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Old November 6th, 2004, 04:18 PM   #1
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China balls vs flags vs boxes vs umbrellas vs cards vs disks

This seems like the China ball capitol of the world.

It appears as though softboxes were developed as an evolution of Chinese lanterns. But where you can use umbrellas & foamcore & softboxes as key lights, it seems like a China ball is too diffused and undirected to be used as a key light.

What sets China balls apart from softboxes? Is a China ball, in effect, just a disposable softbox? Or does it have special characteritics and capabilities that are unique?

If a China ball is just an inferior softbox that cannot be used as a key light, can you approach softbox-heaven by using a combination of Chinese balls and foamcore bounces?

Why do people use bounce lighting more than any other type of light diffusion? Is it because softboxes are to pricey, or, again, does bouncing light offer some advantage? Why is bouncing so definitively more common than umbrellas? Umbrellas seem very unpopular. What is a flag?

Is the fact that you can move the bounce card independent from the source light a significant advantage?
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Old November 6th, 2004, 06:26 PM   #2
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Steve, you certainly hit the ground running with your first post! Perhaps I can get the (china) ball rolling on this.

A China ball lantern is a good way to throw soft light in all directions. For example, if you need to shoot a group seated around a table you might consider placing a ball above the center of the table.

By comparison, a soft box is more directional, throwing soft light in a particular direction.

A more sophisticated version of a China ball is a pancake lantern. These are designed to hang above subjects, like balls, but are generally rectangular and feature drop-down flags in case you want to flag-off one or more directions.

I think umbrellas are not very popular for film/video primarily because they are somewhat directional yet do not offer the degree of control that a box would offer. Umbrella light tends to just spray.

Bounced light diffusion is very popular because it's cheap, reasonably controllable, versatile, and it works. Remember, the "softness" of light is determined by the size of its source. In the case of bounced light the size of the source is the size of the bounce board. In the case of a soft box, the source size is the area of the front diffusion panel.

"Flags" are any devices that cast a shadow (i.e. block light) preventing light from falling in a particular direction.

Another device to be considered for a kit is "black board". As it's name implies, this is the inverse of a bounce board and is generally a matte-black board that can be used to create "negative fill". That is, it can be used to prevent reflected light from filling the shade side of a subject. Often, folks will use foam core board with a white side and a black side so that it can be used either as a reflector or black board.

Remember, light is light. Whatever works for a particular effect is good enough. It doesn't matter a lick whether you use kitchen utensils, bed sheets, or "official" lighting grip gear.

Have fun with your projects and welcome to DV Info.
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Old November 6th, 2004, 06:40 PM   #3
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Steve:

The answers to your questions are: 1) yes, 2) yes, 3) maybe, 4) no...!!

I'll try to fold everything into an overview.

Softlights back in the day were pretty clunky and inefficient, using white painted curved surfaces to bounce the light (such as Mole zip lights). For more output, fresnels or open face lights would be punched through diffusion frames set a few feet away, which needed flags to control the spill around the outside. Chimera innovated the self-contained softbox which did the job just as well and mounted directly to the light, avoiding all that extra grip gear.

Using beadboard or foamcore to bounce light is a quick way to add a bit of fill if control of the light is not an issue, since it will spread everywhere, but give more softness than a light through a frame.

The China ball came about as a quick, inexpensive way to light a broad 360 degree area. Being lightweight, they could be flown on a boompole or clamped to any ceiling fixture. It's a great way to light a circular table; you can shoot in any direction around the table and not have to worry about photographing stands. Like a bounce light, it tends to spill everywhere, although a good China ball setup incorporates skirts that can be lowered to specific lengths on four sides.

Where a China ball is not useful is if you try to limit its spread in a makeshift way. I once watched a young DP on a big music video hang a ball off a boompole and proceed to cover it with bits of blackwrap and scraps of Duvytene secured with clothespins, leaving a 1' square of light (which gave exactly the same effect as a small Chimera). It then began to rain and all the stuff started falling off it. Needless to say, I wasn't impressed.
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Old November 6th, 2004, 06:41 PM   #4
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Ken beat me by a few minutes there. But luckily we didn't repeat each other too much--just enough to validate ourselves!
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Old November 6th, 2004, 07:50 PM   #5
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Very enlightening--it's all about directionality. To narrow the focus somewhat, what about everything besides China balls?

I am told a softbox is more idiot-proof than the alternatives. This makes sense to me, because the softbox seems to consolidate all the variables (i.e., all that grip gear) into one fixture. I wonder...are there certain types of effects that softboxes cannot achieve, relative to the other softening devices under discussion? Or is it true--if you can afford a softbox you simply should have it and use it?

I wish someone would put a nail in the coffin of umbrellas, or redeem them. I find all the grip gear variables intimidating. This is why I keep returning to the umbrella question--the thing attaches itself to the light itself, and avoids the learning curve, bulk + complexity of grip gear. Complete solution: an umbrella that is more or less analgous to the ubiquitous bounce boards, with no extra gear overhead.

But it's like umbrellas cause leprosy they're so unpopular. Nobody uses them. It can't be the price. Which leads me to believe that foamcore and it's cousins have achieved their ubiquity through versatility, but I have found precious little (specific) discussion of advanced bouncing and flagging strategy.

To do a basic 3-point lighting job with some fluency and subtlety--unless you are using umbrellas or softboxes--it appears that you require more than three lights with stands. It seems like you potentially need all manner of stands and booms and C-stands and clamps and flags and etc. If umbrellas do cause leprosy, and grip gear is required where softboxes aren't possible, can anyone provide the basis for a sound roadmap and strategy for building an effective collection of grip gear?
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Old November 6th, 2004, 08:04 PM   #6
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Just a couple additional notes on China balls.

They are great for lighting a large area. For example, I just shot Jerry Seinfeld at the Improv for the release of the "Seinfeld" dvd around Thanksgiving, and the lighting crew hung a number of china balls around the club. I believe they were the 18" diameter variety. They used standard household 60watt bulbs in each. The effect was to give a nice soft fill to the club, which was further enhanced by the use of battery powered "candles" on the tables. We were shooting at f/4, and the 60watt bulbs were just right. You could also dim them down in this situation, to give the room a warmer quality, at the sacrifice of light output. Put a number of the bulbs on the same string so you can dim them down together.

Charles story reminds me that you can make an effective "boom" with a china ball. I used one to light a couple of actors walking through a courtyard at night, justified by the porch light seen when they arrived at the front door. You can adjust the light output by varying your distance to your subject. A 1200 watt HMI par added some night blue to the scene.

You can light entirely with bounce boards, but it is a real art and takes time.

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Old November 6th, 2004, 08:26 PM   #7
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This is very helpful Wayne--it lends great insight on how you can utilize the the soft light of a lantern-type light source, without actually having a softbox.
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Old November 6th, 2004, 11:24 PM   #8
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I fixed an error in my post. The 1" square of light has been replaced by a less-postage-stamp-sized 1' square.
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Old November 12th, 2004, 12:57 AM   #9
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Umbrellas are a tool, not that popular, but they have their uses. As mentioned before they tend to spray all over the place. Part of what we want to be able to do is be God and control the light :~) . Umbrellas are better for stills. For film/video, not so great because of the spray and you have the light in front of you, you'll get really bad flare and no contrast because the light is pointing into the camera. You want to keep it behind you, but you have to be sure that you are not castng a shadow, either.

You can make a softlight more directional by putting an eggcrate on it. It will still be soft, but the contrast is increased and the light spread is narrower. This is true for zip lights, Chimeras and silks.
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Old November 13th, 2004, 05:52 PM   #10
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why does it work for still but not film/video?
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Old November 13th, 2004, 06:24 PM   #11
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If you are moving the camera around, you don't want to have to be constantly fiddling with the lights, or flags, tryng to remove flares, or avoiding casting shadows etc. On a bigger set it may not be a problem, in the confines of a smaller set it can be a pain.

I sometimes use umbrellas when I shoot stills. When I'm shooting cine/video, I like to have a more controlable source, so I will use a softbox, or Kino.

But, that said, how I light is determined by the tools available and time- which there never seems to be enough of.
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