A few weeks ago, I got my hands on a light modifier that I’ve always wanted to have in our studio. Westcott’s brand new Optical Spot is one of the coolest and most useful spotlights I’ve ever seen, and in today’s video I’ll show you why you might want to use one or two for photography!
Over the years, I have collected a lot of photographic equipment. Most are essential like cameras, light stands, tripods, and sync cables, but I also have a lot of weird and crazy light modifiers and gadgets that I thought I’d use but ended up never touching. Westcott’s Optical Snoot falls into the essentials category, and I’m already considering buying one or a third because they are so useful.
What is the optical light rate? The optical spot is a nose with a lens in the front that allows you to make and focus a narrow beam of light to create sharp edges. If you’ve ever tried to create a sharp shadow across your seamless paper or display sharp foliage against your background, you know that it’s almost impossible to get anything that has a sharp edge. There is an amazing technical book called Light – Science, and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting that helped me a lot as I started trying to understand how lighting works with photography. Without getting cranky here, as light leaves your flash and passes next to the object you want to display against your background (known as a gobo or medium), the light is refracted and scattered when it hits the final material. This makes edges blurred or out of focus.
The solution to this problem is to focus the light after the Gobo. By focusing the light after the gobo, you can project as soft or sharp as you like. For a system like this to be practical, you’ll need a specific light modifier that uses small gobos and a compact lens so everything installs easily and is easy to use. Fortunately, there are a few options that professionals use, but many of them, like Dedolight’s Profoto Pro Zoom Spot, use more than $1,000, and many are out of production. Fortunately, fashion photographer Lindsay Adler recognized the need for an affordable alternative and teamed up with Westcott to produce the point of view.
In the video above, I outline many of the features that the spotlight has to offer as well as some of my criticisms, but I’ll give you an overview here in quick writing as well.
This rate of light is extremely powerful and the possibilities are unlimited. If you’re a portrait photographer who wants to control the light on your background, Spotlight makes it incredibly easy to project just about any shape onto your canvas, seamless paper, or original wall. If you love fashion photography and like to create weird and whimsical lighting effects on your model’s face, this thing makes it super easy too. Perhaps you are a product or architecture photographer and love adding specific features to your products or interiors. This will allow you to create the effect directly in the camera and prevent you from having to build it in Photoshop. Unlike bulky softboxes or narrow reflective bowls, the Optical Spot is more than just one pony and can give you plenty of options in one package.
- Lightweight and can be installed on different types of flash
- Foil fused to create simple four-sided shapes
- Tons of versatility with the ability to mount different projections and gobos
- One of the most accurate light modifiers I’ve ever used, you can position the light literally anywhere you want
- Ships with a 150mm lens but also includes Canon EF lenses for added flexibility
- Allows for easy application of color control gels
Every great light rate comes with some flaws, and that light rate isn’t perfect. The main problem is that it’s designed for blinkers with LED modeling lights to help keep everything cool. In the video above, I’m using a spotlight with a Profoto D1 that has an incandescent bulb, which is not recommended by Westcott, and the modifier gets very hot. Like, grab your oven mitts hot! Another issue I had with this light modifier which is not something unique to the optical point but with all modifiers using a lens or fresnel is that you need someone to direct the light while shooting. I’ve found it nearly impossible to get perfect lighting on my subject’s face while also maintaining a fluid and organic photo session. Having an assistant working with you and your model will make your life a lot easier.
Finally, there are a few design options that I think could be improved, such as making the Gobo holder a different size, shape, or color to help distinguish it from the other four metallic leaves. Also, the gobo holder’s attachment mechanism itself isn’t quite as elegant as it could be, and I found myself threading the holder out of the kilometer. Installing isn’t something you can do without looking at the rate; Instead, you have to arrange everything perfectly, which is not as easy as you think.
- Safely works only with LED modeling lights
- Gobo holder can be easily distinguished from other metallic papers
- Gobo installation is not as smooth as it should be
- It can be difficult to place your spotlight on a moving subject
- The projections are naturally upside down, so it takes practice to move the leaves and the leaves correctly
- A little pricey at $499 – not the most expensive mod but not the cheapest
Overall, I like this light modifier and think it offers a great deal of flexibility and creativity in lighting. For my test shoot in the studio I used a light modifier fore and center with some crazy effects lighting up my friend Kristi Trainer. I think they came up well, and I’m excited to play with this style of lighting more in the future. As fun as these trendy shots are, I can easily see myself using this light modifier more subtly by blurring the effects against the background or creating a wet light across an entire group. The point visual can also be very useful in lighting video sets where you want a specific pattern, such as late sunlight through trees, to be displayed permanently through the modeling light. The possibilities are endless, and if you want to start shooting multiple patterns at the same time, I can easily see myself buying one or two more of these just to give maximum lighting options on more complex shots.