Softboxes with speedlights for on-location lighting
Off-camera flash is the easiest way to create dynamic lighting – and using a speedlight with a softbox, is on-location lighting at its most elegantly simple. For most of my on-location portraits, I like to travel (fairly) light, and my lighting of choice is a speedlight, wireless transmitters and a softbox. The softbox is either held up by a light-stand (which I weight down with my camera bag), or held up by an assistant (with the softbox on a monopod.)
I like TTL flash – it often gets us there faster than manual flash. But for consistency, especially when photographing someone in a static position relative to the light, manual flash is the only way to go.
I discussed beforehand with Allison and Scott the idea and feel for this photo session – glamorous. Night on the town kinda glamorous. For this New York rooftop location and that dress, a vertical photo would’ve have made less sense. Too much would be “lost” against the drab brick wall as background.
The pose was a compromise between something sexy & glamorous, and the practical need to have Allison not feel precarious on the (wide) ledge there. Scott had his arm around her, and I then asked Allison to drape an arm over Scott’s shoulder. In this way the pose came out of the environment and backdrop.
The pullback shot to show the positioning of the softbox – handheld by an assistant. The speedlight was set to manual output.
Camera settings and photo gear (or equivalents) used for the main image
- 1/250 @ f/5.6 @ 100 ISO
- Nikon D4
- Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR II /equivalent Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II
- Nikon SB-910 Speedlight controlled by PocketWizard FlexTT5 Transceiver & AC3 Controller
or alternately, the Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite controlled by Canon ST-E3 Transmitter
- Lastolite EZYBOX 24×24″ softbox (B&H / Amazon)
To show the progression, here is the photo without the additional light. My basic exposure was chosen so that the background wouldn’t blow out in over-exposure. Then the flash was added. At this distance and aperture, and using the softbox (which cuts down on the flash’s light), we were close to full manual output on the flash. But this is where I decided I want to be in terms of balancing them with the background.
This simple lighting setup works for so many on-location portraits, and is most often my starting point. It just works.
Video tutorials to help you with your flash photography
- Off-camera flash vs. available light
- video clip: using the Canon 600EX-RT Speedlites on a photo shoot
- Off-camera flash: rim-lighting and using flare
- Gear updated: Flash photography workshops
- More reviews of lighting gear
- More articles about Off-Camera Flash
Recommended softboxes for speedlights
Lastolite EZYBOX 24×24″ softbox
The main advantage of this type of softbox, is how it folds open, and clips onto a “lollipop”. None of the metal rods that need to be mounted onto a speeding.
The Lastolite EZYBOX collapses into a conveniently small size … although the latest versions of this has a large triangular bag, instead of the smaller round bag. Still, it’s a handy softbox for speedlights, and very easy to setup. It has an inner baffle that can be removed if you need a bit more power from your flash.
Review: Lastolite Ezybox 24×24 softbox
Impact Quickbox 24×24″ softbox
Impact rebranded the Lastolite EZYBOX under their own name-brand. Slightly cheaper, but otherwise exactly the same as the Lastolite version. The same advantages and ease of setting up.
Westcott Rapidbox 26″ Octa Softbox
The Westcott Rapidbox 26″ Octa Softbox is compact when it folds up, and comes in a handy carry bag. The carry bag has enough space for a speedlight and your favorite set of wireless triggers.
It is also easy to set up, with no rods and speed-ring like traditional softboxes. It folds open like an umbrella. Since the speedlight sits on the outside, it is easy to adjust as you need.
Profoto RFi Speedring for dual speedlights
The Profoto dual-flash Speedring is rugged (which means it is heavy), and it easily allows two speedlights! Double the power.
You can now add any softbox via the rods that go into the speed-ring. I use the medium-sized Profoto 1.3′ x 2′ softbox (affiliate) with these.
I use these in my flash photography workshops, because I can now accommodate different systems with one softbox. The two speedlights could be of different size and use different radio systems.
With two sets of these dual-flash speedrings, it means that we can accommodate up to 4 different flash systems simultaneously at the flash photography workshops!
Review: Profoto RFi dual-flash speedring