Matt Seed brings a StripLight on assignment to see what the king of consistent beams can bring out in a high-sheen riff queen
The Profoto StripLight M is a 130cm long light shaping tool with integrated flash which creates sharp outlines and soft edge shadows. When you look at it you get a sense that it’s some kind of fluorescent strip tube but it’s actually quite a refined tool. Typically, StripLights are used to get a consistent beam right across the product. Whenever you see a bottle shot, of a perfume bottle for example, you always see two white strips, one down the left hand side and one down the right. With a StripLight that strip will be perfectly straight, whereas with a softbox it won’t as softboxes are all a bit tatty and wobbly when they’ve been in the studio for a while, and the wobble in the fabric can reflect in the product. I’ve also seen StripLights used as side lights for fashion shoots, which is probably not what I would do as I tend to use Beauty Dishes and softboxes for that.
The Striplight comes with barn doors attached which are really adjustable. The doors can ratchet forwards and backwards with a simple screw, and the beauty of that is you can almost knock them out of action altogether without having to take them off.
The strip has two leads going into a pack, one for each side, so you can control it from the pack, but if you’re next to the light and you just want to turn one half off to see what you’d get there’s a an isolation switch for each modeling light so you can just quickly turn one off.
The StripLight also has two little fans, one at each end, to keep it cool. It generates quite a lot of heat because it’s in a small enclosure, compared to a softbox where you’ve got a good two feet from the bulb to the box. This is only about 4-5 inches deep so there is a lot of heat generated inside. The two little fans run off one of the sockets and stop it overheating, so you can leave the modeling light on full for as long as you need to with the fans working away.
The idea for this shoot was to get beautifully even light across the guitar, and at times I wanted it to actually flare deliberately to get that white burn-out flare on the instrument to show that it’s high-sheen. I’ve shot a guitar with StripLights once before so I knew exactly what I wanted, and I think you can really save time on a job if you understand the functions of each light shaping tool. In theory, I could have used a 1x6ft SoftBox for a similar effect; it has a bit of a StripLight shape, but the difference is that real StripLights have a domed Perspex front that makes the light absolutely pristine, so when you photograph something like the guitar the sheen of the light is reflected in the instrument and you get that beautiful, straight line of reflection. Softboxes commonly have diffusers inside them to make the light even right across the softbox, but with the best will in the world they’re never going to be perfect when you’ve got a head right in the middle and three foot one way, three foot the other. You want the edges to be the same as the middle, and with that in mind the StripLight is the best choice.
The first thing I noticed on the shoot was how much of a difference the barn doors make. If you move them right forwards and close them you can narrow the strip of light down to about a centimetre, which is quite unique, I’ve never had that before with StripLights. It gives you a really thin beam of light [Image 1] and hence a really hot spot of flare where you want it, and the fall-off is more pronounced. If you ratchet the barn doors all the way back they’re not doing anything at all but they’re still there so you haven’t taken them off and put them down somewhere and they’re not going to get damaged, which barn doors always used to get in the old days.
Another great feature that I didn’t know about is that the StripLight has two flashtubes inside it rather than one. The beauty of that is you can actually turn one of them off or you can have asymmetrical control over them and make one more powerful than the other. That allows you to make one end brighter than the other so you have a more gradual fall-off of light than just going from on to off.
I used a D4 2400 pack, and because they’ve got the asymmetrical control I could actually just turn one side down a little bit, which gave me a beautiful, gradual fall-off that I used on all the shots where I’m looking right down at the instrument. [shot 45,47,48, 50]. You can see that the light nearest the camera is really bright and then it gradually falls back and becomes darker. That asymmetrical control s fantastic for that, you can tailor the light exactly how you want it.
The StripLight was about two foot away from the product. In the images where the guitar is lying down flat I put the StripLight onto a boom arm so I had full control and could get right over the top and get that beautiful beam of light down the side of it. It was a medium-sized boom arm and the only downside about the StripLight is that it’s very heavy, so if you are going to put it on a boom arm you need a very solid one, and mine wasn’t really right for it. I could just about make it work but I had to put extra weights on the back to keep it still. There was a moment where it was looming over the guitar and I stood down on the floorboards and hoped it wouldn’t fall down and break both the light and the guitar! The StripLight does have a very good swivel head, so it’s easy to move about on its own axis once you’ve put it in position.
Whenever I test a new piece of kit I try to use just that so I know exactly what it’s doing, but in the last shots I did where the guitar was stood up on a stand I used the StripLight on the left hand side, turned vertically to give me a general light and then I had two fill-in heads, one blasting at the body and one at the top of the guitar, just with Profoto Zoom Reflector bowls and 10 degree Honeycomb grids on them. I wanted the StripLight on the edge to give a nice contrast light and if I’d done that it would have gone too dark on the front.
You couldn’t get these results with any other light. Manufacturers tend to make a ‘striplight’ version of a softbox, which has a similar shape, but you’ll never get that absolutely pristine, straight light. Plus the precise barn door control down to a centimetre, you can’t get that on a softbox. You could do something similar but not quite this. I’ve shot guitars before just using large softboxes (not the striplight-type), but it was nowhere near as creative as this, you couldn’t get this level of contrast between the highlights and the lowlights right across the guitar body – a softbox would just flatten it out. Also, being able to turn half of the light off, or at least down, safes you having to keep moving the light around if you just want a small change to the lighting., which is really handy.
I’d definitely consider renting a StripLight in the future if I were doing a similar shot and needed to bring out that sheen, or the grain in the wood like I’ve done with this guitar. I’ve used a lot of brands over the years and what I find about Profoto products are so reliable and their colour temperature so accurate that it’s worth the money. It’s for peace of mind, really and to me it’s worth it. It’s a bit like the guitar itself, it’s worth about £5,000 and you don’t have to spend that to have a guitar of course, but with that comes all the bells and the whistles and you know it’s always going to work and be the best it can be. If you’re a small business like I am, I don’t have much back-up kit and I can’t afford to buy cheap.
Size: M (130x10x14cm)
Flash capacity: 2 x 4800Ws
Modeling light: 2x200 W prop.
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