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.
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.
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.
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