Each month we highlight a certain item in Profoto’s assortment of Light Shaping Tools. Previously, we have focused on the Umbrella XL, the HR Lantern, the Softlight Reflector, the Softbox 3×4’ RF, the ProRing 2, the Zoom Reflector and the Giant Silver. This time we will take a closer look at the Softbox 5’ Octa.
The articles in this series usually feature one or perhaps a couple of images, shot with the tool in question. This time, however, we have 200 images to show. And it is all thanks to Edouard Janssens.
Edouard is a portrait and fine art photographer based in Brussels, Belgium. He has been in the business for many years, and consequently he has many portraits hanging in his studio. One day, when Edouard was walking around the studio, he looked at the portraits of 5-year-olds, 35-year-olds and 72-year-olds and realized that it would be nice to have a portrait of a woman and a portrait of a man at each age from 1 to 100. Hence, the 1 to 100 Years project was born.
“There were a lot of decisions to make in the beginning,” says Edouard. “The only thing I was sure of was that I wanted to shoot every single person in exactly the same context. I figured this was necessary to show the ageing process.
“This meant that I had to set certain rules about what people were to wear. I ended up choosing a white shirt, simply because it is something that most people have in their wardrobe. I also wanted to minimize all signs of cultural or social identity, so no glasses or jewelry or anything like that!
“I then had to decide what background I wanted to use. The same principles applied here: I wanted every person in the same context. I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to shoot everybody in my studio, which meant that I needed a simple solution that would work on location. In the end, I chose a black background because it creates contrast and a nice, intimate feel.
“Finally, I had to decide what lighting to use for my 200 portraits. I wanted a one-light set up because I knew I had to bring it with me on location. I have a lot of Profoto gear at my studio and tried many different solutions before I made my decision. In the end, I choose the Profoto Softbox 5’ Octa.”
“Because I love the light it creates, and it can be used in so many different ways. It’s not usually a good idea to use exactly the same set-up for so many people with such different appearances. But as I mentioned before, it was necessary for this project, and the fact that the Softbox 5’ Octa can be used in so many different ways really made things a lot easier.”
“For instance, the Softbox 5’ Octa is perfect for kids. It creates this baby skin tone – really soft and intimate. Perfect! But I had to use it a little differently with the older people. I put it a little further back or turned it to the side and use the falloff to get more punch and character in the light, so that the lines and wrinkles would show. But I always used the same power setting, the same height and so on. I just moved the light. And that’s what I love about the Softbox 5’ Octa; it’s incredibly versatile. To be honest, if I am going to use the same light for so many different people, it’s the only choice, really.”
Speaking of power setting. What strobe did you use?
“In the studio, I used my D4. On location, I used a D1 monolight since I didn’t want to bring the D4 with me in the car. Also, when I was shooting with the D1, I used the optional glass dome cover to get a light spread that is closer to that of the D4 head.”
For those who are not the slightest bit familiar with the Softbox 5’ Octa, what is the point with an octagonal shaped softbox?
“Well, the first and most obvious thing is of course the catch light. The Softbox 5’ Octa creates a wonderful reflection in the eyes, which is round rather than square. The round shape of the softbox also has the effect that the subject becomes more evenly lit than if you were to use a square softbox. This was in fact another reason why I choose to work with the Octa during this project.”
The project is completed now, right?
Yes. Finally. It was very easy in the beginning. I started with my family. I then shot my friends and relatives, then the people I met through my social network, and then it just spread out like that. However, finding and shooting the last 20 percent took about 80 percent of the total time!”
And what is going to happen with the project now?
“There is of course the website, where you can see all portraits of the 100 woman and the 100 men. There is also a slideshow with all the portraits, and the music for the slideshow is an original piece, written specifically for this project by Alex Heffes, who is a well-known music score writer. It’s perfectly synchronized and goes through these subtle changes at important phases in your life. You have to hear it!
“There is also an exhibition. It’s actually quite extraordinary. It’s free. It’s outside and open 24 hours a day. The exhibition itself is 100 meters long – 50 meters for the women and 50 for the men. So you can come there with your family and walk along the portraits and experience the ageing process together. Also, since it’s just right outside the European Commission headquarters here in Brussels, you could say that it’s situated right in the center of Europe! All in all, it’s like a dream come true for me.”
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