Plus® system and at the end of it, I came away extremely impressed with this rock solid, well-designed gear. The design team at Photoflex saw a need for more portability with lighting equipment and have come up with yet another setup that works as smooth as silk! The LiteReach Plus® and new LitePanel Hardware helped me create images that would have otherwise proven a lot more difficult to get. This gear is going to make a lot of photographers very happy!


To learn more about the equipment used in this lesson, click the links below:

LiteReach Plus
New LitePanel Hardware
39x39" LitePanel Frame (Aluminum)
39x39" LitePanel White/Translucent Fabric

32" Soft Gold/White LiteDisc
LiteReach Plus with LitePanel Kit

To see more of Scott Stulberg's work, check out his Pro Showcase page

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