Ryan Bensheimer: Maximizing the Photoflex XS LiteDome and XS OctoDome

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As the owner of Ideal Impressions, I am 100% a wedding photographer and shoot about 50 weddings a year. Myself and the other 17 wedding photographers who make up Ideal Impressions search out great light and even when we find it we nearly always add just a touch of our own "good light" to give our images a pop. This usually means we have assistants carrying light stands and soft boxes.

Generally we aren't overly concerned with lighting a whole bridal party. Most of the weddings we shoot are huge and we are often shooting them in full, bright sunlight. However, the need to light a group of 6-12 people does happen. In those cases we need to move quickly so we either decide to shoot with natural light or we choose to shoot ultra wide (using a wide angle lens) and bring in 2 to 3 soft boxes to light the bridal party.

Before the Canon 600-EX RT Speedlights came out we were using studio lights with battery packs and radio transmitters. Now we simply use a Canon 600 EX-RT Speedlight and an extra small Photoflex soft box. Why extra small? Well, we like the size because it is easy to move, doesn't resist the wind and emits a good amount of light from the flash without letting it spread out too wide. We still light up the entire bridal party, but our focus is on the romantics and the bride. A soft box that is placed close to the subject in daylight has amazing results. It’s common for us to see our brides using the close-up of their face as the profile photo on Facebook for years after their wedding. Those who know our company have come to call these shots” cover girls”. For years we only used the rectangular Photoflex LiteDome. Now we use a LiteDome and an OctoDome. Let me show you why.

First, let me tell you a few things about how I shoot. I use a Canon 5D and my go-to lenses are the 14mm, 35mm 1.4, 50mm 1.2, and 135mm F2. I have some zoom lenses but I really prefer prime lenses. I usually look for great light but what exactly is “great light”? Here’s a hint. Find some direct light and stand in the shadow next to it pointing your subject 30-45 degrees from the direct light. Also, I look for a background that is similarly lit to the subject.

Since my camera has amazing ISO performance I use it. ISO 1000 is nearly the same as 100 so I set the flash to high-speed sync and typically shoot at F4 or 5.6. I like things sharp and dislike too much depth of field. However, I want the background to softly fade away, bringing attention to my subject. Is ISO 1000 too much for this? Rarely. Working in the shadows on such an important day I can't risk getting too slow a shutter and ruining a shot. I love great natural light because it allows me to just use one soft box close to the subject to emphasize strength and allow me to highlight what I want to emphasize about the person’s features. If I use two lights I will set it to an 8:1 ratio using one farther away for fill or occasionally backlighting. I like to use three lights with a subject but often managing three assistants is more work than it is worth. Occasionally I have a second shooter working with me who has their own lighting assistant and one soft box.

We are going to look at the smaller versions of the LiteDome XS and OctoDome NXT XS. The LiteDome Extra Small (XS) retails for about $135 and includes all the hardware you need other than the light stand itself. The OctoDome NXT Extra Small (XS) outfitted similarly would be about $190.

Like most soft boxes, the LiteDome XS has four rods, lightweight fabric and a design that allows it to collapse quickly and easily. I carry a LiteDome XS in my hard case all the time just in case I need it. Interestingly its greatest strength, being that it is simple and lightweight may also be its greatest weakness, more on that later. The OctoDome NXT XS has thicker material, usually includes an all steel light stand mount rather than the plastic one that typically comes with the LiteDome, and all and all is heavier duty. It takes longer to setup, and is a bit heavier. Is heavy duty better? Maybe.

What about the differences? Obviously the OctoDome throws a rounder catch light while the LiteDome throws a rectangular catch light and usually has more contrast because it is letting a little more light through. I don't particularly mind one over the other and like having both.

Personally I like heavy duty. I like thick fabric and more contact points. I like a little softer light and I like sleek metal over plastic. So I like the OctoDome. On long days it can be heavy though and it can get blown by the wind more. I like the LiteDome because it is fast and I can set it up and put it away in seconds. The OctoDome isn't bad, but I find myself leaving it put together more than taking it apart. Having both allows me to use the one that is best all the time.

Ok lets see what they can do!

In the example below, I have the OctoDome about 18 inches away from the subjects face about 30-45 degrees up and to the right with the LiteDome 4-5 feet back by the camera, creating some fill. There isn't any notable natural light for this example. The flash is creating 100% of the exposure. I usually would use natural sunlight for fill but I want to emphasize the exact quality of the artificial light here.

In this frame I switched the lights so the LiteDome is at the front. You will notice it puts off just a bit more light.

Below is just the LiteDome with no fill light.

The example below shows the OctoDome only with no fill. In this photo the OctoDome was moved 6 inches closer to show that if you like the look of a more intense light (usually given by a rectangular softbox) you can also accomplish that with the OctoOome by moving it just a hair closer.

Here is another example with the OctoDome at more of an angle creating a starch shadow which would create strength in a male model, but not often seen with female subjects.

It is possible to use one light without a fill light and get acceptable, even lighting by moving back the light to a lesser angle. This creates a much flatter look (10-20 degrees up and directional).

One of my favorite patterns is the clamshell set-up. Here I have the LiteDome above and above the subject and the OctoDome placed below and in front. Personally I don’t like the catch light so often edit out one or both of the reflections.

So in general, if I had to pick just one, I would take the OctoDome. Why? Because it’s heavier duty and I like the circular look without having to use an umbrella. But I often don’t want three OctoDomes in the backseat. So I really love how easily the LiteDomes break down. So what do I do? I have an OctoDome setup all the time and two LiteDomes in my case ready to go. Which shot do I like the most? Well this is personal preference. For men I really like strong lighting. For women, especially if I need to hide wrinkles, I go with a clamshell look but usually edit out the catch lights as mentioned above.

None of the above images were edited. Here is my typical edit. For a middle-aged client, I get rid of some wrinkles, slightly smooth out the pores, remove a catch light or two, widen the eyes and mouth slightly and maybe a few other touch-ups. Personally I prefer de-saturated portraits and tighter crops.

Editor’s Note: Removing catch lights during post-production is a controversial topic. Tell us where you fall on this issue in the comments below.

Ryan Bensheimer studied photography at the world renowned Art Institute in Chicago. He works hard to establish a relationship with couples to truly understand their styles and personalities and uniquely capture the moments of the most important day of their lives. Ryan works with a team of photographers and editors to deliver cutting edge wedding images to Wisconsin and many great destination locations around the world. He has received several awards and is one of three Album Epoca Signature Photographers in the US. His work is regularly published by the Knot and Premiere Bride and he is the leading instructor for the Ideal Art Tours. See more of his work here: http://www.idealimpressionsphotography.com/

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