Thursday, July 31, 2008

Carolina Panthers, Batch 4 & Finished!

Diving for the goalline

I have finished processing the photographs from our training camp visit. Whew! Now I will have to go through the gallery and add titles and comments. I am thinking of posting a "wrap-up" about what I observed and learned from the experience. That will probably appear this weekend or early next week. I have to process out some pictures from a program my son was in tonight. My wife volunteered me to give them a CD and they need it for something this weekend.

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Carolina Panthers, Batch 3

"Toe the line"

Another batch of photos from the Carolina Panther's training camp visit. I've been trying out the batch processing system for shots with the same exposure. I see which shots are from the same play and have the same exposure, then I will make adjustments to the first one, copy those adjustments and apply them to the rest of the set at once. It is very handy for things like this. I will also batch process those photographs to JPEGs all at once to save some more time.

Oops. Forgot the gallery link.

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Carolina Panthers, Batch 2


There are some more photographs from our visit to the Panther's training camp. The one above of the punter is one of my favorites from that day. It was pure luck to get him frozen in the air after the kick like that.

Panther's Training Camp Gallery

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Carolina Panthers, Batch 1

Training Camp

The first batch of photographs that I took from the Carolina Panther's training camp on July 29, 2008 is up on my gallery site. You can find it at this link.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What I'm working on ...

This afternoon my son and I went to the Carolina Panthers' Training Camp. It is held in our home town and is open to the public. This is the first time that we have gone to it, and we manged to find almost the perfect spot from which to photograph it. I took a lot of pictures. Actually, I filled one 4GB SD card and a good portion of another 4GB SD card. Out of nearly 550 shots, I've narrowed it down to around 180 give or take. I will probably weed a few more out as I take process them in Capture NX2. It might be a day or two before I have them all processed. This is the first NFL, or even American football, event that I have photographed. I'm really quite pleased with what I got. I will try to post them up to my Zenfolio gallery in batches in order to share them with everyone quicker. Now don't go expecting Sports Illustrated quality photography here, but I think I got some good pictures for a rank beginner in this sort of thing.

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This photograph was taken at a local event last year where one of the local fire departments brought their engine truck. I liked the chrome reflections and orange color. Details of larger objects can be interesting in themselves and yet still give an overall impression of the object as a whole.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Caesar's Head

Caesar's Head

There wasn't a Photo of the Day on Friday because I had taken my son on a photography trip up to the mountains. We went to Caesar's Head State Park and stopped at a scenic overlook on the way up. The weather was okay, but there was a nasty cloudbank that had settled over the entire southeastern US. It was bland, white, and all around terrible for landscapes. I did the best that I could in post processing though. A before and after shot from the over look after the jump. The entire gallery is at located at my Zenfolio gallery.



I editted the picture in Capture NX2. I applied levels and curves for some contrast, then used several color control points to bring detail to the sky and foreground.

I'll have to go back in the fall or winter when the hazy isn't so bad. The haze really cut the visibility down and even a polarizing filter couldn't get rid of it.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Future Reflected

Future Reflected

This was the first architectural reflection photograph I had shot. I went up to the top deck of the parking lot at work and this reflection in the neighboring building caught my eye. I've found that I enjoy taking photographs like this. Maybe I should specialize in architectural photography? Something to think about I suppose.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008



This photograph was taken last year when we visited the Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina. It is also one of my most viewed images according to the statistics on Zenfolio. Biltmore House was built in an old, European style and as such has lots of statuary details integrated into it's exterior. While we were outside the front of the house, I was looking around for interesting, and well lit details to photograph. These gargoyles caught my attention. Framed against the blue sky and clouds, they seem to almost be leaping off the building at the visitors below.

My point ... Look up! Look all around you. Good photographic subjects won't just be on the ground or at eye level. Choose your backgrounds carefully, fill the frame and make your subjects pop out of the image. I don't think this photograph would be quite as good without the clouds. Nor would it be quite as striking without the blue sky as well.

Open your eyes to the world around you. Photogenic subjects are everywhere.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Dash of Yellow

A Dash of Yellow

Flowers are always a popular photographic subject. For this shot, instead of wanting one flower in sharp focus, I wanted a field of purple with a couple of points of yellow. So, I used a shallow depth of field and zoomed all the way out with my lens. I also had to get down low and close the flowers to further exagerate the depth of field.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

The Peleton

The Peleton

In September, 2007, we went to watch the USA Cycling Pro Championship. It was held in Greenville, South Carolina and passed through a local park several times. The main viewing areas and start/finish line were in the downtown district. However, we thought the park would be more scenic, and as it turned out it was much less crowded. I thought the race would be a good opportunity to practice some action photography. Fast moving bikes. Riders in colorful race-wear. A picturesque park with playgrounds nearby for the kids. It all added up to a good afternoon out.

This particular shot was taken when the peleton passed by on the second lap. I like the slight blur to the riders and the bikes. It gives a sense of motion to the image. Prior to the race, I had scoped out various viewing angles and areas. This was one of my favorite spots.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Shoot the sky!

Red Sky

This is a photograph of a sunset sky. No ground or horizon. Just the sky. I really like the colors and constrasts here. Like textures, skies can provide interesting, abstract subjects on their own. A stormy sky might project a sense of forboding. Large, white, puffy clouds and a blue skyu could denote a more pastral emotion. Take photographs of just the skies you see. You might capture some interesting clouds, or possibly have some textures you could use on future images. A good sky picture might be used to replace an uninteresting sky in an otherwise nice landscape image.

Plus, the sky is always there and won't complain about having it's picture taken.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Morning Dew

Morning Dew

Last fall my son had a Cub Scouts event that we attended. We got there at about 9am and the morning dew was still covering the trees and grass. I noticed this particular tree near where we parked. It had all of these dew covered spider webs dangling from it. The sun was backlighting the trees, but hadn't quite cleared a treeline yet. So there was a mix of lighting to use in this photograph. I really like how the dew brings out the shape of the spiderwebs.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008



Today's photograph is from a set of smoke images. This is a really fun little project to do. First find an area that you can make as dark as possible. Set up a black background; I used a black, three fold project board like you would use for a science fair display. You can get project boards at any craft store in a variety of colors. They make handy backgrounds for table-top subjects and are easy to store. Put your camera on a tripod or other firm support. Place some incense or smokey candle on the table with the background. Make sure the incense is not right up against the background because you don't want light spilling on to the background. Place a flash to one side of the incense with a gobo/flag to block light from hitting the background. Line the flash up with the incense/candle. Light the incense/candle, manually focus your camera where the smoke is and use an apeture to give you a deep enough depth of field to make sure that the smoke is in focus whereever it meanders. An apeture of f/5.6 to F/8 should be good. Your shutter speeds should be set within your flash's synch speed. You can us a long shutter speed if you want, but remember that the smoke is going to be frozen by the flash.
(continued after the jump)

Now all you need to do is to turn the lights out and start taking photographs. I remote trigger is useful for this; I use the IR remote for my camera. You can use a wired manual release if you have one, or the shutter button with the exposure delay function turned on. You might need to fine tune the exposure at first. Simply increase or decrease the apeture until you like what you see in your viewfinder. Then release the shutter whenever you see an interesting pattern in the smoke. If the smoke is too smooth or not interesting enough, disturb the air near it by blowing lighting, snapping your fingers, clapping, anything to add a touch of turbulence to the air. Don't be surprised if you get mezmerised by the smoke patterns and take a couple of hundred photographs. It is such an interesting dynamic that you are capturing, and it will be infinitely varible.

After you have finished taking the photographs, bring them into your image processing software of choice. Adjust the black point using Levels and Curves to blank out the background if any light managed to get on it. You can then apply color to it by using a gradient layer and playing around with the layer blending modes to get the look that you want.

I hope you enjoy the making your own smoking photographs. I can be a lot of fun and isn't very difficult.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Photo of the Day: The Biltmore House

The Biltmore House

According to my Zenfolio statistics, this is the most viewed photograph in my galleries. The Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina is a marvelous place to spend a day. The house was built to resemble a French country estate with all of it's exterior details. The estate's gardens were designed by the same landscape architect that designed New York's Central Park. It contains a wealth of breath-taking sights and views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. The gardens are in bloom nearly year round and any flower photographer would get completely absorbed in them.

The weather wasn't the best while we were there. There was rain throughout the day. I had to tweak the sky a tad in this photograph to get the contrast and texture in the clouds and I cropped it a bit to more fully accentuate the house itself. All-in-all I'm happy with it. Although I do hope to go back again and make an even better photograph of it.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Photo of the Day


Here is something new for me. I will try to post a photograph a day during the week. There may or may not be photographs posted during the weekend since that is when I usually do my shooting and processing. Plus, there's that whole spend time with the family thing. I think I have enough of a collection now to be able sustain this for awhile. Sometimes there might be a shot from a new set of photographs that I've taken, or it might be a previous shot that I haven't posted here before.

Anyway to start things off is a photograph that I call "Forgotten". It should look familiar since it is the photograph I used to make the banner image. (Note the use of an extreme crop in the banner as discussed a couple of posts ago.) This was taken on only my second real photography outing with my D80. I took my son to a downtown park that is bisected by a small river and it's picturesque waterfall. The town grew up around this river and waterfalls so there is quite a bit of development around it. One of the features of the park is the skeleton of an old 19th century carriage factory which is now used as a special events pavilion. The pavilion is used for everything from corporate parties, to town events, to wedding receptions. When it isn't reserved for an event, it is open to the public as it was when we were walking around that day.

As we looked around, I found this one single, dried out rose sitting on the sill of one of the windows. It was illuminated by beautiful, late afternoon light and looked as if it had been left there from a wedding reception. I thought that it seemed like a forgotten symbol of love. I framed it in my viewfinder and took a handfull of photographs. It is just as I found it on the sill. I didn't rearrange it or stage it in anyway. At the time I knew I had one of those special pictures. Each image looked great in my LCD and I think it was at that particular moment that I really got bit by the photography bug. So this rose may have been have been forgotten by a newly wed bride or groom, but it is was the spark for my photographic passion and thus will not be forgotten by me at least.

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Paint Texture

We went to my in-laws to drop my son off for a sleep-over. While we were there I took some photographs of the house and property. Nothing particularly impressive photographically, but there were a couple of interesting textures I took to add to my collection. I might use these as filters for processing images or something similar. The others after the jump.

Paint Texture 2

Granite Texture 1

Granite Texture 2

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Extreme Cropping

A Wish

One of the most common pieces of advice that new photographers are given is to get your framing correct when you take your photograph. This saves you having to "reframe" or crop a shot afterwards to take distracting elements out. However, there are times when you might not want to do that, or even can't get the framing the way you envision the photograph. Sometimes you get the framing right at the time, but you see other possible compositions within the photograph that you have taken.

This is when you may be tempted to use an "extreme" crop. By that I mean one that has an unusual composition and/or aspect ratio. We tend to think or conceive of our images in standard aspect ratios like 4"x6", 5"x7", 8"x10", and so on. Are those the only allowable aspect ratios? No of course not, but they certainly are the most convenient if we want to eventually frame our photographs.

More after the jump.

When should we feel free to change our framing in post processing even to the extent of breaking conventional aspect ratios? Well, I think the answer is anytime that we feel that we can get a stronger image. Breaking conventions is something that artists have been doing for centuries. Before they can do that however, they learn what those conventions are, why they exist, what their strengths are, and what their weaknesses are. When the image we envision would be weakened by conventional framing, cropping, or aspect ratios, then we should feel free to stretch into other framing formats.

That was the case with the photograph at the beginning of this post, A Wish. This was a penny that my son had thrown into a fountain. I wanted to capture it, but when I looked at the original image it wasn't quite what I thought would be a strong image. Given the location and arrangement of the fountain, I didn't think that I could really get a correct framing at the time of photographing it. So, I framed it in such a way that I would have plenty of latitude to consider other framing or cropping options later. Here is the original image:

A Wish (original)

It is a nice enough photograph, but I don't think that it has quite the same impact as the cropped version at the beginning. This one is also straight from the camera, so no levels & curves or exposure work had been done to it yet.

What I wanted to convey was this penny's ripples stretching out to affect events after the wish was made. The sharp angles of the ripples make them fade to the edges of the frame quickly and the depth of the water slightly obscures the penny and thus affects the ripples' quality. By cropping the photograph in such an extreme manner, I brought the attention back to the penny and it's ripples. With the ripples leading out of the frame to hint at the Wish's influence rippling through space. Or at least that is how I view the image. ;-)

Study and learn composition. There are reasons that certain ways of arranging image elements work, and others don't. Also, don't be afraid to break those rules if it makes a better image. Rules work. Breaking the rules can work if you do it for a reason. Ignoring the rules due to laziness doesn't help create a good composition.

Another time when you might want to make an extreme crop is with landscapes. Doing so can give a panoramic effect without taking a true panoramic photograph. You might not have the time to set up a tripod, but you can still get the effect of a panoramic image0

Also, you might want to use a portion of an image as a texture filter for another image. In that case, crop the texture you want to use.

Vignettes are a kind of "virtual" cropping that focuses attention to a particular area of a photograph while retaining a convenient aspect ratio for framing.

Try it out on some photographs. You might find some pictures with-in a picture that are just as strong or stronger than the full image.
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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Getty Licensing Flickr Images

Yeah, I'm up late at night with a touch of ensomnia. I just checked my feed reader and noticed that there were a couple of new posts over on Strobist. Cool I thought. One of them was about a new program that Getty Images is startign with Flickr. Head over to the Strobist's site to read all about it.

Maybe I should start putting photos up on Flickr.

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Preserving the Faces of 9/11

I'm a fan of Joe McNally's work. One of his most significant projects was photographing the heroes of 9/11 with the world's largest Polaroid camera. The camera is a truck trailer and captures life sized images. He has a book compiling the photographs, and has had a couple of shows displaying them. However, he has been having to store and care for them himself. He has a post on his site about that and how New York camera retailer Adorama has agreed to help him with those expenses. It is a moving and inspiring post that anyone with an interest in photography would like to read. These photographs will be a piece of our history. They should be preserved and displayed.

His post is on his blog. Here is a link to it.

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Sunday, July 6, 2008

Our World

Nevada (B&W)

I spent a few hours this weekend playing with the new makeshift softbox. My idea was to test how well it worked on defining subtle textures. For this I picked my son's globe as a test subject. The globe is obviously round, plus the mountain ranges are rendered in relief, thus meeting my goal of subtle textures. I also looked at it as an opportunity to photograph places vicariously that I probably won't get the chance to visit in person. The exercise also taught me a few things about world geography. More after the jump.

Nevada (Color)

For the exercise, I placed the softbox to camera left and mounted the flash inside, hanging from the upper rack via the Gorillapod. The flash was pointed slightly backward to reflect off of the aluminium lining to eliminate the hotspot problem. This arrangement seemed to work very well. The flash was still able to detect the IR signal from my camera, and I didn't notice any misfires. Being able to control the flash power from my camera was very convient for this as it would have been awkward to access the flash with it mounted in the softbox. However, I did have to shield the on-camera flash with my hand so that it wouldn't leave a bright glare. I will have to rig something up to do that so I can keep both hands on the camera.

I used all three of my lenses during the exercise (18-135mm, 70-300mm VR, and 50mm). I also used the 12mm or the 12mm+20mm extension tubes with the 50mm lens for the really close-up shots. The shallow depth of field with the 50mm lens and the extension tubes made some interesting effects.

Additionally, I processed almost all of the photographs as both color and black & white versions. What I noticed is that the globe's texture and shape were more noticible in the black & white photographs than in the color photographs. The color photographs seemed to have a better sense of place to them than the black & white photographs. Thus, nearly all of the shots have a color and black & white version. I had never really liked a lot of black & white photographs before. However, now I think I'm starting to see how they can accentuate different visual elements than color photographs do. I'll have to experiment more with this.

Following are a few of the photograph sets. The complete gallery is located on my Zenfolio site. As always, click a photograph to see it larger.

Appalachian Sunset (B&W)

Appalachian Sunset (Color)

India (B&W)

India (Color)

Bolivia (B&W)

Bolivia (Color)

Mysterious China (B&W)

Mysterious China (Color)

Thank you for reading and keep shooting.
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Friday, July 4, 2008

DIY Studio: $20 Softbox Part 2

The Softbox Gnome

I've had a couple of days with the makeshift softbox. What do I think of it? On the upside, it is great for the price and it diffuses my flash nicely. On the downside, it is bulky and not very portable. You can take it apart though if you want to. It would take about 10 to 20 minutes to put it back together I would guess.

Since I got it I have modified it a little. Not much to it, I just taped some aluminium foil to the sides and back in order to direct some of that spilled light back out the front. What I did and how it turned out after the jump. Plus, some more example shots.

Foil Lining

As you can see in the above shot, I added some aluminium foil to the inside of the softbox. I used just regular old Reynolds Wrap(tm) foil you can get at any grocery store. To hold it up, I used clear plastic packing tape. I chose that tape for a couple of reasons: 1) It was clear and wouldn't prevent the aluminium from reflecting the light, and 2) It was what I had in the house. The entire purpose here was to be cheap, so no need to go buy anything else.

One issue with the liner is that the fabric which makes up the softbox isn't very sticky. The tape doesn't want to stick to it, heck even industrial strength Velcro didn't want to stick to it which was my first thought to hold the foil up. Luckily, you can use the tubes for an anchor point as well.

Once you have the sides and back lined, then you have to fire your flash or aim your light into the softbox. The first night, if you will recall, I simiply fired the flash though the open "door". Well, I just lined that door with foil to reflect light. How did I get the light in there now? Through the zippered seam. The zipper has two tabs. One secures the top, the other secures the bottom, and you leave just enough open to stick you light or flash through.

Lighting the lined softbox

That ballhead is coming in really handy on the Gorillapod.

I was concerned that lighting the softbox off center like that would create a large hotspot to one side. However, as the next shot illustrates the light pattern isn't too bad.

Light pattern from lined softbox

The next thing that I did was to flag off the top of the softbox to control some of the vertical spill and pattern. I used a black, "project" board like the kind you would use for a science fair project. I got it at a hobby store awhile ago and have been using it as a background in my previous tabletop setup.

Project board flag/gobo/barndoor

The shot is a little soft, but I think you can see what type of board I'm talking about. It is a perfect fit over the top of the softbox.

"Flagged" Softbox

With all of that taken care of, it was time to do some tests. First up the Softbox Gnome.

Next, my son Connor. The shots are a little soft. I took them in a hurry so he wouldn't get too bored. The lighting was the most important thing here.

These were shot without fill which is why the shadows are so dark on the one side of his face. My next project is to get a fill reflector and support for portraits. The little pieces of cardboard that I use for tabletop work weren't tall enough.

It certainly isn't the best studio lighting in the world, but it is quite affordable and not very labor intensive. The catchlights that it leaves in the eyes is a bit odd too. However, I think this softbox is something that anyone could use to get started with studio lighting on a budget.
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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

DIY Studio: The $20 Softbox Part 1

I've been trying to get a better set-up for lighting studio style photographs at home. The biggest problem was getting diffused light. I had tried some DIY lightboxes, but wasn't really happy with them. Plus, they wouldn't have worked for portraits anyway ... can't stuff a person in a small lightbox ... well, you can't legally anyway.

I've been mulling over this for awhile now. I do plan on eventually getting a lightstand or two and a couple of umbrellas, and maybe a studio light setup someday. However, funds are tight right now and I can't really justify those expenses. Most DIY projects that I've seen would have ended up costing me as much, if not more, than a lightstand/bracket/umbrella set would have since I would need to get the tools as well. I'm not a very handy person anyway, so I have been looking around for something that I could adapt easily and cheaply. Today I found it at Target. I call it the $20 Softbox. More after the jump.

So what is this miracle of inexpensive light diffusion? You are probably going to laugh at this, but it is a 36 inch, self assembled Clothes Closet with fabric enclosure. Follow the link to see it on Target's website. It is constructed of tubes and some plastic connectors. I am not sure that I would hang a lot of clothes in it because it isn't particular strong, but that isn't what I bought it for. The beauty in this is the fabric enclosure. It is seamless on the back while the front has a nice, large zippered door. The frame measures 18 inches x 75 inches x 36 inches. So, for $20 you get a 75" x 36", floor sitting softbox. You just have to supply the light.

What light did I use? I used my Nikon SB600 Speedlight. I put it on my Gorillapod SLR Zoom which has a Manfrotto ballhead attached to it. I then sat the Gorillapod/flash on a stool. This puts the flash at about the middle of the fabric enclosure ... er, the softbox. I have the flash set to 24mm zoom with a Sto-fen Omnibounce diffuser on it. The Sto-fen provides some initial diffusion to fill up the softbox. The flash is set to wireless mode and is fired by the remote commander function of my D80.

Here are some shots of it.

Setup Shot #1
What you see here is:
1 - Center: A folding table with a background sweep, gnome supermodel, and a fill card.
2 - Right: Tripod, kinda dark I know. Squint and you'll see it.
3 - Front camera left: Photographer Cooling Unit, i.e. the big, black, round pedestal fan. The room isn't air conditioned.
4 - Rear camera left: The $20 Softbox and flash behind it.

Notice how the entire fabric enclosure is filled with light.

Setup Shot #2
This shot was taken looking toward the front of the softbox while lit with the flash.

Front of the Softbox
Notice that there are no seams on the front of the softbox / rear of the closet.

Rear of the Softbox
Here is a shot of the rear of the softbox with the flash firing into it. The door is opened to allow the light to hit the front of the softbox. I think the zipper would leave a shadow if you left the door closed.

One thing that you can also do is to mount the flash inside by hanging if off of the "closet rack bar". I wrapped my Gorillapod's legs around the top bar for the next couple of shots.

Flash Mounted inside; normal orientation

Flash mounted inside; alternate orientation via ballhead

Light Pattern with flash inside in alternate orientation
The really nifty thing about this last shot is that it was taken with the wireless flash. The camera's signal was able to trigger it through the diffusion material. Pretty cool for us wireless TTL flash users.

So, how does it work? Here are a couple of shots taken of a gnome supermodel that agreed to pose.

Gnome lit with wireless TTL flash camera left, no fill

Gnome lit with wireless TTL flash camera left, fill card camera right

They certainly are not the greatest pieces of art ever photographed, but I like how the softbox is diffusing the light. I will be experimenting with this more in the days to come. I plan on drafting my son for some test portraits as well.

I think this will be a fairly flexible light modifier. The flash can be placed at any particular level relative to the softbox. It is very light and can be moved around very easily. If you want to restrict the zone of light coming out of it, all you would need to do is to flag off the area that you don't want light to come through.

Anyway, it looks like a good deal for $20 from Target and 15-30 minutes of assembly time.

Edit: After sleeping on the idea, I will be playing around with some easy modifications. I plan on lining it with aluminium foil to direct the light escaping from the sides and back. Plus, I plan on rigging up some flags or gobos with some Velcro to control the light spill and pattern.
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