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Using a portable softbox to create mood lighting

I’m always looking for new and creative ways to play with light. When I had the chance to test out the Vello Octa Softbox for Portable Flash (Large, 12″), I knew that it was portable enough that I could get some interesting angles and views with it.

While getting ready for an off-camera lighting workshop, I decided to play around with using the softbox to provide edge lighting on a subject against a black background. The setup was pretty simple, with my Nissin i60A flash mounted on a light stand, with the softbox attached. I also used a Nissin Air 1 Commander to control my flash output and trigger the light.

I wanted something with Dan that could show some emotion — to be frank, I wanted a “ticked off” moment. Initially, I tried a shot without the apple but felt like I needed to add an element of color. We found a prop apple in the studio, and I asked Dan to throw it up in the air a few times, showing very little emotion on his face.

Camera set up

I shot in manual mode, with a low ISO of 200 and f/4 aperture. The flash duration was fast enough to capture a sharp apple, at 1/80 of a second. By allowing for a bit of ambient light in the scene, I was able to achieve some motion blur on the back of the apple. You could probably get by with down to 1/60 of a second if you wanted to provide even more motion blur and brighten things up.

My flash, on the other hand, was set to 1/16 power. I wanted enough flash to light the side of Dan’s face, while also lighting part of the apple.

I was pretty happy with the photograph, as the background was perfectly black and Dan was bright enough that I could make some adjustments once I got back home.

In post-processing, I started off with doing some basic Lightroom adjustments and then brought it into Photoshop to reduce the motion blur and reflection on the apple.

I finished by using Perfectly Clear’s Beautify preset to help boost the lighting and sharpen Dan’s eyes and mouth. It made for a much more “crisp” look.

Why use a softbox?

In this case, the softbox helped to not only diffuse the light coming from my flash but also spread it out. It made for more natural lighting to the side of his face, versus not having a softbox, which would have created some harsh shadows and highlights.

The nice thing about the Vello Octa Softbox for Portable Flash (Large, 12″) is that I could have positioned it on-camera or on a light stand, as I did with Dan, to create a more creative and edgy look to the photograph.

Tools like softboxes — no matter the size — can really open you up to some creative options when it comes to lighting. Choosing to go with some edge lighting, as I did with Dan, provides for a moody and really cool photograph. And while this certainly won’t be his next professional portrait, it’s a fun one that we can reminisce about and continue to learn from.

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Rafael Jones

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