By now I'm sure everyone has heard the adage, "everything is bigger in Texas." The mission for this project wasn't necessarily to set out to just make a bigger soft box, but I'd venture to say this is the largest soft box in the Dallas area, perhaps the west, without going full out Hollywood. This one-of-a-kind 8'x20' light will be used in our studio for a multitude of applications where a large seamless soft light is required, as in highly reflective surfaces such as cars and motorcycles.
This project got started during a lunch conversation with Tom McKerrow, owner of TM Graphic, a commercial art and graphic design firm in Dallas. Both of us are confirmed "Car Guys," and we decided that what we really needed was a big soft box to use when photographing our cars. This was a personal project that grew out of proportion and took on a life of its own.
Tom engineered the box based on my design consultation. We conferred over multiple planning meetings on how things would work during construction, how we would attach the lighting, manage the cords, create flexibility and get it off the ground once it was all put together. Some of the inspiration included going to a business that made awnings for buildings, where they bent the structural box aluminum to the identical radius needed.
The actual box was constructed in five four-foot sections of welded Aluminum box framing, bolted together. Lights are bounced up into the curved top with a center depth of four feet. The exterior is skinned with Sintra PVC plastic sheeting; the front baffle is opal printing fabric, with Velcro sewn along the edge. This allows the unit to function like a portable soft box, but at a much larger scale.
The box is lifted from the floor with four independent power hoists that allow each corner or end to adjust independently, enabling the box to be rolled front to back, end to end. The hoists are attached to custom trolleys that slide in a 35-foot steel track from a CYC wall to nearly the other end of the studio. The extra track was installed to allow more flexibility in the studio and to allow the box to be removed from the CYC wall when not in use, without coming down to the floor.
The obvious application for this 20-foot light is shooting cars and motorcycles. You can see in the images accompanying the article the final image of a Mercedes 380 SL, and the set up that makes it happen. For the image of the car, there was an additional white scrim on the front of the car and an 8x20 foot scrim on the right side with bounce lights. We made a separate image of the grill and placed it into the final image in post.
The image of the motorcycle had the softbox direcly overhead, black velvet was hung behind the bike, and the entire set was encapsulated in white fabric with bounce fill lights.
This light is also very handy for tabletop food, people, interior sets, and anything where you would want an overall super soft contrast knock/bump down. We recently set up two tabletops and photographed menu items for Uncle Julio's restaurants. This allows us to have one main light, and we accessorize the lighting from there, with a kicker, fill or stronger side light depending on the dynamics of the particular image being produced. The images of the Corona bucket of beer and the salmon salad were shot next to each other under the soft box. A set up such as this adds efficiency to the day as we work on two sets, shooting on one while the stylist prepares the other.
If a client needs a beautiful overhead/back to front soft light, this is hard to beat, especially as easy as it is to move and adjust. Speed is a big factor in this business, and knowing just what the light is going to look like helps tremendously.
Paul Schiefer Photography (www.paulschiefer.com) is one of the largest full-service digital commercial photography studios in Dallas, specializing in food/beverage, large sets, architectural and high-tech products. Two full time staff members help maintain a constant level of quality to all images before they leave the studio. Jason Grant, second shooter and digital expert specializes in architectural imagery, he manages all things digital. Molly Donohew, studio manager/production assistant literally does everything else. Paul is the "promiser" because someone has to say, "of course we can get that done." Admittedly a gear nut, Paul has an extremely well equipped facility with natural light, a client lounge area, industrial kitchen, conference rooms, t-speed wireless, and prop storage. The studio uses Broncolor and Comet lighting.