Ben Clay: Experiments with a MultiDome®

Recently, I shot some portraits with the Photoflex® MultiDome® to examine the various effects that can be achieved with it. A couple of years ago, I had photographed a shot of espresso with the various MultiDome configurations (Figure 1), but this time I wanted to use a live subject.

Over the years, I've enlisted my children (Aidan, Nola) to serve as subjects for various lighting lessons and tutorials, but my youngest, Sam, had yet to make his debut. This was his chance!

In considering a few portrait options, I decided on a warm, holiday theme to see how well the MultiDome would perform in such a shot. I knew from past experience that for this type of shoot, where I'd need consistent positioning for proper comparisons, I'd need to keep my subject confined to one spot. High chair: check.

And as any parent of a 13 month-old knows, the timing for such an activity needed to be really buttoned-up to minimize the very likely chance of a premature meltdown!

For this portrait, I knew I wanted to render some nice bokeh (blurred, or out-of-focus points of light) from the Christmas tree lights in the background, which meant that I'd need to position Sam's high chair a fair distance from the tree to allow for focal falloff. To further help with this selective depth of field, I decided to shoot with my 50mm macro lens (great for portraits like this) at a wide aperture setting. I set the high chair about 9 feet away from the tree and set up my only supplemental piece of lighting equipment to serve as my main light: a Photoflex StarFlash 300 with a Medium MultiDome soft box.

Once Sam had woken from his nap, was fed a snack, cleaned up, and changed, I felt he was reasonably ready for his session. I first took some test shots without the MultiDome to determine the best exposure for the background. I knew that my main light would add some exposure to the background, so I erred on the side of underexposure. Here, you can see how if I didn't have supplemental lighting, I would have been forced to expose for either the background or Sam, but not both. 

I started with the following exposure settings:

  • Aperture: f/4.5
  • Shutter speed: 1/45th of a second
  • ISO 100

I knew that my window of time for this shoot would be limited, so I decided to shoot all versions with a diffusion face and baffle in place and forego the shots without the diffusion. I first started with the MultiDome lined with all Silver panels.

At first, Sam was pretty interested in the whole operation and it wasn't hard to get him to look into the lens. Here's one from that first series of shots.

You can see how the quality of light on Sam is nicely diffused and renders his features naturally, but that the color feels a little cold in this setting, even though the light is technically neutral.

Next, I quickly removed two of the Silver panels, flipped them to reveal the Gold sides and reinserted them into the soft box.

With the front diffusion face back in place, I reviewed the first series of images in camera and noticed that at 100%, there was slight motion blur from the parts of the image that were affected by the ambient light. To prevent further motion blur, I opened up my aperture and dialed in a faster shutter speed. I also wanted to increase the level of bokeh in the shot and knew that the wider aperture setting would help, but I also moved in a little closer to Sam to make the depth of field even more shallow. I adjusted the exposure settings and did not change them for the remainder of the shoot:

  • Aperture: f/2.8
  • Shutter speed: 1/90th of a second
  • ISO 125

Here's one from the next series of shots.

Notice how the two Gold panels really helped to warm up Sam's skin tone. This quality of light was now tying in much better with the light of the room. I also liked how my bokeh circles were also getting more voluminous. 

Trivia question: Notice how the bokeh circles are not perfectly round, but rather 7-sided. Do you know why? Post your answer at the bottom of this post!

Finally, I flipped the other two panels inside the MultiDome so that the box was entirely gold-lined.

Sam was starting to tire of this whole confined picture-taking business, but luckily, I was able to cajole him into smiling briefly before the wheels came off. Here's one from that final series.

As you can see, the all-Gold configuration really worked well for this warm holiday portrait. Here's a look at each of the results side-by-side.

The MultiDome, just like its circular cousin, the OctoDome®, truly is a versatile lighting modifier. Some might argue that you can get the same effect with a traditional soft box and taped-in warming gels, and that's true to a certain extent. But the MultiDome panels allow for more fine-tuning of the light quality and they're easier, faster and more securely positioned in a soft box. Plus, they just look cool, which as we all know, can influence a client's professional perception of you and your business.

Most importantly, though, the MultiDome is designed to perform and hold up over years of regular use. We hear from users all the time about how long they've been using our products, and we never tire of it. We hear this kind of thing a lot at trade shows. In fact, during a recent trade show in New York, I had the good fortune of meeting famed photographer Douglas Kirkland, who came by the Photoflex booth and told me that the MultiDome is his favorite lighting modifier of all time. You couldn't ask for a better endorsement!

The MultiDome is a great soft box for all skill levels. Pros and enthusiasts alike will love the versatility of this unique soft box. To learn more about the MultiDome and the other lighting equipment used in this shoot, click on the product links below:

MultiDome: medium
StarFlash 300
StarFlash Connector
Medium LiteStand

Ben Clay, formerly a commercial photographer, is currently the Lessons Coordinator for Photoflex Lighting School and Lead Photographer for Photoflex, Inc.

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