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Light Shaping Tools for Professional Photographers

Lesson 14 of 32

Different Techniques with Softboxes

Tony Corbell

Light Shaping Tools for Professional Photographers

Tony Corbell

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Lesson Info

14. Different Techniques with Softboxes

Lesson Info

Different Techniques with Softboxes

So we're gonna do something here with The Thinker. John, let me get a stool for his foot, I mean a box, I got it right here. Go ahead and have a seat. Yeah, you're sitting in just about the right spot. And I'm gonna bring that foot up right, that may be too high, let's do it like that. Yeah, and just sit up good and straight and just lean over this way for me, and your elbow, just put your elbow on your leg. Yeah, yeah, kinda like that. Good, except I gotta move ya, sorry. We gotta be off the background. Oh, we can push that background back. Let's light with that three foot octa, and then for fun... Let's leave this guy in place, right where he is, and so we can get rid of this big guy. Sorry, folks, real quick, we'll make a quick change here. Bless you. Thank you. You got that there? Yep. You got it? Yep. 'Kay. We're kind of done with him, if you wanna get him out of your hair. I'll get the octa on. And we'll put that up here. Thank you, sir. Yeah, here comes Gene. Okay. Y...

ou can squeeze it. A question... (woman speaking indistinctly) Okay, there we go. Yeah, question? I've got a question for you. Do we create some of these same effects using smaller, cheaper lights such as speed lights for example? You can. You can. Okay. And in the studio, what's interesting is, in a studio you can create a lot of these looks with speed lights with the right adapter, with the right size sources that have adapted to the speed lights. You absolutely can. Where you run out of juice, though, sometimes, is at the higher settings, without really taking your ISOs quite a bit higher. There's just a big difference. The difference in output, power output of a 500 watt second strobe, and a speed light, this is about 10 times brighter, which just gives me a lot more flexibility. But for portability, nobody can touch the speed lights. Magnalli still can't believe I'm still using mono lights, because he won't shoot with anything except speed lights now. He's like, dude, I can carry a duffle bag on board with 10 speed lights. And I said, well, yeah, and you need all 10 of those for my one head that I'm carrying on board. And a lot of batteries. So we have a battle all the time. All photographers do, all of us. We all have just enough of an ego where we think what we're doing is the best, and it's almost never the best. The other guy's always got a better idea. John, let's bring that around forward, and we're gonna take it up pretty high, yeah. And we're gonna let it, go ahead and, Jason, just bring your head this way a little bit, I'm gonna keep your shoulders kinda turned away, though. Yeah, in fact, spin that way just a little bit further. Yeah, that's good. Yeah, and turn your head around just a little bit further, right in there. John, that's probably about right, come to my way another six to eight inches, maybe 10 inches. And let it rotate slightly toward the background, just slightly. There you go, now let's bump up the, yeah. I brought it up to five. Go ahead and take it on up. Up to like seven maybe. I wanna get a good solid, crisp look here, and I want his, he's got great hair, which you know how I feel about that. I want it to be good and crisp and sharp. He's got great hair and let's keep it good and crisp. And so shooting at five, six, or eight might not give me what I want, I might need to be at 11, 11 and a half, 16. 22 and a half. Oh well, sorry, you were. And, no, I'm reading at 200 though. Okay so, so we're at a 16 and a half. 16 and a half. So I shoot 16 and a half at 100. Sorry. So, 16 and a half. So, I'll go to... I'm gonna pull this down a little bit, so I can just keep the number even. Oh, sorry. Tony, what are you doing? Yeah, when you can't quite reach it, and you're a little short guy, and you hit the button 'cause you think it's, yeah it's the power button. Sorry. Alright, let me get this guy back on over here. (beeping) So I wanna do this to start, but then I wanna change this up and show you another technique that you can use with a little small strip that's kinda fun. So we should be good to go right there. Let me back up a bit. The expression on your face is great. Don't let me crack you up or mess with you. I knew he was gonna smile, I knew he would. Totally would. Now this is your, your first book just came out and this is your jacket cover. I'll need to get rid of that left hand back there, I don't know what to do with that hand. Maybe put it back up here in your pocket or something, just stick it up here, something like that. Yeah, do that, yeah, that's even better. Good, good, good, good, good. Nobody moves. Right there. I think I'm gonna like that a lot. Here's the thing, you guys. We're just looking through and going through the subtleties of these boxes at this point. Yeah, I like that. I mean, there's a couple of things I would do differently about it, but I like the fact that, especially if I edit that and take it into a black and white, can you imagine this in a black and white? Can you visualize it, with really good texture quality coming up, good range of variable contrast coming up, maybe a tiny hit of a warming tone. Not a sepia, but maybe a copper tone, and maybe a good rebate edge, to almost a film look edge. There's a great picture in there I think, for his book jacket author portrait. You know? The professor's gotta get back to class now. Professor, let's just bring your head this way a bit. And your eyes, this time, you're gonna be right up here. Look at my hand, right up here. Yeah, look that way. Find something there that you're staring at, and keep looking. Yeah, way to go, John. Good thinking, John. John's got a very famous chair, you know. Every great photographer I know has been photographed by John and his chair. 'Kay, here we go, nobody moves, nobody moves, good. Let your chin go down, down, down, down, and just let your eye close on this one. John take that light a little further away. Around back, you mean? Yep, around back, just a little bit. Right there, and spin it away from him slightly. Toward you? Towards the background, sorry. More, more, more, right in there, good. Here we go. No lighting moves, nobody moves. Great. All I'm doing is just trying to create, I'm just trying to create a different look, and a different mood. Let me hit the space bar to pull back out of that. I just think there might be something in there, with that look, with him, and the way he looks. There could be something there. Now, if he's trying to get his career going as a model in Los Angeles, great. Then let's give him that glamour, Los Angeles, model, glamour thing. So let's do this. Let's leave lights one and two where they are, but let's take light number three, John, off of the stand, and let's put that small strip on it right there. And let's take that off the stand and put it on the ground. And we're gonna put it down below here, and I'm just gonna set it on the ground. Almost like a reflective eye lighter, just let that strip light be our eye lighter from down below. Interesting thing about a silver reflector down below, or one of those big curved eye lighters. It's really difficult to control the brightness of the eye lighter. It's nothing more than a reflectant's value of whatever you're sending to it. But if I separate that and put a strobe down there, now I can control it, I can power it up and power it down at will, to suit my taste and my needs. Does that make sense? There you go. So, let me see where we're at up here. This is at seven power, this is gonna be a lot closer, and I want it below, so let me, did you look at the power on this yet? Around four, five or so. Let's put it, oh you were exactly right. Let's put it, I'm gonna put it at five and a half. So let's do that and let's just wedge it kinda like that. Do we have another apple box? I'll just-- We do. Yeah, in the corner right behind you. Part of this... This kind of comes in almost like stage lights, foot lights for the professor who's now on Broadway reading his most recent novel. In monologue form. In monologue form, and what is the name of your most recent novel there, professor? In Monologue Form. How I hate... How I Hate Posing for Knuckleheads. (chuckling) Posing For Painters. (chuckling) Good one. So... Go ahead and sit back up, instead of leaning that time, and let's just fold your arms again, we had that goin' on earlier, and just bring your head around this way a little bit, let me just see your eyes. Kinda like that. John you wanna give me a reading on up and down, both. Yes, yes. So again I am... I'm starting to get a handle on my... There you go. 22 and a... Oh 16 1/2. Okay and the bottom one, can you just? Try to block off a little bit of that dome. There you go. 8 1/2. Okay, so it's minus two, that's just gonna open up my shadows just a little bit without adding much light, right? Does that make sense? We're two under. Okay, I can live with that. So I'm 16 on top? 16.2 or 16.3, sorry, sorry, sorry everybody. (beep) Yeah, 16.4. 16.4, okay I'm gonna pull this down just a little bit. (beeping) Okay, I'm happy, I'm happy. Here we go. Just lean over your belt a little bit, that's it, that's it right there. Good, good, good. (beep) I'm gonna do that again, I've got you leaning a little too far I think in my camera. That's better, good. Right there. Do we have... Hey John. Yeah? Can we take the stool over there? I want to put his hand out on the edge of the stool and let him stretch out just a little bit, maybe kind of like that. Yeah, just a little bit, something like that. Yeah, that's it, and bring your hands together. Yeah! (laughter) You go professor, you go. (chuckling) So in this case now I can flip back to... My horizontal. I hate calling it portrait or landscape, it's vertical or it's horizontal, I'm sorry. I also have, everybody across the country says, "You're taking a photograph, you're making a photograph, "you're not shooting." I'm shooting, I'm sorry. Tony, the battery door on your remote just popped open. Where you are is great, I just want to roll your hands that way a bit and keep them from going too low. Okay, alright let's pull one and see what happens here. And I'm watching that corner over there for the softbox. And now bring your head around this way, quite a bit more, yeah that's it, and in fact let your eyes just go straight ahead right there. That's it, right there. Oh, professor, now we're cookin'. Now we're cookin'. Hey John? Yeah? Nevermind, it's fine. Good, right there. What's wrong with that? Can we use that? Well you look a little mad. Let's do that again. (laughter) Let's do that again with you a little friendlier and maybe looking toward me just a little bit, right there. Oh way to go professor, gotcha. Relax now for a sec. Let's talk about this. Is there anything about this that is any big challenge? No, it's just thinking about it, isn't it? We're just walking through the motions, and I'm utilizing the softboxes in kind of weird and sometimes unique ways. For ten years I never had the idea of using a strip light on a background. The strip light works great on a background if you wanna create a gradient. I can turn that thing sideways, put it on the ground, and fire light up also. I can do it from the top down and have a gradient from the top. I've got so many different controls, and yes I can do some of those in post-production, but there's not a real good solid reason why I should, unless I need to show my client variety, that might be a good reason to do it. But that's really the only reason I can think of. So, let me just take a quick look at this. How's our exposure look? We got great sharpness all the way through the depth, of the width of the subject. I've got great sharpness from the front up here, all the way to the back his hair back there, his eyes sharp, his nose is sharp, everything's sharp. As opposed to, in the portrait world I did an awful lot of 5-6 portraits in my life, where the nose might be a little soft, the ears might be a little soft, but the eyes were sharp. I'm not sure where I stand on what's right and what's not right, but I know if this is gonna go on the jacket, on a book jacket, I kinda think I need it all to be sharp. If it's gonna go in his wife's study at their home, then it can maybe be different, maybe I can make it even a little bit more of a traditional portrait. But here, and again if I back that off a little bit, look at his hands, and look at his arms. Now John, do this for me, let's just feather the softbox up and just watch the natural vignette of the bottom of the octa as it raises up and up and up, right there, let's take another shot from the same position. And I'm gonna cheat and give him an extra third of a stop because I think I might had just lost a third, so I just opened up one third from 16 to F14, your eyes are gonna be right here professor, right at me, right here, good one. And I think now we just created just a little, we probably didn't create much fall-off there, but maybe a little bit. Yeah not much, let's do it again, a little bit more John. Just tip it back just a tiny bit more up. Yep, that's it, that'll do it, that'll do it right there. Here we go, here we go, nobody moves, nobody moves. Good, great. Okay. Relax for just a second. Okay, so now you can start to see the gradient on the bottom. Let me hit the F key. And you can see the fall-off, and you can start to see where it's kinda got a little bit of a natural... And it's so much quicker and easier than using the vignette later. Yes ma'am? So i just wanted to pick your brain. If you wanted his sweater to be darker and his face to be brighter, what would you do? I would probably choose to put a grid on this, or choose... I would use a grid on the octa bank. Yeah, that would do it. And you know think about it, if you think about these grids, they're very very useful for that. They're still hot right in the center, but they fall off pretty quickly on the sides and the edges, they fall off real quick. But I think this is a real usable source at three feet, and now just for fun let's give him just a little bit more specularity, let's pull off the front skin, and what you'll see is on the inside of the octa, and I'll bring it back down in position again. That? You coming down? Yeah, this one. Wrong one. (laughing) Oh John. (velcro tearing loudly) So in the center you can see that we've got that center baffle in the middle, but this thing is silver lined. This thing is gonna be pretty specular coming out of there. So in this case I'm gonna put it back down where it was. Oh... (mumbling) It's okay, I got it. We're gonna take this down at least one and a half for the fabric. And let me shoot one more, and let's just look at the difference in his skin. And what you see is the octa really does give you, you kind of have two lights in one, you got this big, mushy, soft, great thing that kinda spreads a bit, and then you've got this kind of specular hit that is a little bit of a different look, and that maybe a woman's skin can't handle, but maybe his can, I don't know. I'm just saying. You want to read that for me again real quick? I think I got close, but we'll see. Guess. My guess was, hang on, my guess is... 14. (beep) 16.1 at... Golly. So 11, 13, approximately. Close. That was a tenth off. Okay. Well not a tenth, that was a third off, sorry. Okay fine, I'll go to thirteen. But I just want to do the same thing and just kind of compare the two. And I'm... Well I would in an ideal situation take the time to go fix those other two lights and change their values, but you get the idea. Turn your head a little bit this way Jason, right there, good. Mostly I just want you to look at his face and let's talk about the different value of the highlights and the shadows when this pops up. Okay, so what we're seeing, there's a little bit more shine on his skin, but by pulling back down the brightness, I held... The density values without losing the highlights, but it's still just a little bit shiny, and in a real situation I might just have the make up artist come in and just hit him with a powder puff. Poof! Or I spray with dulling spray, I just spray him off. (laughter) Thank you, I got you. Go take a break. Go have a martini with Mona for a few minutes. I think this is... I think working with lights in this manner... I think getting in and testing and trying and experimenting is of huge value. One of the things that I always tell my students, the last probably four years that I had my studio in Texas, I blocked off every Friday afternoon from 2 o'clock on. That was my day that I was booked for me. And when a client would try to hire me on a Friday afternoon, I was booked, sorry, I've got an appointment. It left my Friday afternoons always free. And so if I ran into a mom and three great kids in a grocery store and I wanted to test on them, I would tell them to come by, I'm free on Friday afternoon at 3. Or if I had a new piece of equipment that came in, Friday afternoon is when I would test it. Not with my clients, I wold test it on a subject first, then use it on my clients. So those moments in my studio, by myself, with Jethro Toll turned up pretty loud is how I taught myself so many little small subtleties. And paying attention to a lot of photographers, you know, I learned a lot of this stuff from other people. I'm not the smartest guy on the planet. But I do understand now how it all kind of fits pretty well, and I don't get fooled very much. And that's the key, the key is to, you know, can you pull it off when it's... Think about it that way, we are paid to perform on demand. Can you perform on demand? Can you pay and pull it off the way you're supposed to? Miss Kenna, any questions there we need to hit? Absolutely, let us know if you have any here. You kind of just got to it by showing us by pulling that one panel off, the question had been from Providence MG, "What determines whether or not to use both layers "of diffusion or the inside layer only?" So, while we saw you choose, or show us, what is-- I didn't talk about the why. Why, yeah. So as I was talking about before, there are times when the light is just a little bit too soft. The highlight is a little bit too soft, the light can be a little bit too mushy. If I've got someone with pretty highly shiny skin or clothing you might be careful about that and you might need the double diffusion. I don't work very often at all without at least the center diffusion, but I will work sometimes with the front diffusion removed if I feel that the picture needs just a little hit of contrast, and that's kinda my way of thinking about it Kenna, it is the word contrast, because I can take it off, power it back down to minus 1 1/2 because of the density of the fabric, and I can bump my contrast in doing so. And sometimes there's a shot that I like just the way it is and the lighting is good, the direction is good, the pose is good, but I need more hit of a contrast. Well then great, pull off the front skin and I can get that pretty easily. So for me that's just the way I think about it. Well this is our section on softboxes, do you have like a go-to... softbox? Yeah, yeah. What is it? My three by four. Okay. It's an RFI box from Profoto and it's a three foot by four foot, it is the most universal one that I have and I use it the most, by far the most. And it's not so big, the four by six is great, it's a monster. You can't carry that in to somebody's home to do a home portrait, you're gonna break a lamp. You're gonna break a vase, or a vase depending on your income. (laughter) You're gonna break something. (chuckling) But with that three by four it's just a big, nice, soft source that works great. I can photograph kids with it, I can do three-quarter length with it. If I'm gonna shoot full length, and if I'm gonna show those killer shoes, I'm gonna use my four by six, so I can have exactly the same amount of light on your head as I can on your feet, because I want those shoes, and the maker of those shoes, if it's an ad I better have those shoes well lit, so I've got to have that bigger source. I can't be at a 45 with a three foot box lighting your face and exposing for you properly and let those fall. They're gonna fall down to a minus 1, minus 1 1/2. I've gotta know that's gonna happen long before I ever pull the trigger. And part of that becomes this right, after you've been doing this for a while and after you experiment a while, part of this becomes second nature. You know exactly what's gonna happen next, you've done this before. You're not a rookie at this. So... Okay? So what is then your sort of method of... Your methodology to choose which softbox in that scenario? It does depend on, are we just doing a headshot for this client? Or is this gonna be a variety of things? My girlfriend does an awful lot of high school seniors, and she does most things on location but she does do the studio quite a bit. She'll shoot a tight headshot, then she'll shoot a 3/4, then she'll shoot one with a girl on a sofa, stretched out a bit, she changes all that up, but every time she changes that up she changes her light source. From small to bigger to bigger to biggest. So there is something to be said for, what exactly is it that you're shooting? How much are you including in the picture? Can you get away with leaving the light on that you have on right now or do you take the time and the pain to change out something? And listen you guys, I know full well, for years I didn't have a dime, I had one softbox and it had to do everything. You learn to become... That's how I learned how to make that translucent fabric on the pop-up reflector look like one light, two light, three light, four light. I had to learn that because I didn't have any other choice, that's all I had. So you learn through osmosis, it all kinda comes to you after you've found yourself in trouble a few times. So for me, the three by four is by go-to, I always want a strip light with me, and I always have my five foot octa with me. Right. We'll talk about that later, but the five foot octa is another go-to source that just seems to be, it's not a perfect source for all things, but man is it good for a lot of things. It's really good for a lot of things and in people photography that's we're talking about. I'm not sure I'd use the octa much in a commercial manner for a product or an interior shot, but I certainly will for people. We had somebody ask about how you put together a softbox, so it's a great question, we haven't shown that yet in the class, so Tony I'm gonna throw it back over to you to introduce that. You know that is something that we haven't thought about but it is true, some people haven't done this or gone through this. There are some softboxes that are easy to get together, there are some that are really difficult to get together, and then there are some that you just kinda have to get through it. The Profoto boxes are not the easiest to put together but they're not hard either, you just have to kinda go through it. But the way to do it for me, and the way most of us work, is as you build it and as you put it together, it can just come together with it face down on the ground as you start putting the rods, the flexible rods into the speed ring. So John has-- I thought you were gonna say the way most of us do it is ask someone else to. (laughter) Most, yeah that's great. Oh how do I do that? Well I just call John, John can you put this together for me? Yeah I spent about four hours yesterday putting these all together, so-- John put a lot of these together for us yesterday. Would you want to do this-- Sure, so we take the small one here, basically it comes with the outer fabric and four rods, I have the rods already in, but you slide the rods in through a loop in there, and let's pull up the top here, and there's a little pocket at the end that the rod will go in, so let me... It has to fit in that little pocket or it will poke through-- Stick that into, yeah that's the tough-- After the first skin is on. Yeah, that's the toughest part is getting that into there. What's really nice about the Profoto's, they're color-coded, so I take the speed ring and I see there's a blue end on the rod here, put it into the blue, take the next one into the next blue, come around to the other side into the blue, this on here... Matches the blue and then I just do that to seat them all in, and there's the basic shape of the softbox and then we have an inner baffle that has these velcro tabs, so face it forward here and just... Kinda stick those on. And then the outer baffle, again velcro, so I just kinda put those in there. Stick it around the edges. And of course you're doing octa there's eight bars and it takes four times as much time to put it together. I cheated a little bit by taking the smallest box to put it together, but... (laughter) give you an idea of how it's done, and... When you take them apart you can leave the fabrics in place and just... You know... Pull these out. Everybody does it a little differently. But they fold pretty easily, the fabrics. If you leave the rods in place-- Yeah so it fold in-- Don't pull the rods out, that's the time-consuming part. Of course this is a brand new one and it's tight, there it is. A little stiff, yeah. But yeah, leave the rods and the diffusers in place now, and then you can fold it up, it folds up, sometimes they come with a case that slides in. I work with people who pull all the rods out, take all the velcros off, and then the next person has to put it together, it takes them an hour instead. Now I can put it together in 30 second when I just go. No time, so... That's it. Got it, thank you John. Thank you. You're welcome.

Class Description

Light is the photographer’s most powerful medium. Professional photographers know how to shape it and reflect it, divert it and redirect it. They can tame its harshness and coax it into a subtle glow, use it to dispel troublesome shadows or highlight a striking moment. 

Effectively curating light during a shoot can bridge the gap between mediocre images and truly captivating photography. All it takes to bend light to your will is knowledge of the right gear, and when to use it. Tony Corbell is a professional photographer and a master of studio lighting. Join Tony for this course, and you will learn:

  • How to use light shaping tools and their specific uses
  • How to creatively use reflectors of all kinds
  • How to use soft boxes, umbrellas, ring flashes, and other unique tools in the studio
Tony will draw on his decades of experience to teach you a full technical understanding of the gear you need to shape light to your purpose. 

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Corrective Lighting Techniques for Portraiture

Light Meter Display & F-Stop Setting for Exposure

Scene, Subject, & Light Contrast Article

Judging Image Effectiveness Criteria

Gear List

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes


Stefan Legacy

Bought this class on sale for 19$ and it was a great buy considering it was my first class I purchased on CL. Tony is an excellent teacher and demonstrates extensive knowledge on lighting and different uses of modifiers. Overall this is an excellent course for any one who is interested in learning studio lighting, this will give you a great detail of information.

a Creativelive Student

This is my first time watching Tony Corbell teach and work he was great! I am a natural light photographer and this class made me think about picking up some lights and umbrellas! You can tell he absolutely loves what he does. Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

a Creativelive Student

Important information if you want to be a photographer. Great teacher, good pace!!