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    Intro To Flashes: Monolights And Hot Shoe Flashes
    by KevinRiggs

    Here are some photos to try and help explain some of the terminology or functionality for anyone interested. The color and lighting are poopie but I shot 'em in just a few minutes and didn't setup the white paper or move any furniture outta the way so ya get what ya get.

    A monolight is a flash unit. It usually utlizes both a regular light for modeling purposes and a strobe to generate the flash of light (fig 1). Monolights can be differentiated from flash heads and powerpack units because these lights plug directly into AC power; they don't require a separate power unit. All of these lights that I've ever seen have fans to help cut down the heat that can buildup through usage.

    Fig 1

    One of the benefits of these lights is that they can be modified with a number of apparati such as barn doors, snoots, combs, softboxes, umrellas, etc. To modify the light shown in figure 2 with a softbox you need a speedring. The speedring is designed to fit a particular manufacturer's light (or a set of manufacturers may all use a similar mounting system so that modifiers can be used with all their lights. Unless I'm mistaken all Paul C Buff lights (AlienBees and White Lightnings) can utilize Balcar mountings. In figure 2 you'll see that a speed ring has been mounted to the light. The speedring in this shot does not have any light modifying equipment attached to it. Normally you would want to attach the light modifying equipment to the speedring before mounting the speedring to the monolight (or flash head if that was what you were using instead of a monolight).

    Fig 2

    Next you see a closeup of a softbox coupled to the speedring and the softbox isn't closed at the back end. This allows you to work more usefully with the speedring. You can utilize this opening to grasp either the speedring or the legs of the softbox when trying to attach the softbox to the monolight.

    Fig 3

    This is a similar shot to figure 3 except that the softbox has been closed at the back so that light doesn't escape the back of the softbox but is forced forward to illuminate the subject.

    Fig 4

    Figures 5 & 6 show the softbox from the front. In figure 5 you'll see the softbox without the outer diffusion panel but with the inner baffle. Since the softbox by itself would tend to intensify the light coming from the monolight (by directing more of the light to a smaller space), the inner baffle is used to help disperse the light and create a slightly softer light that fills a space more evenly. In figure 6 you'll notice that the inner baffle has been left in and the outer diffusion panel has been attached (with Velcro (TM) or some other similarly hook-and-loopy type connecting contraption). You want to make sure when you put the diffusion panel on that you connect it all the way around. If you leave a gap then light that has not been as diffused can bleed out the hole and create a hotspot on your composition. The softbox can be used without the inner baffle and the diffusion panel, it can be used with either of the two items or it can be used with both. You can also mount colored gels inside the softbox to create a color cast to the light if you want. The whole point with these devices is to modify the light that is directed at the scene you are composing.

    Fig 5

    Fig 6

    Now that we've seen a monolight and a monolight with a softbox attached, we should look at what comes with most monolights as soon as you order them. The reflector. In figure 7 you'll notice a metal piece has been attached to the front of the monolight. This metal piece is a 7" reflector. It could be 8" or 6" but Alien Bees gives you a 7" reflector. It is good for directing light to a scene. It affects the light fall off which is one way that flash units are measured. Since this item lets less light disperse it gives you the effect of making the light more intense and directional. It can be used to modify the light even more by adding a gel or a comb (see Fig 8).

    Fig 7

    Fig 7a (forgot to make a place for it when I was writing)

    Fig 8

    The comb in figure 8 is used to really direct the light as it lands on your intended subject. You should notice a piece of paper or cloth at the top of the comb. This has a number on it. The comb in figure 8 is a 20 degree comb. It means that light will only disperse 20 degrees from being a straight on light at 10 feet. Alien Bees sells a 10 degree, 20 degree, 30 degree and 40 degree. I'm sure other manufacturers have similar products with similar variations in how much they disperse light over a given space.

    Starting with figure 9 we move into hot-shoe flash units. These units typically have replaceable internal power sources (batteries) and some have connections for external DC power. These units have hot shoe connections to allow the camera to control their functions directly. In figure 9 you'll notice that we're looking at a Canon 550EX mounted to a fake hot shoe connection that has in turn been mounted to a tripod. This light from this flash has been modified by placing a StoFen OmniBounce over the head of the flash unit.

    Fig 9

    Next we see the same flash but this time we've modified its light with a LumiQuest ProMax 80/20 PocketBounce with a silver insert (Fig 10). While I find that the OmniBounce tends to diffuse the light and make it fill more of the space, the ProMax 80/20 tends to provide more directional light but its still softened up enough that it doesn't give the same flat appearance that the flash can produce by itself when aimed directly at a subject. The silver insert gives the added benefit of putting catchlights into the subject's eyes without blinding him/her the way a reflector can tend to do.

    Fig 10

    Finally we finish up with two new additions. In figure 11 we've placed the diffusion panel on the ProMax 80/20 pocket bounce to help soften the light. I find that this seldom produces effects that I like. I'm sure many people use this tool effectively and it comes as part of the insert packet from LumiQuest so it can't hurt or cost extra to try it. Also at the bottom of the flash unit you should notice a light trigger. This is a useful alternative to people who want to use their hot shoe flashes without needing to purchase radio remotes or proprietary triggers (such as the ST-E2). This trigger allows me to set the 550EX manually and then trigger the unit with the flash from my "key" flash unit. I like to use these flashes (550EX, 420EX and SunPak 6600) with these triggers to illuminate the backdrop or as kicker lights to rim light a subject as they can be pretty close to full power (or even full power) and still only have an ancilliary effect on the overall composition.

    Fig 11

    I hope you find this useful,


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