The Profoto 4ft Octa & Other Sweet Spots

Of course there's a theme developing for quite a while here. No, not a theme related to subject matter, the other theme. Specifically bringing some lighting gear to the table which has preoccupied a lot of posts of late. Getting my one-man-band travel kit in order, etc. I mentioned a few months ago something about a personal growth experience regarding just this thing. To put it bluntly I have difficulty with something that comes natural to most — balance.

Last week I took a break from client work again, first time in a couple months. This time I decided to drive. Truth is there was no other option. I was going to hang out with a photographer buddy for a while at one of his places in an extremely remote area on the Chesapeake. Instead of taking my one man train/plane kit I almost randomly started chucking bits and bobs of gear into my trunk and back seat the week before I set off. No rhyme, or reason, or plan, just stuff. Plans mean goals, goals need to be achieved… At any cost. That means stress. Definitely not required for taking a break.

The place I stayed was fantastic. Secluded, out of the way, slow. I decided to do a few things that would normally send me into a fit of rage. The first photos I made were with the fabulous Jehanne. Above are the first couple of test shots while I was making minor adjustments to the setup. Given the place I was staying is owned by a photographer and very photographer friendly, it has a space that's almost suitable for the kind of work typically done on seamless. I decided not to use it. Instead I set this up in one of the living spaces with furniture, windows, lower ceiling, not a ton of distance/length/width, etc, etc. Circumstances that would usually drive me completely insane.

The Setup

I think I brought six lights with me. Told you random stuff chucked in the car with no real plan. If it's not obvious the plan was for a typical white seamless kind of easy-peasy fashion-y type shots with a twist — I wanted some lights flaring into the lens for a bit of pizazz. Of course unless you want to go all moody You're gonna have to deal with making the white background white without casting shadows. How's that done? The real way is to light the background independently of the model. Hmmm, no way to do that and shoot anything close to a full length in this space.

What happened instead:

  • The two Profoto D2 heads you can see in the pictures pretty much had to be behind Jehanne to get that bit of rim lighting so the space they are going to take up is fixed. Believe it or not that's a bit more than 2.5 feet between the background and Jehanne. Maybe 3 feet. Given the room isn't that long not a ton of space to work with now.
  • Now the challenge is getting the main light as far back as needed to light both Jehanne and the background with as little fall-off as possible so it goes as white as possible. This is it without knocking down the wall behind me.
  • The main light you see here is a Profoto 4ft RFi Octobox on a boom centered on Jehanne with the mid-point slightly above eye level. For all the shots here I tore off half the diffusion exposing a lot of the silver interior to give Jehanne's skin a bit more pop. Yes it's okay to use modifiers the wrong way, they're just tools to bend to your will.

The Drive Me Nuts Challenges

Why would I choose to do this in a confined space when there's a better space with more room and especially more hight across the house? Two reasons: Fist off was that my photographer buddy was holding a workshop there the next day and it was all setup, clean, and pristine. I didn't feel like messing it up and then be faced with cleaning it all up in the middle of the night which is where this day was going. Second reason is personal growth and balance. Can I just deal with it and not go berserk/overboard when given constraints that are limiting what I really wanted to accomplish at first thought?

  • Ceilings not high enough, absolutely no way to shoot wide from any reasonable angle to make Jehanne look decent. Hmmm
  • Jehanne is not a model, she's not at all used to dealing with studio setups that are tight and definitely not crazy lighting aware with intricate/sensitive setups. I definitely didn't want her to go all stiff by over explaining shit like that. Having her so close to those accent lights in frame caused a lot of issues when she leaned back even a hair. Note spill on face in shot previous to the one above. Grrrrr.
  • My 24-105 was actually too good. I wanted more flare, actually way more but this is the most I could provoke in terms of light power vs aperture vs lack of flexibility in positioning. Any more power and it looked bad where it hit Jehanne but even worse the bounce-back over powered the main light. I could have solved these issues with more room while getting the amount of flare I wanted. Or I needed a lens that was way worse at flare rejection.
  • Speaking of lack of movement, I felt like I was in a cage. My back was literally up against a wall shooting at 50 and 85 to get a reasonable angle without sucking in a bunch of ceiling/top of seamless roll, etc.

About Those Sweet Spots

Obviously things such as sweet spots is going to vary a lot based on what you shoot, how you shoot it, your own preferences, and the list goes on. There are such things though, cameras and how they handle, their size, etc. Lenses, focal lengths, the list goes on and on. Sometimes it takes a while to find what your own particular sweet spots are. Trust me on this point though — You can't really find those sweetspots by armchair quarterbacking them based entirely on other people's opinion and inserting your own logic. It takes a lot of real-world use and experience to figure it out.

I had an absolute ton of gear with me. I've probably mentioned that overall I'd rather have a bunch of grip, foam-core, rolls of diffusion gel and hard light reflectors with barn doors, grids, etc than I would a gazillion special purpose soft light modifiers. That's true in a circumstance where I have an immense amount of space, a dozen c-stands, every clamp, frame you could think of, a bunch of 4x8 foam-core in black and white I can cut up and use, and of course some assistants.

Here's something I realized having all of that random gear with me; When push comes to shove and all of the stuff mentioned above isn't there or space is limited there's absolutely one soft light modifier that's a sweet spot for me. If I had to get rid of almost everything else in terms of boxes, strips, octa's, and umbrellas it's the thing I'd definitely keep. You guessed it by the title. The 4ft Profoto RFi Octabox.

A tiny bit of background: At what I'll loosely call practical distances lighting modifiers change real quick from tiny (speedlight) to large reflectors, to beauty dishes, to smaller soft boxes in terms of their effects. At a certain point you have to have a gigantic change in size to produce a significant visual difference. Obviously this is dependent on "practical distance" as well as the size of things you are lighting. No matter how you define it the above generality will hold true. Sort of like lens focal length. At the wide end 20mm is a ton of difference. At the tele end of things 20mm is a nit. Get it?

Okay so that's where the 4ft Octabox comes in for my own personal set of circumstances, uses, spaces, etc. Once upon a time not to long ago Profoto made the RFi in 3ft and 5ft versions. Guess what, they were worlds apart and in many cases the 5ft was very difficult to use in confined spaces like a "normal room" on location. The 3ft was not at all the same.

Enter the 4ft. I bought one and I swear I've probably not used the 5ft since and I can count on one hand the number of times I've used the 3ft. It's my sweet spot (and I would suggest the best choice for most photographers that shoot individuals in a wide variety of circumstances). It's very different than the 3ft but not a whole lot different and may I say identical to the 5ft in terms of overall "look" and use with the exception that that extra 6" in radius all the way around makes it far more difficult to get high enough indoors, it makes it take up a lot more room (IE the situation illustrated here would have been virtually impossible) but really doesn't look any different.

It's also a chameleon. It's one of the most versatile purpose built modifiers I've ever owned. It's got a soft silver interior and two layers of diffusion (inner and outer). It's one of the more efficient two layer boxes I've ever used with really no hot-spot to speak of. It's got a decent lip for control even without a grid. I tore off half the diffusion which brought Jehanne's skin to life with a hint of specularity while maintaining a relatively clean highlight on her plastic wardrobe. I regularly use it with full diffusion, only the inner, only the outer, etc. I use it just as much with no diffusion, like a big giant silver reflector. I leave half the diffusion in place and leave the other half bare silver. All very different and very useful.

Now if only it was practical to use on the B2. Hey, want to know something, I've never tried it on the B2. Why? Mostly armchair quarterbacking based on how my favorite hard reflectors like the magnum and the soft light reflector (hard beauty dish) just don't do anything like they do with heads that actually reach the reflector part. The RFi speedings have a long tunnel to get the head into the box the B2 will only reach maybe 2 inches into that tube. Guess what, I'm going to test it. It really does travel similarly to my Umbrella deep silver with diffuser. Given the choice between that umbrella with and without diffuser I'll take the 4ft RFi any day of the week in terms of how good it looks and how versatile it is. Oh, yeah, in terms of Octaboxes used the "right way", fully assembled "as intended" the RFi's produce seductively beautiful light. More on that another day.

I can't stress it enough, sweet spots for one in terms of gear only come from your own experience and use and I don't mean current habits. Go out there and use different "stuff". All of us can get caught in habits and armchair quarterbacking of what works best and what doesn't. I actually hope I'm wrong about the B2's suitability with the RFi boxes. I'll let you know how it goes when I actually test it.

End Notes

All photos made with the Canon 5DsR and 24-105 L (version one). Processed in Capture One and exported. Yes I need to color correct them a hair. Sure I could use the awesome color tool to make short work of unifying hue between J.'s face and body. Heck I could even hit her face with 2/10's a stop dodge where she moved out of the octa's range at the top a couple of times. Why bother at this point, I don't even know which ones of the 30 or so fames I made that I actually like. More on my Love/Hate relationship with C1 another day. Too long already.