WexPro have recently introduced a new range of Softlite reflector, the perfect accessory to shoot portraiture. The basic design of the Softlite has been around for a long time and is a tried and tested reflector that gives stunning results for a wide range of studio applications.
Primarily, the Softlite is used front-on in the studio as a main light to shoot head and shoulders, three quarter portraits and full length. Its strength is in its shape, internal finish and size that all combine to give a beautiful, even natural light. I use the word ‘beautiful’ because the Softlite reflector is also known as a ‘beauty dish’, a name that you may be familiar with.
I have to say that if I were looking to buy one key accessory for portrait work, it would always be a Softlite reflector because of its versatility. If you shoot toddlers and kids, it gives great skin tones and superb round catch-lights. If you shoot head and shoulders and small family groups, using the right power flash head will give you very even coverage over a wide area. It’s the ideal reflector to use as a main light for Hi-Key portriature and will also give superb results shooting against a black background. Using the right combination of power and Softlite will also allow you to shoot full length; in short it’s the perfect studio tool.
The reason that the Softlite is such an effective tool is its design. The way that the reflector works is quite simple as all the light is pushed forward into a small metal disc called a diffuser cap. This small round cap, held in the middle of the reflector diffuses the light back into the whole reflector, which transmits the output forward. It’s the combination of surfaces that give the Softlite its characteristics. The diffuser cap has a highly polished silver surface that ensures that the entire output of the flash head is used to bounce off the cap, back into the reflector. The surface of the reflector is also a vital component that gives that beautiful soft coverage we associate with any beauty dish.
WexPro have two new versions of the Softlite reflector, one with a standard soft silver lining, the other with a white lining and they are both available in three sizes, 42cm, 55cm and 70cm. I’m also pleased that there are two other accessories for each size Softlite, a pull on shower-cap diffuser and a metal honeycomb.
So which size is best? In an ideal world of course you would have all three sizes in the studio, but I know life’s not quite that easy. For many years it’s the 42cm that has been the most popular, largely due to its size, making it the obvious choice for the smaller studio with lower powered lights. I’ve been a big advocate of that size myself and have used one for years, it’s the perfect all round tool to shoot in a limited space that you know will give you perfect results.
However I’m, also a big fan of the 55cm softlite, especially when it’s used with correct powered head. This is another very important factor to consider when you buy any accessory, have you got enough power to ‘drive’ it. To get the best from any accessory you will always need enough power to make it work properly. So the larger the accessory, the more power you need to get the best from it.
The 42cm will be the ideal choice for anyone using 150j, 200j or 250j heads in a smaller space, but the 55cm and the 70cm will need a little more power pushed through them, especially if you want to shoot full length. It’s all about the distance the light can travel before it falls off, so using a higher powered light will ensure that the coverage remains completely even over a greater distance. If you want to shoot full length with the 55cm or 70cm versions, use them with 400j heads or more and that power will ensure you get the even coverage you need.
Which surface to buy? This is a really tricky question to answer as both the soft silver and white lined WexPro Softlite reflectors have similar characteristics. As a rule of thumb, the silver lined version will always give a slightly ‘crisper’ output, more noticeable on the skin tones. Personally I like this surface, it’s certainly got much more ‘bite’ than a white brolly or soft box. The white lined version will always be a little softer and more forgiving if you shoot close up portraits, but the output is still ‘stronger’ than a white brolly or soft box.
Of course this is where the accessories for the WexPro Softlite reflector come into there own. You can soften either the silver or white lined reflector with the white shower cap diffuser that will add a further layer of diffusion. To make the WexPro Softlite more directional, the metal honeycomb can be added. The Softlite and honeycomb combination work really well together to shoot against a black background. The honeycomb keeps the output tight and any spillage from the edges of the Softlite is kept to an absolute minimum.
When you’ve decided which version and size of WexPro Softlite reflector to buy, the first thing you need to do is to shoot some tests with it. You need to do this so that you know exactly what it can and can’t do. You can do this simple test whichever size you buy. Position the Softlite reflector on a flash head directly in front of your background about 2.5 metres away from it. Set your flash head power to a mid setting, allowing at least two stops up and two stops down, assuming that you have a standard five stop range to work with.
With a flash meter, start taking a series of readings, working outwards from the centre of the background about ½ metre apart until you reach each edge and the top and bottom of the background. This exercise will show you how even the Softlite is and where the output of the reflector starts to fall off. You should be able to measure a 2.5 metre radius of very even output from the Softlite. You can then repeat this exercise at 3 metres and if you have the space 4 metres away from the background. Turn up the power if necessary and note the settings that you’ve used to get that perfect coverage.
Getting to know any accessory is important, but for the Softlite reflector it’s vital that you know what you can do with it. Once your confident with it, it means that very few adjustments need to be made during a photo shoot because you already know the coverage the Softlite will give. That means that you can concentrate on the subject, not the lighting. And shooting those tests will also give you the confidence to shoot full length. I mention that because photographers I talk to are still shocked that you can actually shoot full length work with a 42cm reflector, but you can!
I helped my son recently light some shots he was asked to take for a local hair salon. The WexPro Softlite reflector with the silver lining was an obvious choice and because of space, we used the 42cm version. For most of the shoot we used it front on for both head and shoulders and three quarter work. As expected it gave just the look we wanted, not too harsh and not too soft, with good definition on the hair and skin tones and here are a few examples that were taken.
So if you’ve recently bought a kit and want to add to it, or if you shoot portraits all the time using a brolly or softbox, please think hard about the WexPro Softlite reflector as your next purchase. You can easily justify it because of the quality of work it will produce. If you have a smaller studio or shooting area, it’s the ideal size accessory for you, smaller than the average brolly or soft box and used front on for Hi-Key, you just can’t beat the coverage.