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Review: The Ultimate Light box

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Ultimate Light box by Harbor Digital Design

(no…it’s not your mom’s recipe box ;-)

Bottom Line:
20090313_trio_ultimatte_037If I’m tight on space and only traveling with one camera bag this is the modifier I take with me. But even when I’m not tight on space I reach for this unique little “lighting system” much more often than I would have thought when first seeing it. At around $100.00 for the “Pro Kit” it’s relatively inexpensive when you consider it’s utility and wide range of uses…a definite must have…

(Note: I purchased my first “Pro Kit” and they were nice enough to send me extra bits and pieces as I tried/tested different combinations)

The Ultimate Light box is part of a “kit” that consists of small frosted or black plastic boxes, approximately 4″x6″x6″ much like card file or recipe boxes, frosted lids, wing shaped pieces of white and black plastic (to be used as gobos to block or reflectors to re-direct the light), an assortment of pre-cut gels and a package of velcro strips that hold the “wings” on. All of which fit together in a number of different ways, mount directly on the head of your speedlight and perform wonders for their size and cost…

I use them constantly when traveling or limited in the amount of gear I can carry. But nice thing about these is that if you do have room for more than one speedlight and the ability to carry a few lightweight stands or clamps you can create a “mini-studio” just about anywhere…

20090416_blake_island_090-editThis portrait of Landscape Photographer Greg Probst is a good example…we traveled to a nearby Island in a small Zodiac with barely enough room for three good sized guys…equipment space was at a premium and knowing we had a good hike to the area we wanted to shoot in once we reached the Island, equipment weight was an issue too. I chose a kit consisting of four Quantum lights and batteries, an assortment of Ultimate Light boxes, misc. “grippage”, and three small stands that all fit in a single small 36”x16”x12”equipment bag. The shot here was taken using two Quantum Trios (one behind a tree camera right with a black Ultimate with two black wings and one near my camera position with a frosted Ultimate with a white reflector wing)…the addition of the 5:1 diffusion panel behind and to camera left of Greg knocked down the sun a bit and added some nice diffused highlight fill on him.

20091209_luxor_karnak1_040Street Market Luxor, EgyptOn a recent trip to Egypt I kept a frosted Ultimate with a Trio on-camera and another in the bag with the Quantum Pilot ready to go remote at any time. For the shot of a Butcher on the back streets of Luxor it was on camera and set to be a touch of fill about two stops under the sun. Set like that it opened up the shadows on his face, give the meat a little “pop” and helped open up the black hole that was his shop behind him. For the shot of the Temple of Karnak I used it to drop the foreground/background contrast ratio so you could read the inscriptions inside the monument while still being able to see/read the inscriptions on the Obelisk outside in the sun.

If you’ve ever been in the Egyptian sun you know it can cast some harsh shadows and create contrast that is way beyond readable range on digital cameras…It was so nice to be able to open up those shadows and control the contrast unobstrusively with a relatively small device…to say it saved the trip might be a bit much but to say it helped make the trip would be accurate…

20100226_kacey_portrait_test_084-edit-edit-2In this next shot, a portrait of my friend, assistant/student Chuck Tuck, we were testing blending ambient room light and daylight with the Kacey Beauty Dish/Trio flash and used two Ultimates to accent and fill the light.

With the Beauty Dish as the key light we used one frosted Ultimate with a 1/8 CTB gel to provide the simulated sunlight touching his cheek camera left and another with a ¼ CTO gel bouncing into a corner of the ceiling behind the camera to open the shadows with a touch of warm light while still preserving the modeling of the Beauty Dish and the feeling of incoming sun. The shot was custom white balanced for the BD, so the Ultimates and their gels gave a little extra color dimension to our shot.

20100110_flash_test_birds_113Another way I frequently use the Ultimates is for fill flash on birds in flight. I started shooting birds in flight as a way to hone my reaction time when I was the team Photographer for the USA Canoe and Kayak Team. I needed a way to get my reflexes operating at a speed that would allow me to capture the nuances of Flatwater and White water paddling and shooting birds in flight was the answer.

For the last year or so I’ve kept an Ultimate on my speedlight to balance the light that always seems to be coming from some disadvantageous angle onto the birds. It opens up the shadows, adds just the right texture to the light to keep it from looking “flashed” and helps preserve highlight detail quite nicely

As you’ve probably guessed by now I’m really sold on these little speedlight modifiers. Nearly indestructible, relatively inexpensive at around $100.00 for the Pro Kit, it has a nice quality of light and is very versatile. Mike and his crew made some changes recently to the Quantum attachment method so now it’s even more secure as I bend, twist and contort to get the shot I want.

Enjoy…Ric

The Ultimate Softbox, single or Pro Kit, is available from http://www.harbordigitaldesign.com

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