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Sunday, July 01, 2012

Portraits with a StarFlash® OctoDome® Strobe Kit

Lighting Equipment

In portrait lighting, photographers have the option to use umbrellas or SoftBoxes with monobloc strobes. This lesson features the benefits of the OctoDome® SoftBox when paired with a StarFlash® strobe. The OctoDome has adjustable interior walls, a circular shape, and unsurpassed design and construction. We think that after seeing this combination in action, you'll be as in love with the StarFlash and OctoDome as we are.

The debate still rages in the halls of photography over the umbrella vs. the SoftBox, especially with respect to location use. While it’s true that umbrellas offer an effective lighting solution and indeed are handy on location (perhaps even more so in a downpour), you can't beat the quality of light delivered from a Photoflex® OctoDome. The double-diffusion of the OctoDome allows the light to be placed closer to the subject without glaring highlights and impenetrable shadows. The Octagonal shape is reflected in catch-lights and reflections, providing a more natural looking light.

In this lesson we will cover how to use one Photoflex® StarFlash strobe with an OctoDome, then two lights, and also using umbrellas and a StarFlash for the background lighting. Lets get started!

(Click on any thumbnail image below for an enlarged view.)

Topics Covered:

  •     Choosing a main light
  •     Minimizing contrast with a reflector
  •     Controlling ratios through power
  •     Balancing light gradations
  •     Creating a pure white background

Before Beginning
To make your setup more convenient and versatile, we have now included the Photoflex® FlashFire™ Wireless Trigger & Receiver. Using this equipment allows you to move more freely with your camera instead of limiting yourself to within a few feet of your lights.

Even adding just one trigger and one receiver you can set your secondary lights to slave so that they fire through the infrared sensor. Either way you choose to use the FlashFire, you cannot ignore its ability to provide your "tool bag" with a great amount flexibility. [figures 1 & 2]

Figure 1

Figure 2

Choosing A Main Light

We began with one Photoflex® StarFlash strobe and one Photoflex® OctoDome SoftBox. For our backdrop, we rolled out a sheet of white seamless paper. For the set, we got a little creative by taking a patio chair and draping in a muslin backdrop to make a pleasing and non-distracting piece of furniture.

We positioned our OctoDome about two feet away from our model. It's important to note the difference two feet makes when comparing the OctoDome and an umbrella. The level of light output when using an umbrella is lower than when using a SoftBox. This is because with an umbrella, the light is pointed away from the subject and bounced into the umbrella, reflecting back toward the subject. This increases the actual distance that the light must travel.

The OctoDome, on the other hand, has double diffusion built in which allows you to aim it directly at your subject. It also allows you to place it closer to your subject, providing significantly more light output. [figure 3]

Figure 3

As you can see in our result image, the light produced by a single OctoDome is very pleasant. The shadows are somewhat deep, but the line between light and dark is soft with a natural gradation of light. No hotspots are apparent and the light is very even across our subject. A single strobe can be somewhat limiting, but coupled with the OctoDome, you can create some very flattering portrait images. [figure 4]

Figure 4

Minimizing Contrast With A Reflector
One way to fill out the shadow side of the face is to add a reflector. In this case, we used a Photoflex® MultiDisc® reflector to bounce some of the light from the strobe back into the shadows of our subject. A simple reflector reduces our contrast ratio from 1:4 to more like 1:3 and gives us the natural look of a room filled with light. [figures 5 and 6]

Figure 5

Figure 6

As you can see, one SoftBox and a reflector offers a lot of versatility for portraits whether in the studio or on location.

The result shows a nice lighting of the shadow on the right side of our subject's face. Her right eye also appears more open and "bright". Again, the MultiDisc reflector is a wonderful solution to this problem of fill light. With five different reflective/diffusive surfaces, this product can really round out your location gear for a low cost. [Figure 7]

Figure 7

Let's take a quick look at our two results so far. [figures 8 and 9] Note how filling in the shadows, even a little, can greatly improve your end result.

Figure 8

Figure 9

Controlling Ratios Through Power

To have total control over our ratios and lighting patterns, we decided to add another StarFlash. By adding another strobe, you are better able to control your contrast ratios than by using a single StarFlash with a reflector.

We set up our second OctoDome and strobe light and placed it at the inverse angle of our first light. [figures 10 and 11]

Figure 10

Figure 11

1:1 Ratio

Here, we set the power in both strobes to 100% and took a shot.

As you can see, our model's face is evenly lit with no deep shadows. Both lights have provided a great quality of light and the background has also lightened somewhat due to the increased light output.

The following figures demonstrate the increasing ratios by reducing the power of our second light source, or "fill light". [figure 12]

Figure 12

1:2 Ratio

Here, we cut the fill flash power by half, or one stop, to give us a 1:2 ratio.

The great benefit of the controllable power on the StarFlash is that you don't have to back the light up or change the lamp in order to reduce your power. The power is easily reduced with the power knob and the size of the light source remains intact, ensuring beautiful wrap-around light. [figure 13]

Figure 13

1:4 Ratio

Here, we've cut the power another stop for a 1:4 ratio.

With the mere turn of a knob, we've altered the mood of the picture and changed how the model looks: the power of less power! [figure 14]

Figure 14

Here's quick look at our ratio changes.

Notice the changes in the background exposures, as well as the differences in mood created by the lighting. [figure 15]

Figure 15

Balancing Light Gradations

With another strobe and an umbrella, we can create a nicely gradated background. Here, we placed the light so that the darker area will frame the model's face and become lighter as it passes to the fill side.

This lighting strategy of gradating light alternately on subject and background is very common among portrait photographers and lends a nice sense of tonal balance to the overall shot.

Note: When positioning your background light, make sure it does not spill onto your subject, as this may negatively affect your foreground lighting. [figures 16 & 17]

Figure 16

Figure 17

For this shot we set our fill light to achieve a 1:2 ratio.

Voila! The model now has nice separation from the background and the overall shot has a more professional look to it. [figure 18]

Figure 18

Creating A Pure White Background

If you want to completely remove the background and have it go pure white, you can add yet another strobe and umbrella to the mix. Once this was set up, we turned both umbrellas to face inward, careful not to let it spill onto our subject. We also positioned them to spread evenly over the backdrop to reduce the possibility of hot spots. [figure 19]

Figure 19

Here, the strobes really come through in terms of flexibility. Up until this point, we had been shooting with our main light set to full power. However, if we were to set the same power levels on the background strobes, we wouldn't be able to get that extra stop of power needed. To resolve this, we simply turned the power on the main and fill lights down one stop to create the desired ratio. Once everything was set, we took another shot.

In the resulting image, we can see that the lighting on our model hasn't changed but that the background is completely "blown out", meaning there is no detail in the highlights on the background. [figure 20]

This type of lighting adds flexibility with respect to digitally dropping in background images or adding type in a page layout, etc. It may also serve to just have a nice clean image without any distractions from the background.

Figure 20


In this lesson, we have demonstrated some lighting options with one, two, three and four lights. Keep in mind, however, that many effects can be achieved from just one light. With two lights and a MultiDisc®, you can light the background and maintain nice light on a subject. You can also use reflectors as backdrops. It's good to find a system that is adaptable to changing situations, but also delivers the foundations for portrait work. From there it's all up to you (and maybe your client, as they are the ones who write the checks!).

As always, have fun and experiment!

Lighting Equipment

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