Sometimes a new piece of camera equipment will let you do something better, faster, or cheaper. But sometimes it lets you do something wholly new, that nothing else can do, and it opens up a whole new world of creative opportunities. The Light Blaster is that kind of gear.
By combining a flash, a lens, and one of many different slides which you can buy or provide yourself, the Light Blaster lets you project an image into your scene or onto the subject. Like any new piece of equipment there’s a bit of a learning curve, but you can create effects that add to your photo in ways only possible with tricky DIY hacks until now.
How it works
The Light Blaster is a strong plastic shell that acts as a mount to hold the three key elements – lens, flash and slide – securely in place and in the correct relative positions. You provide a lens and a flash. The lens attaches to the front via an EOS bayonet mount (a Nikon adapter is available). There’s no lock, but it is held firmly. At the back you slide in your flash, which is held in place with a strong leather friction-secured strap, which is adjustable and held in place with velcro. Flashes of many sizes are accepted, and I tested with a Canon 580EX and a Lumopro 160.
In the centre of the Light Blaster there is a slot which accepts the provided caddy. The caddy holds the slide which is to be projected. You can use standard mounted 35mm slides or small plastic sheets about the size of a coloured gel you might put on the front of your flash. Just on that topic: you can gel the flash you’re using to give a colour tint to the projected image as well. The caddy is super easy to swap, although putting the slide in can be a wee bit fiddly. Topping off the well designed and sturdy construction is a metal tripod thread on the bottom in the thickest part of the plastic body so that you can securely mount the whole arrangement on a light stand.
Looking at the whole thing assembled, one might think it’s a bit precarious and that the lens or flash could be bumped and fall out, but that was not my experience at all. Everything felt sturdy and secure, and I didn’t mind picking up the light stand with everything attached and moving it around the set.
The Light Blaster also comes with a convenient case which safely holds everything, including a whole bunch of slides and an extra caddy in a small package with a fabric handle.
While I was testing out the Light Blaster I used it primarily in three different ways:
- Projecting onto the background
- Projecting onto a model
- Projecting into the air itself with the aid of a smoke machine
Here are some examples:
For this shot I projected a pair of wings onto a large wall behind the subject. It was dusk and low light, so the flash projection was easily visible, even though it’s a dark wall. The contrast was enhanced in post processing. The image projected ended up being about three meters wide. It took a few shots to get myself and the model lined up exactly right, since you can only see the projection on the camera screen. Have a look at the rest of the photos from this shoot here.
I used the Light Blaster to project a simple circle of light onto the backdrop behind my model in this burlesque style shoot for a “stage” feel. While a snoot can restrict the light to a spot, only a focussed light can create the sharp clean edge I wanted, like a stage spotlight, or the Light Blaster. See more photos from this shoot.
Later in the same shoot I fired up my smoke machine, and using a random geometric pattern on one of the effects slides, I created cool light beams through the smoke. The shafts of light you see wouldn’t be possible with a single light. It needs to be broken up in order to cast shadows into the smoke.
Here a photo of autumn leaves was projected directly onto the model and background, creating interesting layers of texture and shadow. I filled in the shadow of the model’s face with a tightly gridded flash to make his whole face visible. Projecting onto the model can be tricky to get right, but the results can be impressive. I want to experiment more with this technique. I think it is particularly well suited to art nude photography.
There’s a couple of potential ‘gotchas’ when using the Light Blaster, which you’ll need to overcome and learn how to work with, but that’s true of any piece of gear in your kit.
Firstly, you’ll most likely want the projected image to be in focus, which is achieved by turning the focus ring on the attached lens, (make sure it’s in manual focus mode). Since the image is only visible when the flash fires, you’ll need to use a flashlight in place of the flash before you add the flash to the back. You’ll need the set to be quite dark or use a bright flashlight to see well enough to focus, and if you move the Light Blaster relative to the surface it’s being projected onto, you’ll need to take the flash out and re-focus.
As mentioned in the first example shot above, it can be tricky to get the best placement of the image, your model and yourself. You might need to take several shots and make small adjustments each time.
Because there’s a powerful flash shining through the slide, the blacks are never going to be truly black. Some of the light will still pass through the black ink or emulsion, so the contrast might not be as good as you’d like it to be. To address this issue, a brand new set of laser-cut metal “slides” has just been announced for the Light Blaster. This will give you absolutely solid blacks.
I had a great deal of fun testing this product, and I’m looking forward to using it in future shoots. With a good variety of effects slides available from the Light Blaster site, the ability to take any 35mm slide, and even home-printed acetate slides, there is literally unlimited creative potential. You can put any backdrop you like behind your subjects, and transport them to another world. Or you can use it in ways similar to what I have here. Have a look at the Light Blaster site for more example photos. For under $100, this is a super versatile creative tool to add to your kit.
Want more on special lighting techniques? Try these articles:
- How to Create this “Fight Club” Inspired Portrait using One Light
- Accent Lighting for Portraits
- Studio Lighting: Building a Light Set-up
- How the Shot was Done: SNK Police Cosplay