Using a Lume Cube for Filling shadows with artificial lights in outdoor toy photography

Our good friends at Lume Cube provided us with some light.  Here is our view on how you could use it to improve your pictures.
They are also organizing a toy photography contest. Go at the end of this article to get more info about it.

I have to admit that I never used artificial lights during daytime, mostly because of laziness. I discarded photos more than once because the subject was too dark compared to the background. During our little Adventure in Paris, Julien gave us four Lume Cubes we received for review.

When I got mine I wasn’t sure what I would do with it. As an outdoor toy photographer, I don’t really care about artificial light. I like the challenge of having to work with the available light. Most of my photo sessions are all about hunting for beautiful light. Sometimes I can decide to not take any picture simply because the light doesn’t inspire me. In addition, I can’t stress enough how not having to care about something as technical as lighting makes it easier to focus on the content of the photo.

Even when there isn’t a lot of light available, I somehow manage to get a picture without relying on additional artificial light sources.

But I decided to use the opportunity of having to review the Lume Cube for getting out of my comfort zone. It was about time I learn how to properly fill shadows with artificial lights for daytime outdoor photography.

In this blog post, I want to share what I’ve learned. I don’t intend this to be a magical recipe for using artificial lights outdoor during daytime, or even be universal truth. It’s just what I’ve learned this summer by experimenting with trials and errors and playing around with a single Lume Cube. I’ll use as examples pictures where I was successful at implementing my vision, but also pictures where I failed.

Light modifiers

First, let’s have a look at the different light modifiers that we received alongside the Lume Cube.

The color filters from the Lume Cube (which I haven’t used yet) with one of Stefan’s test subjects.

CTO Filters (or warming filters)

The Lume Cube CTO filters

CTO stands for “color temperature orange” and brings up the temperature of the light. The Lume Cube has a color temperature similar to the regular daytime light on a cloudy day. Mixed with tungsten lights (i.e. regular light bulbs), the light from the Lume Cube would look quite bluish. The filters can be used for matching the color of the Lume Cube to tungsten lights. But it can also be useful to create warmer lights in an outdoor scene or emulate tungsten light.

I’m not really happy with this photo because I used a too strong CTO filter. Despite being taken at sunset, it looks to me like the photo was taken at night under city lights… Not really the effect I was looking for!

Here’s a test image from my LEGO Elves review using different filters with minimal editing in Lightroom. I’ve tried each filter to compare how they look like. I’ve used the “cloudy” white balance setting in Lightroom so the only difference between each photo is the temperature of the Lume Cube‘s light. (I didn’t adapt the power of the device so there might be a little loss of brightness between each photo, too.)

No CTO filter.
Using the least strong CTO filter.
Using the second least strong CTO filter.
Using the third least CTO filter.

The three least strong CTO filters are not very strong and using them seems at first not making a big difference. However, I find that the Lume Cube without any filter is a tad too cool and bluish for me at sunset, and using one of those filters is worth it. On the other hand, the strongest filter really makes the light a bit too orange for my taste. It could however still work with a cooler white balance (for example with the “daily” setting in Lightroom).

Using the strongest CTO filter.

Finally, I’ve also tried, just for the fun, to stack all filters to see how warm the light could get…

Using all 4 CTO filters stacked. I’m not sure if I’ll ever find a real practical use for that…

Diffusers

The Lume Cube with the diffuser bulb and a green filter.

The Lume Cube kit we received comes with 3 diffuser filters, and a diffuser bulb.Here’s a couple of pictures I took indoor to visualize the differences between each filter. All were taken with the same camera and development settings.

My test subject lightened with the Lume Cube without any light modifier.
With the least strong Lume Cube diffuser filter.
With the medium Lume Cube diffuser filter.
With the strongest Lume Cube diffuser filter.
With all three Lume Cube filters stacked. Notice how the light becomes slightly warmer when stacking many filters.
With the Lume Cube diffuser dome.

To be honest, I find the difference between the 3 diffusers to be very small. I also don’t totally understand yet what’s the advantage of the diffuser bulb over the filters. And more importantly, no matter which filters I use, they don’t diffuse light enough for me.

In the end, I often simply rely on my large round reflector that can be converted into a diffuser. It can’t be connected with magnets to the lights as the Lume Cube filters do and require an extra hand, but it’s what I’ve mostly used in the end when using the light outside.

Artificial lights in Paris

Julien gave us our Lume Cube in Paris. Because there isn’t any night in the North during summer times, I tried to make the most out of the evenings in Paris. Not only didn’t I take as many night time photos as I would have liked, the ones with the Lume Cube weren’t impressive. Not because of the tool, but because of my lack of experience using artificial light in an outdoor environment.

A picture that was a lot of fun to make, but by far not my favorite from the trip.

Artificial lights during daytime

But using artificial light during the night is a piece of cake compared to using artificial lights during daytime. Indeed during the night, it’s okay for the light to look artificial. However, during the day, I’m looking for artificial light looking natural. I have played with three characteristics of the light source to change its look: the distance to subject, the size, and the power of the light source. These impact the strength of shadows, the balance between artificial and natural light and the fading distance of the light.

Soft and strong shadows

The intensity (or softness) of a shadow refers to how fast the transition between the light and dark areas is. A strong shadow is caused when the rays of light hit the subject with the same angle from a single direction. Soft shadows happen when rays of light come from different directions. Here’s a comparison of my test subject lightened with strong and soft light.

Reflectors, multiple light setups, and light painting are multiple ways to achieve softer shadows. However, there is another way of creating soft shadows with a single light source: by increasing the relative size to the subject of the light source. This can be achieved in two ways. By moving the light closer to the subject, or by making the light source bigger.

For example, the sun is a big giant light source. But because it’s very far from us, it looks relatively small. So on a clear day, the rays of the sun come from a single direction and cast strong shadows on a subject. At sunset/sunrise (or on a cloudy day), the atmosphere (or the clouds) acts as a giant diffuser that spreads the rays of the sun and softens the shadows. Conversely, a small light, like the Lume Cube, will cast strong shadows. Increasing the size of the light (with a diffuser for example) will soften shadows.

Another way is to move the light closer to the subject. This works especially well with small subjects such as minifigs. For a minifig, a small light source like the Lume Cube is similar in size to a big softbox for human beings. However, moving the light close to the subject comes with a few drawbacks…

My test subject is posing next to my “softbox”.

Balance between artificial and natural light

Usually having more light makes it easier to capture a photo. However, in the case of daylight outdoor photography, it can be a problem. Indeed the amount of light received by the subject should match the amount of light it would receive in natural conditions. Otherwise, it doesn’t look natural and it becomes obvious that artificial light was added. Some of my photos taken at sunset didn’t work because I’ve put the Lume Cube too close to the subject. It ended up being too bright compared to the amount of light available.

I have multiples issues with this photo. But considering only lighting, one of them is that I moved the light closer to the Dragon to soften shadows but forgot to reduce the power of the Lume Cube. Thus the Dragon looks way brighter than the sky, giving it an unrealistic look.

Fading distance of the light

When placing a light source close, although the subject will look brighter, the light will look weaker more quickly.

(For more about this, I highly recommend this Youtube video from Fstoppers about the inverse square law.)

Let’s have a look at what changes when we move the Lume Cube closer to a subject…

My test subject with the light placed quite far with the Lume Cube at 100% power.
Reducing the distance between the light and the subject by two and adjusting the Lume Cube to 25% power. Notice how the light hitting the figure looks the same, but how everything around is much darker.

It can be a problem when lighting a bigger subject (such as my Dragon) or multiple subjects that are far from each other. Because the light is close to the dragon head, its head is lit quite strongly. On the other hand, the back of its wings is not lit as much because they are much farther away from the Lume Cube than the head. I should probably have reduced the power of the light source further, but then the wings would have been too dark.

Even by reducing the power of the Lume Cube, I didn’t manage to get the photo I wanted of my Dragon. (And besides lightning, the photo simply didn’t work despite a beautiful warm sunset.)

One way I could have improved the lighting would have required to move the light further away, so the body of the Dragon would be lit uniformly. Then, it’s likely I might have had to increase the power of the Lume Cube. But one problem would have remained: the shadows were already too strong for my taste, and it would have made them even stronger. This is an example where I’ve hit a problem that seems impossible to solve with a single light source.

Multiple light setups

Using more than one light can help in solving the different issues I experienced. Unfortunately, I’ve only one Lume Cube. Fortunately though, it is possible to emulate a setup with multiple lights. All it requires is making sure the camera (and the subject) doesn’t move too much and spend a bit more time in front of a computer afterward.

The result of merging 4 images that were lit differently.

Indeed, with digital photography, it is possible to take different photos that were lit differently and merge them together as if multiple light sources had been used.

This one is simpler: I just took two photos, one with the light coming from the left and one with the light coming from the right.

(I often achieve this result in Photoshop by first auto-aligning the different photos. Then I will change the blend mode of the different layers to “lighten”. Finally, in order to avoid losing completely all the shadows, I will reduce the opacity of some layers and/or mask out some parts of the picture.)

Conclusion

I’m still in the process of learning how to properly use my Lume Cube when taking pictures outside. So far it’s been fun and I’ve managed to get a few satisfying photos.

I’ve found out that the trick to success photos is often to use a low power setting on the light, like on this photo:

Have you ever tried to use artificial light to fill shadows in outdoor toy photography? Do you have any trick I didn’t cover in this blog post?

Last words – Lume Cube contest

This September, Lume Cube is organizing a contest for toy photographers. 
To participate, simply follow the link: https://www.lumecube.com/giveaways

Your pictures will be evaluated based on originality, creative lighting and attention to detail (posing, props, scene, set up). Everyone is welcome to participate. And you will get a chance to win great prizes such as:
1st place Prize: 2 Lume Cubes, 2 Light House Master Packs, $100 Gift Card to Big Bad Toy Store
2nd Place: One Lume Cube, One Light House Master Pack, $50 gift card to Big Bad Toy Store
3rd Place: One Lume Cube, One Light House, $25 gift card to Big Bad Toy Store

So go ahead, take out your camera, and take pictures.

Sharing the Adventures in The North of my Plastic Friends.

2 Replies to “Using a Lume Cube for Filling shadows with artificial lights in outdoor toy photography”

  1. Maelick, this one is packed with a lot of information.
    Really, a lot.

    I agree the cube does a wonderfull job at being a filler light, but just like you I kind of fallback in most cases of bouncing the natural light back instead of getting a cube in. Now, I love the dome. I can’t explain why, but the dome makes the light much more diffused and so while you go for the diffuser, i have the dome almost permanently connected to it.

    The one killer feature (or two) I am still trying to explore (but haven’t had the time to shoot much) is that the Lume Cube is fully waterproof and connects with my more elaborate strobes from Nikon and Elinchrom as a slave unit. Having the cube submerged AND being triggered by a more advanced light setup is a killer feature I am really looking forward to execute. I keep you posted, and may even join that awesome contest.

    1. For the type of photos, I take, mostly at sunset with very soft light, I find that none of the filters or the dome diffuse light enough, so the big reflector/diffuser must be used which unfortunately kills the purpose of the magnet system. However, I’ve found (and forgot to mention in the post) that the dome works quite well in the middle of the day… I haven’t really compared if the result is any better than a diffuser, but it’s at least easier to work with alone thanks to the tripod screw of the Lume Cube.

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