lastolite1-013-version-2-1.jpg

Photos by Scott Bourne and Greg Martin

When I first heard about the Lastolite HiLite I thought to myself, “if this works, it is a money maker for portrait studios pure and simple.”

I won’t hold you in suspense. It works.

You need one strobe to fill the HiLite background with light and you end up with an absolutely perfect hi-key background. Is this a big deal? You bet it is. Try getting a perfect, evenly-lit, high-key background with three lights on your own. It’s hard. With the HiLite, you get it right in five to ten minutes with just one head.

As for details, it’s a simple system. You get a large, blue case that looks like it holds a circular pop-up reflector. When you open the case and unfold the HiLite, it spreads to an incredible 6×7 feet. (There is also a 5×7 feet version.)

It pops up and open and you use four supplied polls to keep the sides open enough to place the flash head inside the box.

There is a place on each of the four sides to insert a flash head. Both sizes have zippered sides. Flash heads can be mounted inside and the zippers closed around them, or outside and shot through the closed side(s) for a more diffuse effect.

I used 750 WS mono lights from Calumet. I didn’t use a reflector can, just bare bulb. At first, I thought I might need two lights; one for each side. But it turned out that’s not necessary. Using one light, aimed slightly at the center back of the HiLite system, I got a perfect, even, bright white background.

If you’re using a big studio and have room for a seamless paper roll, you might get a similar effect. It would take several lights and some practice.

I set this up in our audio recording studio. This is a much smaller area than our normal camera room. I wanted to see how it could work in a confined space. The answer is very well.

lastolite1-005-version-2.jpg

The manufacturer claims you can put your subject one to two feet away from this unit and still get a shadowless background. I tested this claim and it’s 100% true.

I shot several images using the HiLite background and a single 750 WS mono light with a Westcott Umbrella mount round softbox. The resulting images were staggering. I am posting a few below. These are UN-RETOUCHED. Right out of the camera. No correction of any kind. And they look great.

lastoliteportraits-480-version-2.jpg

lastoliteportraits-487-version-2.jpg

You can shoot small groups if you position the box horizontally and it will work for full length shots if you buy the accessory that places a white train beneath the box. You can also hang the box from a simple background stand with the supplied loops.

But that’s just the beginning. What if you don’t want a white background? Gel the head and there you go. Any color you like.

You can also create special effects by playing around with the position of the light inside the box.

Lastly, this would make a wonderful giant softbox for those photographers who want a wrap-around effect.

The HiLite is portable but I can’t imagine using it outdoors. It does set up easily. It’s not as easy to tear down as the manufacturer implies. We had to practice doing it about 15 times to get the hang of it.

In a real world situation, I’d never put it away. I’d just leave it on one wall and forget about it. It’s too valuable to not use it regularly.

In addition to noting it’s not the easiest thing in the world to tear down, I also want to mention that the zippers seem likely to fail. It’s not a big deal to get them replaced and if you set the box up semi-permanently, it’s not likely to be a problem. I did want to mention it because it’s the only thing keeping me from giving the HiLite a perfect rating of 10. Still, it deserves a solid 9 for being versatile, affordable and effective.

MSRP is $537 for the large HiLite and $456 for the smaller version. Lastolite is located in the UK and distributed in the USA by Bogen.

This post sponsored by Lensbabies.

Join the conversation! 28 Comments

  1. Wow! This product looks awesome! I love doing hi-key photos and could really use a device like this. One question, will it would with strobes – i.e. Nikon SB800s?

  2. Wow! This product looks awesome! I love doing hi-key photos and could really use a device like this. One question, will it would with strobes – i.e. Nikon SB800s?

  3. on the last image, there looks to be a dark vertical area. Is that from the site of the HiLite?

  4. on the last image, there looks to be a dark vertical area. Is that from the site of the HiLite?

  5. I like this product.

    I use a $30, 6-foot, opaque, white, window shade from Lowe’s and a single slave strobe (GN12m @ ISO 100) positioned behind the subject. The real chore is to balance it with the other lights. I usually end up taking at least dozen test shots just to get the light correct. Which is a huge waste of time and patience.

    To me, the Hi-lite background seems almost too bright. That’s a matter of taste, of course and backing it down a half-stop could be easily accomplished. Otherwise, this is much more convenient then my current setup.

  6. I like this product.

    I use a $30, 6-foot, opaque, white, window shade from Lowe’s and a single slave strobe (GN12m @ ISO 100) positioned behind the subject. The real chore is to balance it with the other lights. I usually end up taking at least dozen test shots just to get the light correct. Which is a huge waste of time and patience.

    To me, the Hi-lite background seems almost too bright. That’s a matter of taste, of course and backing it down a half-stop could be easily accomplished. Otherwise, this is much more convenient then my current setup.

  7. @kent you can make it as light or dark as u like. I like it light and plan to try to get it even brighter. @rob any strobe.

  8. @kent you can make it as light or dark as u like. I like it light and plan to try to get it even brighter. @rob any strobe.

  9. I’m really glad you did a review on this. I saw this in Shutterbug a few months back and thought that it might be worth getting … now I’m certain it is! (Darn, one more thing to add to my never-ending gear wish-list … now all I need is a never-ending cash-flow!) ;)

  10. I’m really glad you did a review on this. I saw this in Shutterbug a few months back and thought that it might be worth getting … now I’m certain it is! (Darn, one more thing to add to my never-ending gear wish-list … now all I need is a never-ending cash-flow!) ;)

  11. The HiLite can be operated with battery powered flashes like the SB800, however, you will have to play a little more with the positioning of the flash.
    There are now two new sizes of HiLites; a 4’6″x 3’6″ and a 7′ x 8′ and have a list price of $326 and $990 respectively.
    Also, there are now “bottletop” backgrounds available in Black, Grey, Chromakey Green and Chromakey Blue available for the 5’x7′ and 6’x7′ HiLite. These elasticated backgrounds with trains fit right over the HiLite using it, instead of light stands as it’s support extending the products capabilities.
    Oh, and lastly, just like a collapsible reflector, after a few uses you figure out how to close it, and from then on you can do it easily.
    Mark Astmann
    Bogen Imaging, Inc.

  12. The HiLite can be operated with battery powered flashes like the SB800, however, you will have to play a little more with the positioning of the flash.
    There are now two new sizes of HiLites; a 4’6″x 3’6″ and a 7′ x 8′ and have a list price of $326 and $990 respectively.
    Also, there are now “bottletop” backgrounds available in Black, Grey, Chromakey Green and Chromakey Blue available for the 5’x7′ and 6’x7′ HiLite. These elasticated backgrounds with trains fit right over the HiLite using it, instead of light stands as it’s support extending the products capabilities.
    Oh, and lastly, just like a collapsible reflector, after a few uses you figure out how to close it, and from then on you can do it easily.
    Mark Astmann
    Bogen Imaging, Inc.

  13. What’s the right level of bright on a hi-key background? to me, these images have too much light from the background, it’s becoming a soft rim light. Would you aim to have the background completely over-exposed, or is it smarter to get close to 100% then clean it up with post processing.

    I can see the appeal of a white background, but I’ve always felt that if it dazzles the camera and diffuses the edges of the subject, you’re doing something wrong.

    Thoughts anyone?

  14. What’s the right level of bright on a hi-key background? to me, these images have too much light from the background, it’s becoming a soft rim light. Would you aim to have the background completely over-exposed, or is it smarter to get close to 100% then clean it up with post processing.

    I can see the appeal of a white background, but I’ve always felt that if it dazzles the camera and diffuses the edges of the subject, you’re doing something wrong.

    Thoughts anyone?

  15. PS

    the SB800 (or Canon equivalent) query is a good question. any indication from your tests Scott?

  16. PS

    the SB800 (or Canon equivalent) query is a good question. any indication from your tests Scott?

  17. Would I have to use a strobe? I haven’t acquired much equipment yet for use with my new dSLR, but if I did end up getting this, I’d wonder – could I use an always-on light or am I out of luck on that?

    Either way, the price is too high for me just yet, but perhaps one day…

  18. Would I have to use a strobe? I haven’t acquired much equipment yet for use with my new dSLR, but if I did end up getting this, I’d wonder – could I use an always-on light or am I out of luck on that?

    Either way, the price is too high for me just yet, but perhaps one day…

  19. @Mark just poor cropping. I was only concerned about showing the highlight effect – not trying to make award-winning images.

  20. @Mark just poor cropping. I was only concerned about showing the highlight effect – not trying to make award-winning images.

  21. @Matt any strobe would work and your subjective tastes (or in my case the tastes of my clients) in the background whiteness would dictate what’s right – not public opinion.

    @Michael I don’t think hot-lights would be safe inside the box – that requires a special material that is heat-resistant.

  22. @Matt any strobe would work and your subjective tastes (or in my case the tastes of my clients) in the background whiteness would dictate what’s right – not public opinion.

    @Michael I don’t think hot-lights would be safe inside the box – that requires a special material that is heat-resistant.

  23. I use two sb-24’s at half power, widest zoom on lightstands pointing inside and to the back and it works fine. I did try laying them on the bottom and aiming at the back, but there was a noticeable hot spot near the bottom. Lastolite has some videos on their site with them in action, including how to fold them, which does take practice. I think my first try was 8 or 9 rounds before the take down.

    I also have the vinyl train, but I am having trouble getting enough light on it to make it as white as I want it and not blow out the subject.

  24. That is one handy unit. Do a test run and make a chart for light grey/dark grey/white and what aperture, and it’ll take literally a minute to set your exposure every time. You could probably snoot/grid the light and angle it to get a vignette too.
    BTW Paul, use a very shiny white surface (laminate/perspex/fake tile) to get a pure white. You’ll have a reflection, no shadow and bright white (as it reflects the background). See half way down this article – http://www.zarias.com/?p=77

  25. That is one handy unit. Do a test run and make a chart for light grey/dark grey/white and what aperture, and it’ll take literally a minute to set your exposure every time. You could probably snoot/grid the light and angle it to get a vignette too.
    BTW Paul, use a very shiny white surface (laminate/perspex/fake tile) to get a pure white. You’ll have a reflection, no shadow and bright white (as it reflects the background). See half way down this article – http://www.zarias.com/?p=77

  26. @Jason – I had seen Zach’s great tutorial and was thinking the same thing. Maybe I can get away with a 4×4 sheet, so it is still portable. I will have to give it a try.

  27. @Jason – I had seen Zach’s great tutorial and was thinking the same thing. Maybe I can get away with a 4×4 sheet, so it is still portable. I will have to give it a try.

  28. You say that four polls are supplied. What kind of questions do these four polls ask, and how are the results analysed?

Comments are closed.

About scottbourne

Founder of Photofocus.com. Retired traveling and unhooking from the Internet.

Category

Reviews

Tags