Forums > Photography Talk > Lighting modifier advice

Photographer

In The Wind Photography

Posts: 5

Beaverton, Oregon, US

I am a very experienced photographer, film and digital.  However 99% of my photography has been done using available light.  I have started getting more serious about pursuing portraiture and it quickly became obvious that I need to purchase some gear.

Looking for advice on reasonably priced gear that will take me to the next level.  Something that's versatile and easy to use.  I'm considering the Rotolight Neo 2 as this seems to meet those requirements.

I do all of my shooting solo and really resist the idea of hauling around tons of equipment so I am pretty chilly about tripods or anything that needs to be held by an assistant.  The Rotolight works attached to the camera, hand held or in a light box so it appears to be flexible enough for me to grow into.

I would value the thoughts and inputs of pros who still remember when they were still learning their craft.  Thanks very much in advance!

May 27 21 01:14 pm Link

Photographer

PhotographybyT

Posts: 7946

Monterey, California, US

I'm not sure that this light will take anyone to the next level. After reading a few reviews, it seems that this light is very underpowered. You could get a few speedlights for less that could offer more flexibility and power for most types of lighting situations. I would even consider an entry level monolight before going with the Roto Neo 2.

May 27 21 05:33 pm Link

Photographer

LightDreams

Posts: 2871

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

I'm going to take a wild guess and assume (maybe incorrectly) that you may have been watching some of the Jason Lanier related videos.

If so, just keep in mind his choice of cameras and lenses to do a good job of handling that kind of lower light output.  You'll also notice how many of his video shoots are particularly well suited to low light and/or continuous low light fill situations.

Along the lines of "the right tool for the job", you might want to consider what you think YOUR particular usage will be and whether that lower powered lighting is really a good match for you or not...

May 27 21 07:55 pm Link

Photographer

Studio NSFW

Posts: 457

Pacifica, California, US

"The next level" generally involves detaching your light source from your camera. Unless you are inspired by mug shots and mom photos, that is.

I'd start looking at Paul C. Buff stuff. Einsteins if your wallet supports it, and a basic reflector and umbrella set for same.

And you need a stand, or to learn to be creative with the various mini pin clamp mount options out there.

For a few hundred bucks less, you can get the Digi-bees - less output but super nice on location with a battery.

Its a system you can grow into. 

If I had to pick one modifier for model photography to start with, it would be a white translucent umbrella.

Almost everything in my port has at least one Einstein used in it somewhere.

Any argument about your physical limitations in using stands and external lights...well...if you argue for your own limitations, you will never lose them.

May 27 21 08:10 pm Link

Photographer

LightEnough

Posts: 62

Washington, District of Columbia, US

You really need to get the lights off camera. LED anythings are OK for adding light in a low light situation but don't have much power. Monolights, of any brand, battery-powered or not are fine, but I kind of think you could get a lot of bang for the buck with a 1 or 2 speedlites and a radio trigger. Add a1 or 2 light stands and an umbrella, say about 30" to 42" inches in diameter, and sandbags (plus tent pegs) please, and you will be good to go.

If you want to keep it more simple / low impact than that, just try 1 speedlite and learn how to use it on camera. There's a great book about speedlites by Syl Arena. DM me if you need more details.

May 28 21 10:32 am Link

Photographer

Mark Salo

Posts: 11156

Olney, Maryland, US

Speedlites and off camera flash?
Check out https://strobist.blogspot.com/

May 28 21 12:20 pm Link

Photographer

Motordrive Photography

Posts: 7014

Lodi, California, US

All else aside, it's hard to  say the part with Rotolight and reasonably priced in the
same sentance.

For value and variety, I like the Godox line (or Flashpoint branded),
from 100ws to 600ws, very portable with included rechargeable battery.

You should have an idea of the modifier to use, as a large grided octobox eats
up much more power than a small reflector dish. There are also thousands
of used Alien Bees and White Lightning that I can tell first hand are basically
bullet proof, but when you add a Vagabond for location work, are not quite
as good of a deal as the Godox in my opinion.

May 28 21 12:37 pm Link

Photographer

63fotos

Posts: 469

Alhambra, California, US

PhotographybyT wrote:
I'm not sure that this light will take anyone to the next level. After reading a few reviews, it seems that this light is very underpowered. You could get a few speedlights for less that could offer more flexibility and power for most types of lighting situations. I would even consider an entry level monolight before going with the Roto Neo 2.

I agree, kind of got suckered into buying one by Jason Lanier. I am very disappointed with it.

May 29 21 07:18 am Link

Photographer

AgX

Posts: 2806

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US

I agree with some others that “next level” and “grow into” suggest to me off camera lighting sources. If you think you’ll be shooting video, then obviously the following is not applicable. Two used speedlights, remote triggers, lightweight lightstands, and speedlight brackets that allow for a variety of modifiers (I like Bowens S-Type because there are lots of compatible third party modifiers) might provide a good base to learn about creating and carving artificial light in a very portable system. You could get all of that for less than the cost of a single Neo 2. If you learn that you need more power in the future, the speedlights still work great for fill/hair lights in combination with any monolight that you might purchase as a main light.

Of course, a lot really depends on what you shoot now, what you think you’ll shoot, how much power you’ll need, and how strong your aversion to tripods/lightstands is. But I think that a single hotshoe mounted light source (from any manufacturer) is going to be somewhat limiting in creating interesting light, and not particularly versatile. Even if all you wanted to do was portraiture, a single on-camera light is really going to create only one kind of portrait.

If you go the speedlight route, https://strobist.blogspot.com/ is a commonly recommended site for ideas and concepts.

May 29 21 08:09 am Link

Photographer

In The Wind Photography

Posts: 5

Beaverton, Oregon, US

I very much want to thank those who responded for the generosity of their time and knowledge.  I have always subscribed to the "Elmer" concept of experienced folks bringing in the next generation.  In my old age I have endeavored to pay it forward in areas where I am an expert.  With photography, sadly, after 40+ years of practicing my craft what I have mostly succeeded in doing is understanding just how little I know and how much more I have to learn.  It's always been a source of frustration to me how little I understand about light.

To answer several questions:  I have no interest whatever in video and likely never will.  Also, except for a half dozen or so weddings (on film) and playing around with street photography the majority of my body of work involves stationary objects, mostly travel or landscape related.  I travel by motorcycle and when I am out and about I try to NOT look like a photographer so that means no assistant, no tripods, no obvious photography gear.  I'm very "old school" and shoot full manual including focus.  I don't even own a zoom lens and shoot primarily with a Zeiss 50mm lens.  I am definitely not a gear hound.

Portraiture is new to me although I've dabbled with it in the past.  While I want to purchase gear that is versatile and can be grown into, my main goal at the moment is to better illuminate faces (and the subject model generally).  I thought, apparently incorrectly, that the rotolight neo would do this.  I do have an old Nikon SB-28 flash and long cable for off camera flash but it's a bit too complicated for me to work using my D810.  I suppose I could invest some time getting to understand how to work the controls but it strikes me that the light from a bare flash is just too harsh for portraiture work.  I've seen many "beauty dishes" used and perhaps that's something I should look into.  Big issue for me is that when I am working with a model I can't be screwing around trying to figure out how to work the equipment so buying something that is ridiculously easy to operate is an important factor for me.  I'm 74 and several years into dementia so I just don't have the brain power of yesteryear.

This shoot demonstrates the primary problem I'd like to work on: http://www.theoriginaleasyrider.com/reba_2021.htm

I'm not looking to overpower the sun at this point but a little fill light in the outdoor images might soften the model's face some and it would be a start in my learning voyage.  I'd also like to get into dusk/night model photography.

I've spent 40+ years learning how to work with natural light which has helped my photography a lot but is now becoming a hindrance.  I'd like to become more of a master of light and not the sun's slave.  Again, I very much appreciate everyone's time!

May 29 21 09:55 am Link

Photographer

Managing Light

Posts: 2618

Salem, Virginia, US

Easyrider wrote:
...
It's always been a source of frustration to me how little I understand about light.
...

Taking this comment and your interest in non-natural lighting, you might want to get a copy of "Light, Science and Magic" by Fil Hunter et al.

You can save some money by not buying the latest edition since you're starting from scratch.
Good luck.

May 29 21 11:17 am Link

Photographer

JBP Graphics

Posts: 98

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

I'd echo the general sentiments here, the Neo is not the light for you.

As a minimal set up once could go with a Godox AD300, a 36" Photek Softlighter or a 36 Octa, Godox X2T (N) trigger and compact stand. You can use your camera bag as the sandbag weight.

May 29 21 11:45 am Link

Photographer

LA StarShooter

Posts: 2692

Los Angeles, California, US

You present a tough situation in which to give successful advice. You ride a motorcycle etc. You don't like to look like a photographer.

If you're several years into steep decline, as you declare about your mind,  why,  monsieur, the motorcycle?. Get a cheap reliable car and do some short sessions of weight lifting so it is easy to move things. If you like the motorcycle as prop, get a pickup and you can put the motorcycle in it.  Okay? The old pickup will also carry your lights and, thanks to your new weightlifting routine you'll rock it, and the only problem is "Where did I put my keys?."

Lights, someone mentioned flashpoint--I have four of them. Just awesome. Have beauty dish and even  ones for product photography.

You can watch some videos of photographers using flashpoint and since you're doing this for joy, you may have a lot of fun learning on Youtube.

This is guy is doing high speed synch. He goes solidly over exposing for the ambient: Just slow through and also think about what old pickup you're going to buy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50-1kK9bot4&t=52s

May 29 21 12:22 pm Link

Photographer

In The Wind Photography

Posts: 5

Beaverton, Oregon, US

I'll assume your comments are sincere although they came off as a bit snarky. 

I've been living the Biker lifestyle since I rode to Sturgis the first time at age 15.  If I have to explain why I ride, you would never understand so I'll leave it at that.

There is no connection between my unfortunate and genetic cognitive decline and my virility.  If you are ever in doubt of that, insult me in a bar sometime and see how that works out for you.

Walking around with my camera in stealth mode has nothing to do with me not being able to wrestle around heavy equipment.  It has to do with not wanting to attract unwanted attention.  Set up lighting equipment and at best you'll find yourself answering questions asked by nosy Karens.  Or worse, having to deal with cops, park rangers or other self-important corporals with a clipboard.

I've been watching youtube videos for educational purposes for a very long time.  Not just to learn more about photography.  But a lot of the content providers are shills so I tend to value advice by people in forums such as this more.  No one who has offered their advice or opinions here has a dog in the fight so I tend to pay a lot more attention to what they have to say.

I have been subscribed to the Manny Ortiz channel for quite a while and I have gotten a lot out of his videos.  The link you posted was spot on for the primary problem I want to address.  I suppose once I know more I may find that employing a tripod and dish is the only way to get the results I want...  it would be silly of me to ask for advice and then ignore what experts tell me, right?

I've read a few books on the physics of light.  I have an advanced engineering degree but how light behaves has always been a black art to me.  A few pages in and I feel like I'm reading Greek.  I suppose it doesn't help that I am color blind.  I should have been more clear but I am mostly interested in improving lumination to create pleasing effects.

I always try to assume the best intentions in people so I appreciate your thoughtful input very much.

LA StarShooter wrote:
You present a tough situation in which to give successful advice. You ride a motorcycle etc. You don't like to look like a photographer.

If you're several years into steep decline, as you declare about your mind,  why,  monsieur, the motorcycle?. Get a cheap reliable car and do some short sessions of weight lifting so it is easy to move things. If you like the motorcycle as prop, get a pickup and you can put the motorcycle in it.  Okay? The old pickup will also carry your lights and, thanks to your new weightlifting routine you'll rock it, and the only problem is "Where did I put my keys?."

Lights, someone mentioned flashpoint--I have four of them. Just awesome. Have beauty dish and even  ones for product photography.

You can watch some videos of photographers using flashpoint and since you're doing this for joy, you may have a lot of fun learning on Youtube.

This is guy is doing high speed synch. He goes solidly over exposing for the ambient: Just slow through and also think about what old pickup you're going to buy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50-1kK9bot4&t=52s

May 29 21 01:07 pm Link

Photographer

LightDreams

Posts: 2871

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

I think we now have a much better idea of what you're trying to accomplish.   Unfortunately, it's a very tough combination.

It sounds like your ideal would be an on camera constant light (no flash exposures to calculate, etc, and what you see is what you get).  Something like the Roto that you mentioned, except much more powerful and portable.  It would act as a fill light when the sun is shining and casting some shadows on the face (like in your example photos that you posted).  Unfortunately, I'm not sure that's currently realistic in terms of the needed power / portability and the current pricing.

You mention a beauty dish.  In your situation I wouldn't suggest it.   Before using any kind of beauty dish, softbox, umbrella or other lighting modifier, you really need to be comfortable using an external flash or strobe of some kind.  And you mention that you're not having success with your existing speedlight.

If you find you become comfortable using an inexpensive third party TTL flash (like a Godox TT685N, or something similar) as a daytime fill flash on your Nikon, then you can move up to some kind of softbox or a smaller pop-up diffusion umbrella with, or without, a more powerful strobe lighting system.  But until then, you'd only find it more frustrating.

I know that you're not a fan of "automatic" (i.e. TTL) and I believe that your current flash doesn't support TTL on your particular camera.  But it may make the transition easier as your current combo isn't doing the trick for you.  There's more to learn to use it outdoors as a fill flash, than I've described (see YouTube), but the TTL would make the outdoor fill flash transition easier.  And the flash can still be set to manual mode later on down the road, like your current flash.  And I've deliberately suggested a relatively inexpensive flash, as we don't know if you'd end up being comfortable using it.

There's another possibility, that's really different and only useful in a few situations.  I'm thinking specifically of your example photos where the sun (and shadows on the face) are causing problems.  That's to use a smaller (because of your motorbike) popup 5 in 1 deflector / diffuser.

This is NOT a light source.  And they're quite cheap.   Useful in two scenarios similar to your example photos.

1)  When the sun is out, you can put your model with the sun behind her (so her face is in the shade) and use the silver side of the reflector to bounce some light into her (previously) shadowed face.   The advantage here is that you can SEE for yourself where you are reflecting the light.  And if it looks good, take the shot.   Normally a bigger pop-up reflector is used, but you'll need to go with one that's collapses down to a size that's suitable for your motorbike.   See any of the many YouTube videos on using a popup reflector outdoors for photos of people on sunny days.

2)  Inside the "5 in 1" versions of the popup reflector, there's also a semi transparent white material when you remove the outer reflector material (just a zipper).   If the sun is coming from behind you into the models face, you can hold up that diffuser to intercept the direct sunlight on her face (depends on the angle of the sun and your positioning, so it's not always possible).  That diffuser does just that.  It diffuses the direct sunlight into a softer, more even light before it hits her face.  Something like a softbox for the sun.  The sun is still the light source, except it's diffused / evened out to soften the light on her face.  This only works where you can hold it up in the direct line between the sun and her face.  See any of the various YouTube videos on using a diffuser outdoors for photos of people on sunny days.

You won't need it for cloudy days as the clouds act like a giant softbox diffuser for the sun.

When they're medium size or larger, it's much easier to reflect the light (or intercept the light) getting it where you want it.  But the trade off is storage size.   A larger 43" round one collapses to about 15" across (and a couple of inches thick).  While a medium 34" one would collapse to about 11 1/2 " across.  A small 24" one (hard to work with) collapses to about 9.8" across.

I know this smaller 5 in 1 popup reflector / diffuser isn't the light source approach you were looking for.  But I'm trying to think of possible "outside the box" solutions that might help you if you're not comfortable using your Nikon speedlight flash.  And that MIGHT just collapse to a somewhat "doable" size for your motorbike and that you could often just hold with your other hand.

As I say, not ideal, but you may find it might solve some situations, specifically the example photos that you posted and were looking at how you could improve.

Anyway, just an idea, for whatever you decide it's worth!

May 29 21 04:22 pm Link

Photographer

Kevin Connery

Posts: 17816

El Segundo, California, US

Easyrider wrote:
I've read a few books on the physics of light.  I have an advanced engineering degree but how light behaves has always been a black art to me.  A few pages in and I feel like I'm reading Greek.

For portraiture, the biggest factor is: The larger the light source and the closer it is to the subject(1), the softer the light. And soft light is almost always the most flattering when photographing people(2).

There's a lot of other important stuff, but keeping that one thing in mind will make the biggest difference in almost all portraiture: big=soft

Sadly, that runs counter to keeping the gear unobtrusive. Especially since portraits benefit greatly from light that's not directly on-axis/on-camera. That usually means a stand at minimum (or an assistant, or a pole with a light on it that you can hold, or similar) All of which attracts attention. sad A conundrum.

I can second the suggestion for a 5-in-one pop-up type reflector as a possible solution. They're fairly small and portable, and can be used in a variety of different ways, and can go a long ways in getting natural light to cooperate. They won't help when it's so dark you need to add light, but they can certainly make existing light more pleasing.

(1) The sun is huge, but it's so far away it appears very small. That's why direct sunlight is 'hard' or 'harsh'. On overcast days, the whole sky is the effective light source (=big), and the light is 'soft'.

(2) Dramatic light is generally not particularly soft and some of the world's best portraits have been taken with very hard light. But it's much harder to get started that way.

May 30 21 04:37 pm Link

Photographer

AG_Boston

Posts: 466

Boston, Massachusetts, US

Easyrider wrote:
I am a very experienced photographer, film and digital.  However 99% of my photography has been done using available light.  I have started getting more serious about pursuing portraiture and it quickly became obvious that I need to purchase some gear.

Looking for advice on reasonably priced gear that will take me to the next level.  Something that's versatile and easy to use.  I'm considering the Rotolight Neo 2 as this seems to meet those requirements.

I do all of my shooting solo and really resist the idea of hauling around tons of equipment so I am pretty chilly about tripods or anything that needs to be held by an assistant.  The Rotolight works attached to the camera, hand held or in a light box so it appears to be flexible enough for me to grow into.

I would value the thoughts and inputs of pros who still remember when they were still learning their craft.  Thanks very much in advance!

Good God that Rotolight Neo 2 is a piece of...

I'm with the others who are advocating for some low cost speedlites.

The settings for the Lanier shoot were f/1.4, 1/60sec, and ISO400. Years ago I built my own LED flash and took the image linked below. I was able to set my camera to f/8.0, 1/160, and ISO400. I also had the LED flash about 6' away from the model, whereas the Rotolight in the Lanier shoot is right in her face. To get a lot of light out of LEDs is complex, and expensive. My flash would have to sell for upwards of $10k for me to make any type of profit.

I will again advocate for the speedlites. OR, for the motorcycle images, a good reflector.

https://www.modelmayhem.com/portfolio/pic/44861492

May 30 21 06:27 pm Link

Photographer

Joey

Posts: 457

Orange, California, US

Look up Peter Coulsen on YouTube
https://youtu.be/0WJohcv17dc

Jun 08 21 01:15 am Link

Photographer

Weldphoto

Posts: 725

Charleston, South Carolina, US

Look up Peter Coulsen on YouTube
https://youtu.be/0WJohcv17dc

Agree, he offers wonderful advice in a delightful, light way with beautiful models. He offers these at no cost. Well worth looking at, and lots of fun.

Jun 08 21 11:22 am Link

Photographer

Weldphoto

Posts: 725

Charleston, South Carolina, US

Jun 08 21 12:25 pm Link

Photographer

FIFTYONE PHOTOGRAPHY

Posts: 6516

Uniontown, Pennsylvania, US

the humble reflector

disclaimer: not a Pro.

Jun 08 21 04:14 pm Link

Photographer

Dan OMell

Posts: 1413

Charlotte, North Carolina, US

you could not be wrong with Godox line of products, IMHO
their universe has everything in this department, prices are very competitive, and quality isn't bad.
yes, made in China, but Adorama approves and ever re-brands sometimes

Jun 20 21 10:58 pm Link

Retoucher

Selena Jain

Posts: 101

Nottingham, England, United Kingdom

My preferable light modifier is Octabox. An octabox serves up soft light just like a softbox. But it spreads its light around more, just like an umbrella. Octaboxes are fantastic for lighting large groups evenly. Plus, they give round catchlights.

Jul 08 21 04:13 am Link

Retoucher

RuthCrawford

Posts: 16

Richmond, California, US

Nice shot. Especially the light and texture
https://fixthephoto.com/reflection-phot … -tips.html

Jul 08 21 11:02 am Link

Photographer

Eye of the World

Posts: 1383

Corvallis, Oregon, US

Easyrider wrote:
I do have an old Nikon SB-28 flash and long cable for off camera flash but it's a bit too complicated for me to work using my D810.  I suppose I could invest some time getting to understand how to work the controls but it strikes me that the light from a bare flash is just too harsh for portraiture work.  I've seen many "beauty dishes" used and perhaps that's something I should look into.  Big issue for me is that when I am working with a model I can't be screwing around trying to figure out how to work the equipment so buying something that is ridiculously easy to operate is an important factor for me.  I'm 74 and several years into dementia so I just don't have the brain power of yesteryear.

Could you explain what about the SB-28 is being too complicated? Any of the other strobe or speed light options being recommended will be equally or more complicated. If we can understand your SB-28 issue better suggestions can be made. Outdoor portraits can make use of sunlight reflected off of white or light colored walls with the model in open shade, with your speed light bounced, with the reflector option and more. There are many ways to skin that cat that will also fulfill your desire to be as unobtrusive as possible.

Jul 09 21 07:27 am Link

Photographer

1963 Photography

Posts: 1

Arcata, California, US

Managing Light wrote:

Taking this comment and your interest in non-natural lighting, you might want to get a copy of "Light, Science and Magic" by Fil Hunter et al.

You can save some money by not buying the latest edition since you're starting from scratch.
Good luck.

Can not recommend this book highly enough. It is foundational for lighting.

Sep 15 21 12:43 am Link

Photographer

Vector One Photography

Posts: 3722

Fort Lauderdale, Florida, US

For portraiture you have to move to multiple light sources off camera. Traditionally studio portraiture was a four light deal. Main, fill, hair light and background light.  The most important is, of course, the main and fill.  Then the decision of whether to use a light modifier and what type modifier. You can substitute a reflector for the fill, even if it's a wall. Good portrait lighting not only shows off the subject but corrects issues of the face in addition to giving you a pleasing picture.

Sep 15 21 08:47 am Link