Posted by: Dale Franks
on Saturday, July 15, 2006
In anticipation of the photo shoot that The Lovely Christine and I will be doing next week for the Pro Player Foundation, I broke down and spent the money for Gary Fong's Lightsphere II (Cloud) flash diffuser. As it happens, I have been looking for a diffuser like this for quite a while, every since I saw a well-equipped fellow from Nippon using a similar diffuser to shoot butterflies at the Wild Animal Park two years ago.
This upcoming photography commission finally convinced me to shell out the $55 apiece for both the Clear and Cloud versions of this product. After playing with them both—and they are both quite good—I've settled on the Cloud version for my use. The Lovely Christine, who acts as my second on shoots, will have to be satisfied with the Lightsphere II (Clear) for her use.
Both of the Lightspheres showed up via UPS last night. So, after watching the instructional video—which was very helpful, I've been playing with it today. One of the results of my play has been this:
I just love this shot. Not so much for the personality it captures—although it does—but for the lighting effects. This was shot with the LS Cloud, and it's just about perfect. The light is soft and even. Shadows are hardly noticeable. The colors are warm—although, I have to admit, punching the red curves slightly in Fireworks helps. Even though it's just a picture of a tabby cat, there's something about this that speaks to me, and the light is a good portion of the reason why.
Of course, there are always the old-school photogs who will ask, "So what? Why spend fifty bucks on light I can get with a bounce?"
Ah, well, that's the thing, my friend. You can't get this type of lighting with a bounce. The LS2 is both a bouncer and diffuser. Observe:
This is a quick shot with the LS Cloud. Again, the lighting is very even and soft. The most noticeable shadowing is between Kitters' head and body. Being so close to her (about 4' or 1.3m away), I expect stronger shadows. Overall though, I get a very even light. But, what happens if I just bounce the light?
Well, I don't particularly like what I get. The light is all coming from above, casting clear downward shadows. And, If I just use direct flash...
The Lightsphere is a fine product, and, in my limited testing with it, is just a dandy diffuser/bouncer.
I really don't like what I get. Direct flash just sucks so hard, it would make a fortune street-walking. The lighting is harsh, as are the shadows. Lesson #1 for amateur photographers is that direct flash lighting is the indelible mark of Cain (i.e. amateur) for newbie photographers.
The way the LS2 works is that it both provides a large diffuse point light source from the direction of the camera, it also bounces light off the ceiling. So, your subject gets hit with light coming in all directions. This markedly cuts the shadowing, and gives more even light approaching the subject from all directions.
But—and this is a big but—once you get outdoors, the LS2 is a lot less effective. Gary Fong recommends that you point the LS2 directly at the subject when shooting outdoors. This turns the LS2 into a sort of small, round, softbox, because, whether you are using the Cloud or Clear version of the product, you shoot through the same internal, cloudy dome. Thanks, but no thanks. If I need to point something directly at my subject using a flash, I already have the Lumiquest Softbox which, with its much larger, irregularly shaped diffuser, gives superior performance to the LS2 used in direct mode. If I'm gonna have to point the flash directly at the subject, then I want a diffuser that's a lot larger, and a lot less round, than the LS2.
With that said, for indoor shooting, with a relatively low ceiling, the LS2 is just unbeatable for the quality of light that it gives.
By the way, Glenn has posted this shot at his web site. It brings up the interesting questions of 1) how digital cameras capture natural light, and 2) how post-production can save a picture. Here's Glenn's original:
And here's how the same picture looks after you fiddle with the curves lightly:
In the real world, blue jeans are...well...blue, not green. You have to look at the cast of your image, and you have to cancel out image-perverting elements like a brown wood floor. Yes, the floor should be brown. But everything else in the picture shouldn't have to suffer for it.
Finally, I guess I should mention something. I don't usually use the blog as a commercial vehicle, but in this case, I'm going to. (Which reminds me: Bruce, isn't it about time you make another commercial plug?) Chris and I are in the process of making a special offer:
I'd like to offer some select people in the San Diego area—or who are willing to travel to the San Diego area—a free photo shoot. We are looking for male and female characters, entertainers, or models who are seeking to build a portfolio, but who do not have a lot of money to pay to have it done professionally. We do have some experience in the modeling and acting fields, so we are familiar with the criteria for this kind of photography.
We could meet somewhere in the San Diego area, and spend at least 4 hours doing a photo shoot. I would be accompanied by my second photographer, and she would also be shooting during the session. Each photo would be a high-resolution digital photo capable of being used for prints up to 16x20. Over the course of a 4-hour session, we would probably shoot several hundred photos, and you'd have all the originals—both good and bad—to choose pictures from to add or start your own portfolio. If you'd like to do a photo shoot with another person, such as an engagement-style photo shoot, that would be OK, too.
We would also consider shooting events, such as weddings, banquets, dinners, business parties, gallery openings, trade shows, as well.
Because we are seeking to expand our experience and portfolio in this field of photography, we are offering this to you for free. All it will cost you, if you are selected, is your time. In return, you'll get a bunch of free photos.
If you are interested, send an email message to email@example.com, containing a picture no larger than 500x500 pixels or 50kb in size, the type of photo shoot you're interested in doing and why, your contact info, and, if you have an acting/modeling resume, you can paste it into the body of your email. No attachments, please, other than the photo.
If you are selected, we will contact you to nail down the details.