How to use lighting modifiers with honeycomb grid in studio setups
Honeycomb Grid is a grid that has a honeycomb structure, which aims to cut off the light and make the lighting spot narrower. It is used with reflectors, beauty dishes, soft boxes, snoots and other lighting modifiers.
Honeycomb grids are classified by the size of the lighting spot formed by lighting modifier. Usually between 5-10 degrees (narrow) to 30-40 (broad), wherein this difference of angles could be made either by the width of every honeycombís cell or by its depth: the greater the depth and the narrower the cell respectively, the narrower the lighting spot. This property determines their primary use.
Usually, the pattern formed by honeycomb grid is very different when using strobes and continuous lighting sources, especially if a halogen lamp is used as a modeling light. It happens due to size differentiation in halogen and pulse lamps: their size determines hardness of the light and hence the pattern of the lighting spot achieved with the same lighting modifier.
In the following examples you can see the difference between light patterns of various lighting sources fitted with honeycomb grids. Pictures on the left are showing a lighting spot made with a halogen lamp (continuous light), and the ones on the right -- with a pulse lamp (strobe light). This illustrates the difference in size, structure and nature of the lighting spot formed by honeycomb grids.
It must be noted that these wonderful properties come with some power loss, not like in situation with a Spot Small or a Fresnel lens, which uses optical elements to focus all light received from the source. Honeycomb grid cuts off all excess light, leaving only a part of the light thatís being used. This determines the fact that they are working with large losses. In order to show a decline in light power occurring when using various lighting modifiers with honeycombs, all pictures were taken at the same aperture.
Beauty dish with 20° homeycomb grid
Large reflector with 20° homeycomb grid
Standard reflector with 30° homeycomb grid
Standard reflector with 20° homeycomb grid
Standard reflector with 10° homeycomb grid
Also, the honeycomb grid performs other functions: it makes the light more directional and the rays more parallel. This is particularly noticeable on large soft lighting sources, such as soft boxes fitted with honeycomb grids.
This function is less visible, and only highly skilled photographers understand this and use it in their work.
Truth is, the rays of light we obtain from a soft box are chaotic in nature. At first, the light reflects from the shiny inner surface of a soft box, and then diffuses through two layers of translucent fabric, turning into soft, but at the same time chaotic light. Many photographers avoid using this friable or unstructured light.
The honeycomb grid in this case (presented here as a larger grid fitted over an external soft box diffuser) in addition to cutting off the light, also performs another function. Each cell of the grid (shown large on the picture) forms a separate directional beam of light, and soft box acts like a set of parallel beams of light. This makes the structure of the light nicer, although it retains its softness. It draws the volume better, emphasizes the texture, structure of the fabric, body or object. Many known photographers use honeycomb grids with soft boxes not just as a tool for general narrowing of the light spot (sometimes easier achieved with the flags), but as a tool for attaining this particular quality of the light.
In other words, the honeycomb grid is one of the most powerful and useful devices in the studio, a must-have for every photographer who wants to achieve excellence in his or hers profession.
Now let's talk a little about the practical use of the honeycomb grids.
The most common use of a standard reflector with honeycomb grid is to create a round lighting spot in the background behind the model. For that purpose it is necessary to position a reflector as perpendicular to the background as possible, otherwise the spot of light will no longer have a smooth circular shape, but rather an oval one, and the edges of the shadow will have different gradients on the opposite sides of the lighting spot. To achieve the most round, regular shape of the lighting spot, I use the narrowest honeycomb grid and move my lighting unit to a greater distance from the background. If I see that the edges of the lighting spot are sharp, I put a diffusion gel over reflector with already attached honeycomb grid. It makes the spot wider and the edges of the spot softer.
When shooting portraits itís convenient to place a reflector with honeycomb grid right behind the modelís back. That way you will get an ideally round spot: the axis of the reflector and the plane of the background are perpendicular to each other. Quite often we wonít use a whole light spot is in the picture, and in this case it will act as an independent compositional element. Fitting successfully into the lighting composition of the picture, it will give volume, compositional refinement and add a touch of intrigue.
Occasionally, I will only show a small portion of the lighting spot in the picture. Using a very broad honeycomb grid and placing the reflector at a greater distance from the background, we will achieve a small part of a larger lighting spot. When background gradient is placed in the opposite direction to the lighting pattern on the model, it creates a beautiful gradation. This combination produces a truly dramatic image! In the picture above, I used a reflector with the honeycomb grid and added a color gel to support the basic color scheme of the picture.
On the other hand, sometimes I position my lighting unit with the honeycomb grid on the side of the background. So we can get an interesting line or an oval lighting spot. And the less perpendicular we make the axis of the reflector to the plane of the background, the more unusual and unpredictable lighting spot weíll get. In the photo above, a reflector with honeycomb grid stands very close to the background and its axis is almost parallel to the background.
But honeycomb grids are useful not only for illuminating background. Often photographers use them to create a sharp dramatic lighting pattern, resembling a narrow spot light. In the photo above one reflector with a wide honeycomb grid was used for lighting both the model and the background, giving the illusion of a beam of light falling on the wall, where the model stands.
Sometimes the spot of light is wide, and in addition to the hard light in the picture what we get is a very subtle gradation, which continues to the edges of the image. It adds volume and compositional refinement to the picture.
Here is another similar solution: one reflector with a honeycomb grid creates a spot of light giving additional volume to the picture due to a small darkening of the corners of the picture, whilst the model is staying completely in the lighting spot. Additional diffusion gel in the frame softens the light, while keeping gradation at the corners of the photo.
At the same time, the lighting spot can be so narrow that it will only illuminate a small portion of the photo. In the picture above, I left the background unlit and used a spot of light only on the model.
In this picture I used a soft box with the honeycomb grid as a source of soft light with a narrow spot. I cannot imagine how itís possible to work in studio without such a set: soft box with honeycomb. It provides a truly perfect solution, creating both dramatic and soft light at the same time. And often working with only one lighting source, we can create images that resemble pictures made with several lighting sources around the model.
This picture is another example of using a soft box with honeycomb grid. I positioned it in a very dramatic position in relation to the model. But at the same time I lit the background with the same source. The boundary of lighting spot is not visible here as itís located behind the modelís back. We only see two parts of the background: lit on the left side and unlit on the right. So, I got opposite color gradation, one of the most spectacular lighting solutions you can apply to your photos.
In addition, the honeycomb grids are often used in order to avoid reflections (bouncing light from walls and ceiling) in the studio. And to leave background unlit to use other lighting sources for creating lighting picture on the background.†
Creating interesting and attractive pictures sometimes requires illumination of only a small portion of the image, just to highlight a small detail. For example, in this picture, in order to light modelís feet along with other sources of light, Iíve placed two reflectors with honeycomb grids close to the background and turned them away from the background. To have light on modelís feet and not to have it on the background. Two thin lines on both sides of modelís legs is a result of this approach.
Sometimes we need to highlight not just one part, but the entire area of ??the picture, often with a rather unusual shape. For this purpose, it is necessary to use several reflectors each fitted with a honeycomb grid. For example, in this picture, in order to get a sparkling, glowing dress I directed four reflectors with honeycomb grids to form a single line of light covering a whole dress.†
Honeycomb grids with snoots are used to create a very narrow beam of light. And if we make our light bounce from any additional materials, such as foil, mirrors or water, we can produce a truly beautiful result, which will puzzle any studio photography expert in regard to the origin of this light.
These examples represent only a fraction of possibilities open to us when using honeycomb grids, and constant practice with this helpful tool will radically improve your skills when shooting in a studio setting.
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