What’s the Difference? is a series of video lighting tutorials. Each episode responds to a single question. In this episode, Jared Platt compares shooting with a Snoot, a Softbox and a gridded Softbox. The entire series, including all videos, articles and lighting diagrams, is available at our website. And feel free to leave a question to Jared in the comment section if you have one!
Every portrait has a subject and a background. Sometimes the subject is leaning against the background and sometimes the background is a mountain 10 miles away. But no matter what the background is, the photographer must consider the lighting on the background, the lighting on the subject and how the two relate.
In this comparison, we used three different Light Shaping Tools to light our model, and as you can see below, the modifiers we chose made a big difference on the model and on the background as well.
What’s the Difference between a Softbox and a Gridded Softbox?
Lighting the Background
In this case, the background was a fascinating, old wood door at Ashley Castle in Chandler, Arizona. The door had so much character, and it was important for me to emphasize its textures, woodwork and volume. To do this, we needed to use very hard cross light from the left, which we accomplished with two Profoto B1 Off-Camera Flashes, modified with an OCF Grid and an OCF Barndoor. With the light being directed only at the door, we were now free to light our model independently from the background.
Lighting the Model
For our main light on the model, we used a Profoto B2 Off-Camera Flash with two B2 Heads off the left edge of the frame (one higher, coming down on her, and one lower helping to fill in the dress). Throughout the entire test, we only replaced the Light Shaping Tool on the higher B2 Head.
Let’s first look at the results of the OCF Snoot. The Snoot created a very small light source and therefore created harsh shadows under her chin and on her cheek. Of course, this also keeps the light traveling in one direction, which disallowed the light hitting the door. In this first shot, the background and the model are lit independently of each other and the harsh light on her matched the harsh light on the door.
The Gridded Softbox
Second, let’s look at the results of our next test, which was photographed with a gridded Profoto OCF Softbox 2×3′. Having a Softgrid on the softbox kept the light running in one direction, so the main light did not also light the door. Observe how the light on the background does not change between the Snoot and the Softgrid!
But in this case (because the light source is much bigger), the transitions on the neck and cheek are quite beautiful. With a gridded Softbox, we get the best of both worlds. We get the soft transitions of a large light source, and we are able to avoid spilling our light somewhere we don’t want to it.
The Softbox Alone
Our third and final test was with a Profoto OCF Softbox 2×3′ without a Softgrid. After removing the Softgrid from the softbox, we got the same soft transitions between light and dark on our model’s face and neck, but the light spilled all over the background. With the door as bright as our model and the drama of thecross light lost, the shot became less interesting. The background really does matter!
Comparing this third test to either of the previous two shows the importance of paying attention to the way the background is lit and what a significant change each and every Light Shaping Tool makes.
So pay attention to your background lighting, and learn how your lights react to different modifiers. Because one modifier can make or break the image.