The softbox has always had its place in the studio. In fact softboxes were designed and developed for the commercial photographer to shoot large products, room interiors and furniture. As you would expect, the results from larger softboxes give a feeling of very natural light. However, these days, I think the softbox can be overused, especially by social photographers. I’ve seen far too many over-soft images with square catch lights in the eyes. I like to see images that have some depth to them, some shape, and yes, some shadow. Shooting someone front-on with a softbox is easy, but the results can often be incredibly bland — and dare I say, a little boring?
Anyway, believe it or not, I’ve found a really nice softbox that I like! The new Strip Light from StroBeam is superb and I would recommend it to anyone who shoots people. It offers the photographer plenty of control, and its shape, size and the accessories that come with it make a superb package.
The StroBeam Strip Light I used was the 30cm x 90cm version — a perfect size to fit any small studio — and it comes with an optional white, front diffuser and a black cloth grid that fits into the front lip of the box (below).
The first thing to say about this box is the way it can be put up and down. It works just like a brolly; a simple push is all that’s needed to lock it in position, and taking it down is just as simple. The front diffuser and grid attach very simply with Velcro strips, and the latter keeps the output of the box dead straight and easy to control. Everything also folds up very easily into a bag for storage or for travel.
To show the effects of the Strip Light, I shot some images against a black cloth background, starting side-on to the subject, before moving around to a 45 degree-point and then front-on. The box worked so well and the results were very easy to achieve. Using the strip in a vertical position, with the black grid attached to the front, there was virtually no spillage; all of the light just fell where I wanted it. I also used it front-on without the grid and the results were excellent.
If you want a slightly softer effect the front diffuser can be added, which turns the strip into a more conventional box. But here again good results are very easy to achieve, as the coverage of the strip is much better and certainly more controllable than a square or oblong box (the problem with them is they produce too much light that you have no control over).
Another way of using this strip is horizontally — and once again, this position offers the photographer many possibilities. Using it this way allows you to cut off the light to the subject, top or bottom, wherever you want to. I used it this way to cut the light off and it fade to black halfway down the model (below), which created a lovely effect. This just goes to show how much control you have using the strip with the grid. It really is very controllable and that’s what I want out of any lighting accessory I use; to be able to control the output totally and use it exactly where I need it.
I’ve already said how much I like the StroBeam Strip Light and I'd recommend it for any photographer who photographs people, but this box can shoot many other applications too. Obviously it’s ideal for product photography, perhaps tabletop work from above, or for smaller web items. For larger products I would suggest buying a pair of Strip Lights and working at 45 degrees to the subject, using them vertically or horizontally for longer items. To ‘drive’ this strip to get the best results, I would recommend using a 250j as a minimum power, and perhaps 400j for more scope in terms of power (and therefore output).
When it comes to attaching the strip to your flash head I would suggest you follow my crafty little tip that you can use for any large softbox. Make up the strip or softbox and put it face down on the floor, then attach the flash head to the adaptor. When it's attached and locked in place, pick up the head and box and place it straight onto your stand — simple!
To be honest, I can’t think of anything this strip couldn’t be used to shoot because it's so versatile. When buying studio accessories, it’s very easy to get carried away and a lot of photographers I know have a cupboard stuffed with bits and pieces they rarely use. Well, please trust me on this one and rest assured that if you invest in this StroBeam strip, you will definitely use it, probably day in, day out!
I mentioned that I tested the StroBeam 30cm x 90cm strip, but the company also makes a larger 30cm x 140cm version and each of those can be bought with adaptors for either Elinchrom or ‘S’ type Bowen’s fitting. Make sure you select the correct version when you buy.
For more information on the StroBeam Softboxes click on the links below. You can also view our full range of softboxes here.