Each month we highlight a certain item in Profoto’s rich assortment of Light Shaping Tools. (Previous articles can be found here.) This month we ask UK car photographer Nigel Harniman how and why he uses the StripLight.
Let us be clear about one thing: the StripLight is not a strip softbox. Strip softboxes are mounted onto flash heads. StripLights, on the other hand, are special application heads with built-in flash tubes, designed to provide a long and narrow light source with a subtle fall-off. Think of it as a precise and powerful fluorescent lamp, if you will.
StripLights are often used with BarnDoors to create perfectly even highlights with sharp outlines. It is for this reason that many car photographers wanting razor sharp reflections in the car body use them. This is also where Nigel Harniman and his shots of Demented (his beloved, custom-made Kawasaki VN1500) enter the picture.
To give Demented the respect it deserves, Nigel decided to shoot it in a dank, severe setting amid broken light and fractured metals and water, also known as the Lawrence Recycling plant in Kidderminster. He then used a medium-sized StripLight to make its shapes and details stand out from the murky environment.
“StripLights are very good at front lighting hard, shiny objects,” says Nigel. “You get these clean, white highlights that accentuates the form of the object you’re shooting. In the case of Demented, most of the highlights in its body were created using a single, medium-sized StripLight. The highlights in the chrome, the shape of the fuel tank, the details in the wheels, the texture in the seat, all these little streaky details were created using that single StripLight.”
The process works like this: Nigel decides on a shooting angle and locks down the camera. He brings out the StripLight, shapes it light into a perfect highlight and shoots it. He then repeats the process until he has shot all the highlights he needs. Finally, he composites the layers into a final image in Photoshop.
“It’s like lighting a diamond,” says Nigel. “You try to highlight every little facet and show every detail in its best light. This is not a unique technique, though. Everybody does it.”
How many individual shots does the final shot consist of in this case?
“I’d say around 15.”
Is that normal for this kind of shot?
“It varies a lot. Sometime it only takes four shots. Sometimes you need more than more 40.”
Do you keep them all in your head or do you run back and forth to the laptop?
“No, I keep it all in my head. I haven’t got time to run back and forth. I avoid shooting tethered. Tethered is a pain.”
So, why didn’t you just use a strip softbox?
“You’ll never get such an evenly lit highlight with a softbox. A softbox has a single flash head positioned in the center behind a diffuser, so you’ll always have fall-off towards the corners. In addition, softboxes are made of fabric, which means that they slightly change shape depending on how you turn and rotate them. StripLights, on the other hand, have several flash heads and a hard Perspex cover that gives you a perfectly even illumination from edge to edge. This might not be crucial if you’re shooting portraits or fashion, but if you do what I do and shoot several highlights that you plan on lining up when compositing the image, it’s going to save you a lot of time and energy.”
Did you use any other light sources during this shoot?
“Yes, we used a single head with a Zoom Reflector to imitate the effect of the sunlight coming through the top window. The beam of light you actually see in the image was added during postproduction, though.”
Okay. Any other tips or tricks?
“Well, there is this one thing that didn’t occur to me until I’d used the StripLight for a while. On this shoot I used the medium-sized StripLight, which has two individual flash heads. What I came to realize is that you can create a graduated fall-off by dialing down either one of the two built-in heads. This is really useful if you want the reflection to fade out towards either end, but still want it to be sharp and thin all the way.”
More information about the StripLight is available at Profoto’s website.
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