When first handed the Light Blaster, I was a little dubious. It seemed a bit like a kitschy toy not suited for a professional kit. But, like most things, its usefulness is largely dependent on the person using it and the goals they have in mind. Once I got my head around the idea, the Light Blaster makes a lot of sense in the creative arsenal of many photographers.
What Is It?
The Light Blaster is a strobe-based slide projector, which uses standard slides or special films from Light Blaster. On one end, the Light Blaster slides over your strobe. On the other, you mount a lens which is used to focus and project the image. In between, you mount a slide or film which is then projected onto your scene when the strobe fires.
I took the Light Blaster with me on a recent trip to Tokyo. Light Blaster supplied me with a full set of “Creative Kits”, which are collections of slides and films they produce for the unit. One kit contains a film of an illustrated spray of cherry blossoms, a great choice for shooting in Japan. With Halloween approaching, I wanted to create an dark, ethereal portrait which incorporated the cherry blossoms as tight, fixed element, almost a “light tattoo”.
I like to shoot with available light and wanted to see what the Light Blaster could do as the primary, on camera flash with a 50mm 1.4 as the focus lens. Dialing in the focus on the projected image is a manual process which can be tricky when shooting handheld, without an assistant. Soon, it became clear that getting a super sharp “light tattoo” effect was not going to be possible. My stripped down kit was not up to the task.
However, as I looked through the test images, I discovered a very interesting mottled effect on my subject’s face caused by the out of focus cherry blossoms. So, we decided to play with it, adjusting the “strength” of the projection by changing the distance between the subject and the camera. Towards the end of the shoot, we added some cigarette smoke to suggest a “lurking spirit”. The smoke picked up the colors of the projected image nicely and added to the effect.
These images were shot at night, in a dark corner of a public park where large trees blocked or filtered much of the ambient street light. As a result, most the light in these images are from my Canon Speedlite 580ex through the Light Blaster. While my available kit limited me from achieving my initial objective, I am happy with the final result. In many ways, the final shots ended up more spooky and strange than originally intended.
Novel, In Camera Imaging– The real power of the Light Blaster is the ability to create very interesting effects, in camera, with a strobe. The effects can mimic filters, layers and composites often added in post. The ability to focus the projected image allows it to be adjusted to be very sharp or intentionally hazy.
New Uses For Slides – The Light Blaster presents a very interesting new use for old slides and the creation of new ones. I foresee those who embrace the Light Blaster creating their own stock slides to have on hand to create specific effects and develop a signature style.
Less effects work in post – By creating these unique images in camera, the photographer can immediately see if their shot captured the desired effect and adjust as needed. They can also play with focus, placement and size of the projected image, which creates more options for consideration in post. By pushing some of the compositing to the set/location, the effects work in post is reduced.
Universal Use – The Light Blaster uses a velcro-strap to secure itself to the strobe. This means it should fit most hot-shoe strobes on the market. The default mount is designed for Canon EF Lenses, but a Canon to Nikon adapter is available for $17.
Best as an “off camera” strobe – I think the Light Blaster might work best as an off camera strobe. When mounted on the camera hot shoe, the angle of the projected image is restricted, which limits its creative application. And, the second lens makes the camera very top heavy, which had me worrying about the unit the entire time I shot hand held.
Build Quality – The housing does not feel like something I would trust in my kit bag without the padded case which ships with it. As the Light Blaster contains no optics, electronics or other fragile parts, I’d rather see the money spent on the case go into a more robust shell that can stand up to my kit bag without the case. If Light Blaster offered a “pro” version in metal or carbon fiber, I’d pay twice as much for it.
Manual Focus – The Light Blaster has no internal electronics to control the lens, so focusing the projected image is a process of trial-and-error. If the strobe is not locked in place on a tripod or other mount, the Light Blaster needs to be refocused throughout the shoot. This is more of quibble than a con as it adds to set up and shooting time unless, perhaps, managed by an assistant.
The Bottom Line
For the price ($99), the Light Blaster is worth adding to your kit, particularly if you are a strobist who likes working with unique lighting setups. As someone who shoots primarily outdoors, using flash to subtly augment natural light, the Light Blaster opened my eyes to some really interesting creative possibilities. I’ll miss my review copy, so I plan to add a Light Blaster to my kit soon.
Photos: Doug Daulton | Model: Alan Saunders
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