A word that I often use is posthumous. Of late it has to do with realizing that someone dead from my past was right and I was too dense to realize it. This is the case of the utility of a photographer’s soft box.
It all began in 1980 when writer Les Wiseman and I traveled to New York, thinking that we were so good at what we did ,(he at writing and me in photography) that there would be a clamour to hire us.
We were allowed into the office of the then already legendary Esquire editor Adam Moss. This is what he told us, “You guys have good stuff but we are not interested in Joe Clark.”
At Rolling Stone, where most of the men there had black hair and glasses and tried to look like Elvis Costello we were told, “You guys are good but we are not interested in Red Ryder.”
I went to Olden Cameras and asked the man behind the counter for a small softbox. He looked at me quizzically so I told him to consult the catalogue. I left the store with a small Chimera softbox.
|My small Chimera softbox, (21x27inches) in my Kits studio|
Until it was invented in 1979 by Gary Regester, soft boxes were heavy and unwieldy and made of wood. We photographers used umbrellas to reflect studio light in portrait jobs.
When I showed the results of my initial portraits with the Chimera, Vancouver Magazine art director Rick Staehling told me that he was pleased and that I was to use it from then on. I explained that the light was uniform with no drama and that I was into dramatic lighting with focusing spotlights and grid spots. I further added that the softbox took away from a photographer’s personal style. It was too universally uniform.
So now 43 years later, last week, after taking 8 portraits of artist Joe Average I was overcome by a realization on how right Staehling was.
To begin with most of the photographers who use softboxes never get it close to their subjects and the lighting has no shadows on faces. I have a small softbox, a medium one and a very large one. The large one came handy when I had to photograph groups of lawyers in law firms.
In my many years as a Vancouver photographer I have experimented with all kinds of lighting techniques. Of late I have simplified my shooting. When Joe Average came to my Kits home on 12 December 2022 we had a late breakfast of Argentine mate and croissants. We had a nice chat and then moved to my small studio where I took only 8 photographs with my Fuji X-E3.
I now understand that part of my portrait style with the softbox (beyond getting it very close to my subject so that it resembles window lighting) is for me to get close. The pictures of Average were at 23mm in my Fuji. That translates to a 35mm lens in a film camera. When you look at the Joe Average portrait, even if you have hazy photographic knowledge you understand that the photographer is very close to subject.
In my portraits I like to include hands. Hands were important in the Joe Average portrait. Read the blog in link below.
Once my subject was gone Rick Staehling’s words came back and I understood in a flash that the style of my Joe Average portrait is not the softbox, or the camera. The style (my style!) is having a connection (breakfast helped) and now worrying about the light or the equipment.
With fewer and fewer photographers now lighting their portraits my softbox style is my personal style.
Thank you Rick!