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Old March 27th, 2007, 02:05 PM   #1
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soft light question

From what I've gathered about this far, soft light options could include: a soft box, bouncing light off foam core or a reflector, shining a light through diffusion material, or bouncing it off an umbrella. So far so good. I've noticed though that some fixtures designed for soft light have a unique, scooped kind of shape, for instance the Arri Soft Key tungsten, the DeSisti Botticelli, and the Mole-Richardson baby and super softlights. Could somebody explain for me the practical benefits of that kind of design. Is the quality of the light different then if you used a soft box? Is it as controllable? Do people usually use these with some kind of egg crate? TIA for any insight and a general thanks to the people who post here. The information that you share is indeed appreciated.
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Old March 27th, 2007, 09:23 PM   #2
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A "softlight" fixture (like the mole for instance) basically uses an indirection hood with anything from painted white or silver in the inside of the hood to hammered aluminum. This was one of the oldest and most classic designs for diffusion built into a studio type fixture. The light source is hidden down inside the fixture and shines up into the hood at the soft reflection surface and out onto its subject. Yes, sometimes they use eggcrates with these for extra control and even barndoors at times. I have a picture of the mole softlight with an eggcrate and it has pretty big apertures in it and is fairly deep (looks to be almost 2 inches).

The newer softbox which has been more popular in photography studios until recent years is a less durable (and lighter/portable) idea which accomplishes the same thing by adding a big reflector around the light source and attaching a silk diffuser to the front. The combo of the big reflector and the silk increases the surface area the light is eminating from thereby diffusing it. Eggcrates can be used with these. I haven't seen a barndoor for a softbox--given their delicate nature I can't imagine how you would do it very well. People just end up using black foam core a lot of times to control spill at the sides or top.

Both accomplish the goal of diffusion but the look could be slightly different based on the color of reflector in either style light, type of silk on a softbox, etc.

A fluorescent light accomplishes the same thing too without silk or indirection hood. Anything which increases the surface area of the light diffuses it and that's an inherent quality of fluorescent lighting.
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Old March 28th, 2007, 02:49 PM   #3
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Thanks Richard for your reply. The older style softlight looks more bullet proof and like it would be much quicker to set up and take up less space. But I intuitively think that the silk on the front of newer soft boxes probably makes a big difference. Have these older fixtures fallen out of favor? I don't think I've ever seen one used (though for the last ten years I've been in post, not in production, playing catch up now...). Would you rate one design over the other in terms of controllability/quality of light?

Also checked your cool lights link. I hadn't been thinking in tht direction but will take a closer look at what's there.
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Old March 28th, 2007, 03:09 PM   #4
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Mark,

The scoop style softlights (also called "zip" or "nook" lights) are not as popular anymore, although you still see them on a regular basis. I think of them as sort of semi-soft lights. It's the same principle as bouncing the light, but it's contained all in one unit, so your assumption about being faster to setup is correct. They do make egg-crate fixtures for these instruments, and they have much less spill than using a bounce source. They are pretty much bullet proof, and much cheaper than fabric softboxes.

The thing you have to remember is that what makes a light appear soft is the size of the light source relative to the object being lit. As an extreme example, take the sun. A definate hard source here on Earth, but if you got your actress close enough to it, you would see a beautiful soft light (right before she burst into flames). On the other hand, take an Xsmall Chimera softbox and start moving it away from the talent. You'll notice that the light becomes more like hard light than soft as it gets further away. The big reason that softboxes are popular is that it gives you a way to get really big light sources close to the talent. The largest of the zip lights are on the order of the smallest of the Chimeras, so you can see that the softbox quickly gains the upper hand on size. Being lighter and more portable doesn't hurt. The advantage of the zip lights is that they are very sourcy, so you can get a light that isn't very harsh, but still has a lot of direction to it.
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Old March 28th, 2007, 03:47 PM   #5
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Thanks Ralph, great response. I get it-
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Old March 28th, 2007, 06:13 PM   #6
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If you take a studio tour in LA you will see at least one in any studio you go too and it's usually a mole. No question that they are more sturdy and easier to setup than the softbox alternative--just a bit heavier perhaps as its an all metal / all-in-one-piece solution. For sure you get a larger surface area with a softbox too. The aperture of the largest softlight I've seen isn't as big as a 24 x 24 inch softbox which is one of the smaller common softboxes available. You can get them smaller though.
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