opinion

Must Have New Photography Gear: Umbrellas, Octaboxes and Simple Reflectors

Must Have New Photography Gear: Umbrellas, Octaboxes and Simple Reflectors

I’ll admit it, I am a gear hound. It’s down right thrilling when the UPS guy rolls up with a box full of goodies. But perhaps even more exciting for me is the experimentation phase that ultimately comes when a new piece of equipment is dropped on my doorstep. Cameras, lights, modifiers, stands, doodads, and widgets – every new tool in your digital photography arsenal allows you to explore and expand your style, and finding out exactly how you’ll utilize these new apparatus is 90% of the fun (the other 10% obviously the joy of just opening the boxes and squealing with glee.)

Today’s New Gear: Digital Photography Light Modifiers

If you’ve read my blog in the past, then you know I am huge fan of Paul C. Buff and the gear he has engineered. His Einstein light and Cyber Commander wireless sync trigger play key roles in pretty much every commercial photo I take. But I also have a lot of other pieces from his catalog of products, and Paul C. Buff light modifiers comprise a large bulk of my inventory.

White PLM™ Umbrellas

My first product on this list is the 51″ White PLM Umbrella from PCB. I am a strong believer that you can do amazing photos with very little gear. One light, one reflector, one modifier, one camera; that’s a basic recipe for success, and if you don’t believe just look at what Annie Leibovitz has done with just such a setup.

What more gear does allow you, though, is more flexibility and control over your vision. My current stock of umbrellas is rather anemic. I have one 24 inch shoot-through white umbrella and one massive 7 foot reflective umbrella, that’s it.  My 7 foot umbrella is a work horse and goes with me everywhere, but honestly, it’s just overkill a lot of the time. It’s also hard to work with in tight spaces. Because of this I decided to buy the 51 inch shoot through from PCB and, at $30, it’s sort of a steal. 

 

Medium Foldable Octabox

Octaboxes are magic. They do all of the great things a traditional, rectangular softbox can do, only better. How so? At equivalent sizes, they give off a slightly wider spread of light. They also create amazing catch-lights in the eyes of your subjects. 

They also come with two drawbacks. First, they are usually more expensive than a same-sized softbox. Secondly, they are a pain in the ass to set up. A tension-rod based octabox can drive any normal person to the cliffs of insanity. That is, unless, you spend a little more money and get a foldable octabox! And that’s just what I did. I already had an octabox in the same size range, but the time and effort needed to get it ready meant it spent a few opportune moments in it’s bag rather than on the end of a light stand – that’s a bad thing. Now I am looking forward to using this new foldable version in situations where I may have defaulted to a regular softbox out of the necessity of time and sanity. 

 

7 inch Standard Reflector

Just as the name indicates, this is a pretty standard piece of light modifying gear. Just how standard? Well, one of these reflectors come with every Alien Bees flash head you buy, so it’s pretty ubiquitous with Paul C. Buff gear. However, my Einstein did not come with one. So, where I have one of these for each of my Alien Bees, my Einstein sits awkwardly bare of a reflector and, when it comes to basic light control, nothing quite does the job of blasting light in a particular direction better than a 7-inch reflector!

It’s pretty obvious from my work that how I work with light is more important than which camera I am using. The camera itself is just a tool to capture the information that’s put in front of it. It’s the job of your light, and the tools that shape and modify it, to make that information something that’s intriguing to the person looking at it.

Benjamin Lehman is a professional, commercial photographer who works in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as Canton, Cleveland and North East Ohio. 

Old Favorites and Cheap Gear

Image from Canon's website

The f/4.0 has never done me wrong.
Image from Canon’s website

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know I am a die-hard fan of the Canon 70-200mm f/4.0. Why? Well, it’s image quality is superb and it’s dirt cheap by comparison. As for the f/4.0’s speed, it’s not that big of a deal if you’re shooting in the studio or using lights of any sort. Sure, it’s not the best action lens out there, an f/2.8 would be better suited for that, but even that’s debatable. If you look up “action shot” on flickr, you’ll quickly notice that almost none of the best photos are taken anywhere near f/2.8 – they are often in the realm f/8 and above. So, again, why spend more for an f/2.8 when you can probably do 99.5% of the photos you want to take at f/4?

Well the time has come for me to try something new. No, I am not going to relinquish my love for the f/4 and trade-up to the 2.8, but I did have an opportunity come in that will allow me to try a 70-200mm f/2.8 from LensRentals for a week. More specifically, the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM.

That’s a lot of abbreviations in that product name, but there is one in particular I am really interested in. The “OS”, which stands for Optical Stabilization. The reason for all this is because I’ll be spending a lot of time zoomed all the way out to 200mm and I’ll be hand holding the camera the whole time. I don’t plan to be shooting much at f/2.8, but since I’ll have the chance to do so, you can bet that I’ll do some comparison shots between the Sigma at 2.8 and my trusty Canon at 4.0. Be on the look out for that review!

Secondly, I promised a month or so ago to share some information about being a professional photographer with cheap gear. I’ve always argued that your camera will be the most expensive piece of gear that you’ll own, but does the rest of your gear need to be expensive too?

Well, here is a look at some purchases I’ve made over the past few months and a quick grade on their quality.

Product
(Name of Product)
BlackRapid RSD-1BB Double
Aputure Trigmaster Plus II
Neewer S-Type Flash Bracket
Leaper Multi-functional Canvas Camera Backpack
CowboyStudio Umbrella Mount Bracket with Swivel/Tilt Bracket
ePhoto H6704 Triple Hotshoe Mount
Fotodiox 5 Feetx7 Feet Collapsible Soft Diffuser
XCSource Complete Square Filter Kit
Tamron AF 70-300mm f/4.0-5.6 Di LD Macro Zoom Lens
Price
(How Much it Costs)
$139
$60
$20
$60
$14
$29
$58
$24
$150
Grade
(Is it good?)
A+
A
B-
A-
A
B-
A+
B+
C+

And, uh, just disregard those buttons here at the bottom of the table – I am using a free table plug in and apparently, it has buttons.

The grades are based on one simple principle; Does the product work as I’d expect it to? As you can see, most of these ‘cheap’ alternatives are scoring a B or above, with a couple A+ grades in there. The one exception is the Tamron AF 70-300mm which I bought to use for some experimental photographs. For $150 bux, you get exactly what you’d expect. It’s a good lens for starters, and works pretty well in a very tight studio environment, but other than that it’s not a lens that should be anywhere on your Must Buy list.

 

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Portrait and Advertising Photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio area.