The most powerful lighting tool in my inventory...

Do you see the instrument? Is it a Profoto? Is it Broncolor? Is it a fluorescent? How many watt seconds? What's the CRI? How about the color temperature? Do I have a beauty dish in the mix? Is it bare bulb? I can barely restrain myself. Is there a radio trigger? Is it a good one? Is it a Pocket Wizard? How high can it sync? Can I change the exposure from the camera position? Well, maybe.

But of course you know that I'm not talking about whatever metal and glass unit is hidden behind the 74 by 74 inch white diffusion screen, I am talking about the diffusion screen itself. It cost me about $100 ten or fifteen years ago. That included the soft, shimmery, nylon diffusion material as well as the frame. It's held in place by two ancient light stands.

And I have used this as a light modifier in hundreds and hundreds of shoots, including three or four of the shoots from which I've posted images here in the last week or so. I've used it to diffuse terrific Texas sun on outdoor shoots. I've used it as a big reflector. But mostly I've used it the way we would have used a big, wonderful soft box in years gone by. It's been an integral, defining part of many of my shoots.

It's been used along side of Kodak, Canon, Nikon, Leica, Hasselblad, Olympus, Panasonic and Samsung cameras. It's seen twenty or thirty or forty thousand dollars of cameras and lenses come and go. But it's still here. It's still the bedrock and aesthetic magician of many, many shoots and it still only cost me ..... $100.

In the example above I was shooting for Zach Theatre. The magic light unit of the moment? An old and crusty 1,000 watt, open faced tungsten light. As cheap and old tech as dirt. The final result?
A wonderful season brochure and accompanying ad campaign. The sale of hundreds of thousands of dollars of theater tickets. The paychecks of dozens of actors and staff. From a well used modifier and an old, non-automated light. And, an older, 12 megapixel camera.

The most powerful tool in the lighting inventory is little more than a bed sheet. Charge for what you know. Charge for how you see. Not for the dollar value and novelty of your tools.


John Lucia said...

A fun, quick little read. Feels reassuring to read after stumbling upon a long forgotten muse in quirky, zero-budget studio setups for product photography last night. :)

Carlo Santin said...

I really appreciate it every time you discuss lighting, probably because it's the one area of my own photography that really needs to improve. Cameras are a bore, they are all good now, regardless of sensor size. One would really have to work hard to find a bad camera these days.

Lighting is a very personal choice and one of the few ways we can distinguish our work and create art that has value. I hope you continue to explore lighting on VSL (the how part), and the why of photography. Your experiences on paying gigs and working with clients is always interesting as well. I don't really care if you shoot a Fuji or a Panasonic, a "full frame" sensor or a point and shoot.

Kirk Tuck said...

Thanks Carlo, I appreciate the good feedback. More lighting.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Kirk. Can I ask what the dimensions are and perhaps would you know of any that are currently available that are similar in size/design?

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Anonymous. Yes, of course. The panel I'm currently using is from Photoflex. Here's their info page: https://www.photoflex.com/products/category/litepanels

I'm pretty sure both Amazon and B&H carry them.

Get the mounting clamps!

Craig Yuill said...

Several years ago I constructed a 2'x2' softbox out of foam-core board, lining it with reflective material, and using milky-white shower curtain liner for the diffusion material. (I couldn't afford to buy a softbox, but wanted to experiment with using one after reading a very good book on studio still-life photography.) I used an off-brand flash unit as the main light source. I had been led to believe that it was necessary to use a "closed box" design to avoid light "spilling" out of the box and reflecting off of various surfaces. I see that your diffuser is much larger than what I was using (Nice!), and that the space behind it is open. Have you found light "spillage" to be a problem with this kind of set up?

Kirk Tuck said...

Craig, take a good look at the theater space I was shooting in. Black walls. But even in a white room you can put up black cards or scrims to cut spill or use distance and our friend "the inverse square law" to take care of spill. Best way to find out? Set it up and shoot it.

Thanks for commenting!

Anonymous said...

"I am talking about the diffusion screen itself. It cost me about $100 ten or fifteen years ago."

Well, fifteen years later, it's still about the same price. Well, some of them go up to $200 or so. According to my recent research, as I'm currently shopping for one or two of those. One like that, another bigger one with its own feet. For the same reasons you described, because of its versatility in photo- and videography, indoors and outdoors. Scrims are cool, they are sort of portable North windows.

"I've used it to diffuse terrific Texas sun on outdoor shoots."

Here along the coast line we only dream about doing that, at least without an army of assistants or two truckloads of ballast. Well, at least we don't really need any wind machines. Maybe it's the other way around over there in the upcountry. ;)