Gear… OK, Let’s Discuss Gear. Photographic Tools That I Like

Discussing Gear I Like at Lighting Essentials, a Place for Photographers

I get a lot of questions about gear at the workshops and by email. I have lots to say about gear, but I am not a gear-head. I love gear that helps make my work easier, and couldn’t care less about cost or prestige. If something works well I like it. And if it isn’t worth a premium price, I wont spend a premium price. Period.

There are lots of camera manufacturers, lots of lighting manufacturers and lots of gear manufacturers to choose from. And this article is in no way stating that other peoples choices are wrong. These are the tools I use and like a lot. I do not do negative reviews, so if I talk about it, it is because I like it.

Before we get to the specific items, I want to let everyone know that the workshops are going to be offered again next year and we will have the schedule up soon at Learn to Light. They have been very successful for us, and we are kicking them up a notch with a lot of interesting learning tools for next year. Everything will go up but the price. We are holding at our current price and still keeping to our very small 10-12 participants. If you are thinking about a workshop for your photography, I hope that you take a look at our schedule and mark one you like.

I want to link back to a few other gear articles we have done before getting going here.

Simple Setups for Dramatic Lighting
Mini Workshop: Location Portraits and Glamour
Speedlights: Unleash Their Creative Power
ON LOCATION: with Jerry OConnor, Jim Vigileos and Christina
Enough Modifiers to Keep It Interesting
Shoot Thru Umbrella and Bounce Umbrella – A Comparison
Twenty+ Non-Photographic Essentials For Location Photography

And a few recent articles you should be aware of:
Still Life Shot for a Magazine Ad
Modifying Natural Light with Simple Tools
And this 10 post long series on Going Pro. We are adding more to the Going Pro real soon.

Some new blogs and sites that I love are also something I want to share.

Heather Morton is an Art Buyer in Canada. Her blog is so damn interesting I cannot recommend it more. Absolutely amazing look at the real world of advertising photography. Also there is the wonderful blog by Nick Onken. Nick is one of my favorite shooters and his blog is very insightful. Rodney Smith is also one of my all-time favorite shooters. He now has a blog and it is fascinating reading.

I hope to meet more of you next year, and we are sure loving the fact that so many of you are telling your friends about Lighting Essentials. Thanks so much for your support.

And we still have a few openings in Pittsburgh and Boise. One spot left in Boston and one in Detroit. Florida is full. We will be starting next year with San Diego and Houston. See Learn to Light for more information.

So let’s get going on the gear post.

Let’s start with the Honl Gear that I have been carrying and using for several months now. Excellent build, and incredibly easy to carry in a small camera bag. I use the Flag, Snoot, Grid and Color Correction Gels.

What I like about them:
1. They go on all my speedlights no matter what brand or model.
2. The strap system is rugged, and powerful enough to handle wind and heat.
3. Quality of the light. From the snoot and the grid-spot, it is clean and easy to manipulate
4. They travel so well. A very small footprint for travel. I usually pack them in the front of my small travel camera bag.
5. After being taken to at least 12 workshops and passed all around in all kinds of weather and circumstances they still look and work like brand new. And that is really impressive.

How I use them:
The Honl System works so well for my work these days. I use the Snoot tool as a way to gently highlight a small area. And I can modify it to be a bounce fill for my speedlight if I need one. Versatility and build quality makes this Snoot exceptional. I use this thing for so many little nuances in shots that I would really not like to get on location without it.

In addition to the traditional snoot, I also like to use it as a very controlled bounce for my speedlight. In the shot below you can see how I will fold it to give me a little wink of fill from the flash. I do this to taste and not as a formula.

Snoots are used to bring a controlled light with a tight fall off to an area that a photographer wants. I have also used the snooted light as a main. It can be very dramatic. You should experiment with these tools to find out how much you can actually do with them. That is what makes them so cool, and being able to carry it in your bag is a huge reason for not having excuses for less creative light… ya know.

The Honl Flag is quite versatile as well. I use it to block light from spilling over onto areas I don’t want it to. This traditional tool is so powerful as there are places you may not want the spill to light. It also works really well to block potential spill from a backlight speedlight on your lens.

The Flag (Gobo) has a white and black side to it, so the white can be used as a smart bounce card above the camera, and I also use it to add a bit of rim light when needed. To block the light from spilling over on the background or other areas, I use the black side.

Grid Spots are amazing little tools to bring tightly controlled light with a soft edge to to it. Unlike the snoot, the light falls off a bit more gently from the honeycomb Grid Spot. Grids do kill a bit of the power, but there are so many uses for them that I have several.

The Honl color-correction gels are so easily handled with the Velcro system that it lets me be creative and exact with my light… fast. There are times when you really need to get that light right. The ability to quickly add a color-correcting Gel to any of the Honl tools is a real selling point to me.

Honl Makes Incredibly Powerful Gear for Creative Photography

Creative lighting sometimes calls for these special tools. And having them be so portable makes them very powerful. I have Grids, Snoots and Flags in the studio, but they really do NOT travel well. The Honl gear does what it says it will do and gives photographers the freedoom to take these creative lighting tools with them easily.

For more information on the incredibly powerful Honl gear see Expo Imaging.

A note about DIY:
I suck at it really bad. I have no time to develop the artistry that it would take to make these tools to the specs and presentation that I require. A Pringles Can snoot will only go so far before it is no longer a snoot, but a beat-to-hell Pringles can.

I work with people who expect the best from me. I expect the best from me… and my equipment. I want it to work well and look good. Look professional. That is so important for my work and my client’s clients. So I spend a little money to get what I think will do the job and get stuff done.

Honl Gear can be found here.

Two shots from a recent workshop showing the Honl and SpeedLightProKit tools being used for a beauty shot:
Using Several Speedlights for a creative Beauty shot

Another shot from that setup:
The Speedlight Beauty Shot from a recent workshop

Next up is the Kacey Beauty Dish from Kacey Enterprises.

I love this thing so much. It is very light, and very easy to use. But lightness and ease of use is not the most important thing to me. To me it is the quality of the light. And this thing rocks. It has a Mola look to the design. That makes it look quite attractive and the light is really beautiful falling on the three dimensional faces I shoot.

The Kacey Beauty Reflector on Lighting Essentials

Beauty dishes are quite large and most are pretty heavy. It adds a bit of a challenge to using them. My studio currently has three beauty dishes… two for my large studio kits and this Kacey Beauty Reflector for the speedlight work that I do. I recommend that you get it with the dual speedlight adapter as there are times when you need a bit more power (DBL Speedlight Configuration).

As I said, the light is really sweet from this Dish, and I love how I can dial down the power and get a true Beauty Dish look with an aperture of 2.8 or 4. Limited Depth of Field with the look of a powerful lighting tool. My other large strobe Beauty Dishes will not go much below f-11 or f-8 within the distance that I like to use a beauty dish (18″ – 42″) from the subject. That close proximity of the light means that my ProFotos – even when dialed all the way down – are still too powerful to use wide open apertures. It comes with a mirrored diffuser for the speedlights efficiency, but the Kacey can be ordered with an optional non-mirror diffuser for more powerful lights.

I use the Kacey Location Bag as well, and it makes carrying the Dish, attachments, and speedlight mounts so easy.
The Kacey Beauty Dish Carrying Case on Lighting Essentials

Here are three shots by Bill Millios of the Kacey Beauty Dish in action at the Lighting Essentials Workshop, Fredrick, Maryland. There was a fairly stiff wind on the bridge shots, but the Kacey with the painter pole really held its own.
There was a stiff wind blowing when these shots were made. An umbrella would not have worked at all. The beauty dish gives such nice light for this shot.

This shot shows the Kacey working to provide a beautiful light in an overcast situation.
Using the Beauty Dish outdoors on an overcast day provides a powerful, dramatic light.

In this shot, also by Bill Millios, the Kacey is paired with an Alien Bee for a somewhat surreal image. It helps to have exceptional talent as well as a concept that makes it work.
The Beauty Dish delivers some wonderful light for the main subject while a bare AB provides the light for the wall climber behind.

Kacey also makes grids and softlight covers for the beauty dish, but I rarely use them. They are also high quality tools, but I prefer an open face beauty dish. However, the Pole Adapter is simply an amazing little tool for adding your Beauty Dish to a long painting pole. Available at most any Home Depot or Lowes painting departments, the extension pole can be adapted to holding your beauty dish with one of these little devices.

The Kacey Pole Adapter on Lighting Essentials

The Kacey Dual Mount Speedlight Mount:
The Double Mount System for the Kacey Beauty Dish on Lighting Essentials

The Back of the Kacey Beauty Dish with one Light Bracket:
The Single Mount System for the Kacey Beauty Dish on Lighting Essentials

For me, this light and totally modifiable reflector makes perfect sense. I can get an adapter made for my other, more powerful units, or simply choose to use it as is with an assortment of speedlights, my choice. For now, it is my go-to light on the speedlight front whenever I can get it there.

However, sometimes I cannot take my Kacey Beauty Reflector because of space or if I am flying and I cannot get another piece of luggage on. For that, I use the SpeedLightProKit Beauty Dish. It folds up so easily and packs in the lid of my suitcase. While it is not quite a beauty dish, lacking the sharp edge, the light is really fantastic.

Here is a shot of it in use in Mexico. This shot is by Bill Millios:
Bill Millios took this shot of Megan against the early morning sun in Mexico.

This simple technique is one I have discussed on ProPhotoResource.com. The article is here.

This image shows the original shot with the lighting still in it. Simply use Photoshop to eliminate the lighting from the shot.
Images courtesy Hopeland Studios.

The beauty dish comes in a neatly packaged box which can be used for travel. I have the beauty dish, a large softbox and a small softbox in it with some barndoors and gel pack. I reinforced the sides of my kit box with a small amount of perfectly cut Gaffers tape so it is both rugged and attractive. The beauty dish itself is in three parts: the two that snap together to make the large dish and a diffuser that fits inside the opening. It was a little tricky the first time I set it up, but now it goes together real quick.

As I stated, there is no ‘lip’ or tight edge to this beauty dish, something that traditional beauty dishes have, so it doesn’t have that ‘snap’ at the edges. I don’t think that is a bad thing… it is actually pretty good. The flash seems to fade pretty fast at the distances I use it, and I love the fall off from this thing. So while it may not be ‘exactly’ as a beauty dish would perform, I love what it does do a lot.

The SpeedLightProKit Beauty Dish will be available soon. Check their website for more information.

Some words about the SpeedLightProKit products that I use. I particularly like these units for a lot of reasons:

1. They are solid and very well made.
2. The footprint for travel is nearly nothing. I can take a bunch of modifiers in my luggage whenever I need.
3. The light is smooth, well defined and color correct.
4. The units deliver a lot of light for small tools.
5. I cannot tell the ones that have traveled all over the country, been used hundreds of times, and packed/repacked over and over again from the absolutely brand new ones I just received.

My personal kit for the SpeedLightProKit tools is as follows:

1 Beauty Dish
2 Large Softboxes
2 Medium Softboxes
2 Medium Box Grids
And an assortment of grid-spots, gels and diffusers.
That is equal to two ProKit Pro Sets, two ProKit 6 Reflector kits and most of their other modifiers.

I usually tell my students at the workshop that if you are going to buy a lighting modifier – umbrella, softbox, reflector, grid etc… – to get two of each. There are times when having two lights that totally match will be important. That may not be true with beauty dishes or the larger umbrellas or parabolics, but it is definitely something I press on the smaller to medium tools. Two that match. Important.

For those of you who may already be familiar with the SpeedLightProKit tools, I would like to point out a few changes. They have created a new mount for the Large Softbox (ProKit 6) that works extremely well. Here is a look at the ProKit 6 Large Softbox and New Mounting Ring.
The new mount for the ProKit 6 is a big improvement. It is easier and faster than the old system

Another New Item is the PR4-T tool. These are a pair of diffused panels to match the ones for the ProKit Pro and ProKit 6 modifiers. They can be mixed and matched to make a traditional ‘event shooter’ speedlight top, or something more esoteric… like a softbox with a diffusion panel to add light to a bounce card below. Or a Large softbox with some diffused light to escape and fill in ambient… the uses for this set of tools is limitless.

PR4-T SpeedLightProKit modifiers are diffusers that can be mixed and matched with the existing tools for even more sophistication.

Here I use a small ProKit Softbox to light Frank against the sun over his shoulder camera left. Speedlight is a 430EX on half power.
SpeedLightProKit used to light up subject against the sun, later removed in Photoshop

The shot after removing the light in Photoshop.
The shot after removing the light in Photoshop.

For a look at the SpeedLightProKit tools I reviewed earlier this year, see this page:
Enough Modifiers to Keep It Interesting

In the end, the tools above are simply tools. You must make them work for you. I hope you consider them in your gear purchases. Most can be found at MPEX or at their own sites to which I have linked. I hope you found this article informative and useful. Please join me on Twitter or Facebook or any of the other Social Media sites listed top right of this page. Thanks.

Next Gear Review will be on Flash Units for studio and travel.

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About 

I am in love with light.

Also known as Don Giannatti, photography has been the focus of my life for most of my adult years. I have written three books for Amherst Media (available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble: keyword 'don giannatti'. Lighting Essentials is my flagship blog and ezine with a slightly different slant than most photography related blogs. If you are interested in becoming a better photographer, check out www.project52.org. Thanks for visiting.

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