Flashbender vs Lumiquest SBIII in a big, dark room

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by obi-wan-yj, Apr 19, 2011.

  1. I'm going to be shooting a reception (HS reunion, not wedding) in a couple months at a fancy dinner theatre with unusably high ceilings, dark fabric-covered walls, and (typically) very dim lighting. I'm told there will performers of some sort (magician?) on stage, but my primary subjects will be the attendees, not the performers.

    I'm generally a big fan of off-camera flash, but this room is large enough that I don't think it'll work well. I'm looking for some sort of on-camera flash modifier that won't be quite as harsh as a bare flash so that I can work the crowd and shoot groups of old friends having fun. My out-of-town brother uses a Gary Fong Lightsphere when he shoots bar shows, which is probably a similar lighting environment. However, I'm not fond of blinding everybody behind me, or of wasting most of my flash power lighting things outside my field of view. I do prefer the look of having the light source significantly higher than the lens, though.

    Two products that have caught my eye are the Rogue FlashBender (large) and the Lumiquest SoftBox III.

    FB: http://www.expoimaging.com/product_info.php?cPath=18&products_id=26&osCsid=a467nd4hv9a3svdfqv0vclbj54
    SB3: http://www.lumiquest.com/products/softbox-iii.htm

    Each costs about $40 and they're similarly sized, but are different styles of modifiers. The SBIII is closer to on-axis with the lens, but I imagine it's more efficient than the FlashBender. Have any of you compared these two modifiers, or do you have any others you'd recommend (please tell me why)?
  2. Ben,
    Either will soften your on camera light, of course. But, I don't think that either, by itself, will give you the look that you want. There is no substitute for off-camera once you get used to. I regularly shoot in some very large ballrooms with two to four QFlashes or Sunpak 544's. How big is the room? Why do you think that it is too large?
  3. Lumiquest Softbox III and gel the flash to ambient and drag the shutter for fill.
    I would hold the flash in my left hand (off camera flash) and shoot with the right hand because I dislike on-axis lighting.
    I tried to combine it with an on-camera flash as well but I found one handed shooting too heavy in the long run (with a flash in the hotshoe).
    You could combine this with a couple of off camera flashes lighting up the background a little as well - if you have enough gear.
  4. It's not so much the size, I suppose. This is a theatre, not a ballroom. The main floor is on an incline and there's a balcony that covers half of the main floor with a dark ceiling. Many of the tables on the main floor are booths with 4-foot-tall walls along the back side. There just isn't much room for corner-standing (or even balcony-mounted) flashes to reach everything. There's a photo of the main floor on the venue's home page: http://www.rococotheatre.com/
    Besides, being a HS reunion, the photographer will play a far more minor roll than I would at a wedding. People expect a photographer and his lights to be a major player at a wedding, because wedding photos are important. At this reunion, I'm trying to blend in and capture smaller groups of people having a good time. I don't want the entire house to have to work around my needs and be notified via whole-house strobes every time I shoot three friends over in the corner.
    PS, I love my Sunpak 544 as well. It's definitely the big dog in my lighting bag.
  5. Pete, that's not a bad idea. I bought a 36" remote flash cord, but I haven't used it since I got my radio triggers. I loved the look of a flash held at arm's length, but it created problems that I couldn't get past for real-world usage. Primarily, with the cord mounted to my hot shoe (I used a Canon Rebel at the time with no PC-sync), there was no place for me to attach the flash if I needed to use my left hand for something else -- like zooming. I do have a sync port on my new 7D, but there's no sync port on my 430EX flash, and none of my other manual flashes have an auto power setting that will work with the camera set more sensitive than ISO 800 + f/8 (already tried).
    I could probably live with one-handed shooting if it weren't for the inability to zoom. My 7D + vertical grip is no light-weight, but removing the grip and spare battery helps significantly.
    I do have enough gear to hang a couple flashes over the balcony, but again, I don't want to draw quite that much attention to myself, and it still won't reach up under the balcony where the bar and half the seating is located.
  6. high dark ceilings means any light directed that way will be just thrown away. You want the light to go forward so maybe a softbox on your flash would be a better option. I use a Chimera Maxi ((16" x 24") softbox in these situations.
  7. Ellis, how do you use a softbox of that size when working a crowd? Where is your flash mounted? I'm not about to carry a stand around with me all evening.
  8. To answer your question specifically, of the two modifiers you mention, I would prefer the Flashbender over the softbox. The softbox will not spread the light for some minimal reflectance off nearby objects, while the Flashbender, bent appropriately, will, as well as provide forward light which is diffused (not softened). In fact, I would prefer my own, homemade concoction, based on A Better Bounce Card, which is also made of foamy material.
    The idea is to bend the Flashbender so that some of the light does escape upward and possibly sideward while maintaining a 90 degree (or slightly backward) angle to the tilted flash head. You would still need high ISO, like 1600 though.
    As for other matters--for one handed flash use, get yourself an eye hook with a 1/4 20 thread, a cold shoe, and a wrist strap. Put the flash on the cold shoe. Wear it on your left wrist. Grab the flash when you want to use it, drop it (on the wrist strap) when you want your left hand for zooming or anything else.
    I have a Photoflex 16" softbox, and it can be configured to go on a flash bracket. So it could work when working a crowd. My biggest complaint about that would be the fact that it also will not let any light escape to help with reflectance. It will make you conspicuous though.
    Looking at the place, I would set up two off camera accent lights on either side of the stage, pointed out toward the booths, or from each of the balcony rails (the balcony on each side wall, where you enter the balcony). Accent lights, not key lights, so they are working 1 or more stops below your flash EV. They are just for separation and to help open up backgrounds.
  9. Also, the flash can be attached to railings, and possibly to what look like First Tier or Mezzanine boxes.
    When under the balcony overhang, you could bounce your flash. Which makes it convenient if using the 'open ended' Flashbender or white card, as you need not change it's configuration.
  10. Ben--thanks for asking the question. I now have yet another use for my UltraPod. It makes a great handle for a flash, and the attached Velcro strap is strong for dropping the flash to use the left hand.
    Pictured is my home made ABBC knock off. The first image shows it 'open', and the second image shows it 'closed' into a baseball glove shape via the Velcro tabs. The flash is being triggered by an ST-E2.
  11. Sorry--here's the photo.
  12. I too would advocate for a simple bounce card. I have had great success with Joe Demb's Flip It. Even in dark, light-sucking scenarios like the one you have described. Remember too that the ceiling isn't the only place you can bounce. You can bounce off table linen, even light-coloured garments. Critically, the forward component of the light from the Flip-it (or Nadine's variation on that theme) will be a whole lot softer and can yield surprisingly good results.
  13. I shoot with a hand-held off-camera speed-light all the time. The Lowel Grip shown below is available at B&H for something like $12, and you can attach a wrist strap to the bottom for security, or to let it hang while adjusting a lens. I like it because I can securely grasp it overhand and hold it in portrait orientation.
    I'd strongly suggest a wrist strap for the camera also (shown below is a Camadapter strap), which makes one handed shooting a lot easier, less tiring, and more secure.
    The trigger shown below is a Elinchrom SkyPort Speed set so I can also set the flash on a table using it's foot and shoot from any distance rather than relying on an optical trigger. When shooting this way, I usually use a speed-light on-camera for fill, and the radio trigger is mounted on a Kirk Grip wired to the camera's PC sync port.
    I use a bunch of different modifiers on the speed-light(s) ... the one shown is a Harbor Light W/A diffuser and I often also flip out the speed-light's W/A deflector ... It's still a relatively small light source but works pretty well in general due to it's bowed shape. Also use a bigger Interfit soft box when closer up.
  14. Thanks for all the suggestions!
    Lupo, I'm sure that page is referring to the standard concerts that they host from time to time and not to private parties, but I've emailed them just to make sure. Being a historical venue, they might not take kindly to mounting lights on the balcony railings, but they probably won't mind putting stands on the edge of the stage. Still not sure I want to attract that much attention, though.
    I hadn't thought of using my table-top tripod + cold shoe as a flash handle. That's a great idea. I'm sure I can rig up a wrist strap for safety. My old Sunpak 544 (the "potato masher") already has a built-in handle, but as discussed earlier, its "auto" mode can't be dialed down any lower than ISO 800+f/8. Depending on ambient, I'll probably be wanting to work at ISO 1600-3200 and f/4-5.6.
    I'll also experiment with making a foamy bounce card. I already have some snoots I made from that same material. Thanks for the great photos, Nadine.
  15. Ben--that wrist strap is not for safely--it is so you can literally drop the flash quickly so you can use your left hand for whatever. The flash will dangle from your wrist so make sure the strap is strong.
  16. Ben, you can make a small foldable softbox (just like the softbox III) out of cardboard if you want to experiment. You'll find examples on google.
  17. Ben, one of the primary advantages of using off-camera lighting is precisely the ability to avoid drawing attention to yourself. People stop noticing the off-camera flashes after a very short time, mainly because they don't move -- they become a consistent feature of the room.
    By contrast, a photographer who carries a flash around with him draws additional attention because the flash comes from a different place in the room, aimed in a different direction, with almost every pop.
    If blending in is a high priority, then just be a black hole, and rely solely on radio-triggered off-camera lights + ambient. When you do this, the only thing drawing attention to you, is you.
  18. While I see your point, Ian, I think it depends where the stationary off camera lights are. I've had a couple of cases of guests complaining about the flashes going off what they consider too close to them.
    I also think for subject aware photos (it is a HS reunion, not a wedding), which I'd expect would be part of Ben's assignment, having an on camera flash isn't going to negatively draw attention to the photographer. Also, if the environment is already heavy on lighting, such as DJ lights, one's off camera flashes are nothing in comparison. If the environment has little in the way of lighting--a very quiet lighting scenario, then the off camera flashes are more noticeable.
    Also, if photographing any kind of action, relying on off camera lights only, combined with shutter drag, would have the non-lit parts blurry due to subject motion. If using high ISO in a very dark environment, photographing action, you'd better be able to stop motion solely with shutter speed, which is a pretty tall order, even with the best high ISO cameras. And for group shots, you can't use wide apertures. So it all depends.
  19. Good point, Nadine, about irritating people who are closer to the strobes. One way to reduce this irritation is to get the strobes well above eye level of those closest to them, and then to feather the light into the room. This also reduces the tendency of a strobe to create an unwieldy hot spot right around itself.
    This doesn't completely eliminate the irritation to those in immediate proximity, but it mitigates that specific problem.
  20. I agree Ian. However, there are some people who are particularly sensitive to any kind of flashing close by. Particularly if those flashes trigger seizures. If someone complains, I don't ask, I just move the flash. It doesn't happen very often anyway--as I said, maybe twice in many, many years.

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