Friday, January 27, 2012

Travelling with the Westcott Apollo Orb and Strip Softboxes

The studios in Japan that I've used in the past usually already have lighting equipment available for use.   However, they tend to be constant lighting sources - tungsten or fluorescent lights. These are fine for general portrait lighting, but aren't very flexible if you want to do things like stopping motion or overpowering daylight.

When I travel, I normally take a bunch of Nikon SB26 flashes with me along with a couple of Westcott double fold shoot thru umbrellas and occasionally the Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe Softbox. For this past trip however, I had several shoots where I needed light modifiers that could give me more control than the umbrellas. That's why I picked up the Westcott 43" Apollo Orb and two Westcott Apollo Strip 16"x30" Softboxes just before I flew up to Japan this past December.

I really liked the Apollo Orb.  Setup was really quick - it opens up and mounts on the lightstand just like an umbrella.  The diffusion panel can be recessed a little from the edge of the softbox, which gives you a little more control over the light.  Not as much control as a grid, but good enough for what I was doing.

It turned that small SB26 into a huge 43" octagonal light source that looked great on the model.

The Striplights were really helpful in controlling the light in situations where I really needed to keep the light off of the background.  In the following image, the two Striplights are positioned just out of the frame on either side of the model. If I had only brought the shoot thru umbrellas with me, it would have been extremely difficult to get a shot like this.

Although the Westcott Apollo Orb and the Striplights fold up like umbrellas, they don't fold up as short  as the double-fold shoot thru umbrellas do.  For my trip to Japan, it was challenging to find luggage that these softboxes would fit into. I did manage to find a rolling duffle bag at Macy's that worked though - a High Sierra Rolling Drop Bottom Duffle 34" Evolution for about $150.

This bag was perfect - in the bottom section I was able to fit the Apollo Orb, 2 Apollo Striplights, a California Sunbounce Micro Mini reflector + Grip Head, 2 Justin Clamps, an empty sandbag, a Speedlight Prokit Beauty Dish and 3 Manfrotto Nano Lightstands and still had room left over.

The bottom part of the upper section unzips if you need to pack larger items.

I used this rolling duffle to get the lighting gear to Japan.  Then when I went on location, the compactness of the Westcott softboxes made it easy to put them into the front exterior pocket of my Thinktank Airport Security 2.0 rolling camera bag along with a couple of lightstands. When you are a photographer traveling on trains and buses in Tokyo, it really helps if you don't have to carry a lot of bags with you.

The only real downside to using the Westcotts is that  because they mount onto lightstands like an umbrella, the flash ends up inside the softbox rather than on the back.

(in case you are wondering, the red coloring inside of the Orb in this shot is just the silver interior reflecting the backdrop we used)

To make adjustments to the flash power, you need to open up and reach into the softbox to do it, which is pretty easy to do, just don't attach the velcro on the bottom of the diffuser panel so that you can flip it up out of the way quickly.  Alternatively you can use something like the Pocket Wizard Flex TT1/TT5 and AC3 Zone Controller to adjust the flash power remotely.

Overall though, the ease of setup and control of light the Westcott Apollo series of softboxes along with the fact that I can now carry essentially an entire studio on my rolling camera bag make me really glad that I added these to my travel lighting toolkit.


Jeff Ellis said...

I know this is an older post, but hoping you're watching. Thanks for the review- good practical info. I've a Wescott 28x28" Apollo I use with my Quantums and like it a lot. And the Output is excellent with a Quantum.

On the 43" ORB What kind of power/ƒ-stop are you getting with Nikon Speedlights? If shooting at 1/2 or better 1/4 power for recycle time, what's realistic output with the diffuser at say 4' for a 3/4 length portrait?

Todd Mizomi said...

Aloha Jeff,

With an old Nikon SB26 on 1/4 power in the Apollo Orb at 4 feet I get about f4 at iso 200.

If I want more power out of it, I usually bump up my iso. Lightroom usually takes care of any noise that pops up.

Lately however, I've been running dual speed lights when I want to push more power into the Orb. Two speedlights lets me cut power on both flashes and gives me an even faster recycle time.

Thanks for visiting the blog!


Jeff Ellis said...

Thanks Todd.
Much appreciated. What rig do you have for holding the 2 speed lights? I used to have the "Brewer Bracket" which I loved. Really built well- but it got stolen and he doesn't seem to be making them anymore.

I travel with a 3 light kit - 2 Quantum T5d's and an SB-800, plus the 2 -SB900's in my camera bag. Handles a lot of different situations. Love using the Remote head on the Quantum for boxes- keeps the body of the flash outside the box for controls with an 8' cable.

That way I have the equiv. power of 2 speedlights or more in the box, but very lightweight & small inside - and controls where I can get at them. But the speed lights are amazing little things too.....

This frame is with the Quantum, Wescott 28x28" box and SB-800 as backlight on the right:

Todd Mizomi said...

I used to use a short generic bar (that came with a set of Z96 LED lights) that had two 1/4 20 screws in it- just enough space to fit two strobes side by side.

I recently upgraded to the Big Boy Bar by Scott Robert Lim which is wider and has mounting points for 4 strobes.:

Kinda liking this more, as it's wider and sturdier than the generic one. Think i might even want to get a second one (but then again, adjusting the levels on 8 individual strobes may be a bit excessive) ;-)

Sounds like a cool lighting setup you have there. The Quantums are really nice - love the power and the ability to adjust levels remotely. Might invest in a set myself in the future.

Nice work on your site, btw. :-)