Incense

by Bart Arondson

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I've been reading Strobist lately and love the moody half-lit-half-dark effect in a lot of these types of photos. I'm a beginner and have a limited equipment budget, so I got a 45" reflective/shoot-through umbrella.

It gives great softness for the really low price. However, I find that I can't get the really dark areas/high contrast in my portraits. I think that this is because the excess light from my strobe is bouncing off my room walls and coming back at my subject. This effectively creates a new "ambient" light source (I've killed the real ambient) that prevents the deep shadows.

What are some good ways to work around this? Bonus points for being low-cost.

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5 Answers 5

up vote 5 down vote accepted

One option is called "bookends"; 4x8 sheets of foam board, hinged together with tape. Leave one side white and use it as a reflector, paint the other side black and use it to eat light.

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As light intensity falls off faster when you're close to the light source, you can minimize the effect of wall/ceiling reflections by putting the umbrella as close to your subject as possible.

Another very low cost option is to wait for the night and shoot outdoors.

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2  
Studio lighting, particularly softboxes, are almost always a whole lot closer than you'd think they'd be in practice. It took me nearly a year to learn that the right distance for an Elinchrom OctaLite from a subject was 3-4 feet most of the time -- you'd think that something that big should be wa-a-ay far back, but you'd be wrong. –  user2719 Dec 19 '10 at 16:54
1  
@Stan: Well, the closer you put them, the softer the light is, so why buy insanely huge softbox when you can work with something that is only huge? :-) –  che Dec 19 '10 at 17:46
    
"Insanely huge" is for half-figure or better without vertical fall-off (even a 1m^2 large softbox has falloff top & bottom for anything that goes below shoulder-height -- you have to do a sort of "quantum include" to avoid the Venus de Milo treatment). –  user2719 Dec 19 '10 at 19:35

Maybe try hanging some fabric remnants (I got 2 yards of black velvet for 5$ from hobby lobby) or some landscaping fabric from your walls. Anything black and non-specular (I think thats right?) will do. If your wife / roommate / mom won't permit such a thing, consider placing something closer to the light source, in a smaller format. Zack Arias recommends bifold closet doors I think, but you could basically use an easily standable, movable piece of cardboard. I think the strobist crowd calls these barn doors - you might search Hobby's site for that.

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I often use black wrap to prevent spill. Great for general shaping of light.

Black wrap or black foil is a black aluminum foil that's primarily used to block out light and is attached to light fixtures and/or their barn doors.

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A great low cost option is to buy a black sheet at Walmart and use it as a "black reflector". Instead of adding light, it will subtract the light.

As well as being useful for photography, it never hurts to have a spare set of sheets for guests.

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