Travelling with the Westcott Apollo Orb and Strip Softboxes

The studios in Japan that I've used in the past usually already have lighting equipment available for use.   However, they tend to be constant lighting sources - tungsten or fluorescent lights. These are fine for general portrait lighting, but aren't very flexible if you want to do things like stopping motion or overpowering daylight.

When I travel, I normally take a bunch of Nikon SB26 flashes with me along with a couple of Westcott double fold shoot thru umbrellas and occasionally the Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe Softbox. For this past trip however, I had several shoots where I needed light modifiers that could give me more control than the umbrellas. That's why I picked up the Westcott 43" Apollo Orb and two Westcott Apollo Strip 16"x30" Softboxes just before I flew up to Japan this past December.

I really liked the Apollo Orb.  Setup was really quick - it opens up and mounts on the lightstand just like an umbrella.  The diffusion panel can be recessed a little from the edge of the softbox, which gives you a little more control over the light.  Not as much control as a grid, but good enough for what I was doing.

It turned that small SB26 into a huge 43" octagonal light source that looked great on the model.

The Striplights were really helpful in controlling the light in situations where I really needed to keep the light off of the background.  In the following image, the two Striplights are positioned just out of the frame on either side of the model. If I had only brought the shoot thru umbrellas with me, it would have been extremely difficult to get a shot like this.

Although the Westcott Apollo Orb and the Striplights fold up like umbrellas, they don't fold up as short  as the double-fold shoot thru umbrellas do.  For my trip to Japan, it was challenging to find luggage that these softboxes would fit into. I did manage to find a rolling duffle bag at Macy's that worked though - a High Sierra Rolling Drop Bottom Duffle 34" Evolution for about $150.

This bag was perfect - in the bottom section I was able to fit the Apollo Orb, 2 Apollo Striplights, a California Sunbounce Micro Mini reflector + Grip Head, 2 Justin Clamps, an empty sandbag, a Speedlight Prokit Beauty Dish and 3 Manfrotto Nano Lightstands and still had room left over.

The bottom part of the upper section unzips if you need to pack larger items.

I used this rolling duffle to get the lighting gear to Japan.  Then when I went on location, the compactness of the Westcott softboxes made it easy to put them into the front exterior pocket of my Thinktank Airport Security 2.0 rolling camera bag along with a couple of lightstands. When you are a photographer traveling on trains and buses in Tokyo, it really helps if you don't have to carry a lot of bags with you.

The only real downside to using the Westcotts is that  because they mount onto lightstands like an umbrella, the flash ends up inside the softbox rather than on the back.

(in case you are wondering, the red coloring inside of the Orb in this shot is just the silver interior reflecting the backdrop we used)

To make adjustments to the flash power, you need to open up and reach into the softbox to do it, which is pretty easy to do, just don't attach the velcro on the bottom of the diffuser panel so that you can flip it up out of the way quickly.  Alternatively you can use something like the Pocket Wizard Flex TT1/TT5 and AC3 Zone Controller to adjust the flash power remotely.

Overall though, the ease of setup and control of light the Westcott Apollo series of softboxes along with the fact that I can now carry essentially an entire studio on my rolling camera bag make me really glad that I added these to my travel lighting toolkit.