The Big Octa

The Big Octa

Like any other light the big Octabox at the Atomic Canary 's Baltimore studio is not a one trick pony. Using it is pretty easy — like falling off a log. Truthfully it's hard to go way wrong with a light that big which can mean that it makes pictures that all look the same. The key word is can but it doesn't have to. It all depends on how you use it.

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If you use it in what we'll call a typical fashion you'll definitely end up with a typical big octabox look. What's that?

  • Low contrast
  • Open shadows
  • Hard to tell exactly what direction light is coming from in a lot of cases
  • Not a lot of falloff
  • Minor positioning changes don't show up much.

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Why is this? The short answer is in most cases an eight foot octabox is used relatively far away with a ton of "working room" for the subject and the photographer. In just about any space this causes a heck of a lot of bounce-back from walls, floor, ceiling… In a nutshell light coming from everywhere. Not a bad thing if that's what you want.

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Move it in really close and everything changes. You still get big broad highlights (especially on specular surfaces — think car advert). You'll still get really broad, smooth highlight to shadow transitions. The difference is you'll also get more and more highlight to shadow contrast the closer you go. Why? We'll, even though you still have a hell of a lot of bounce-back it will be far less intense compared to the light soruce itself. I won't go into the physics of it — boring.

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Just take a look at the images included. See those white sheets? They're acting like a white reflector that's literally right up against the subject and they certainly have a visible effect but not nearly as much as light colored walls, the floor, etc when used far away. Heck, used as close as this was all that bounce-back from everything but the sheets contributes nothing.

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The other part is using fairly extreme angles and shooting from the shadow side… or not. I've included a few random shots that illustrate shooting from the highlight side, the middle, and all the way to the shadow side as well. Give it a try if you never did before. It's still fairly easy to shoot with but you can get a much more contrasty look than you might think with an 8-foot light.

Almost forgot, how close were these random sample shots? Well, really really close. That big octabox was 3 feet away. Keep in mind when using it this close you may want to play around with tilt and angle so you don't get too much falloff on your subject.

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Post by Atomic Canary

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