Something that many people who like doing portraiture like using is a something called a shovel. This is what these were originally made of before they were optimized for studio lighting. Just like a “bowl and spoon” were originally a bowl and spoon – eventually they changed the name to a “beauty dish”. The shovel performs the task of giving a framed and feathered lighting on a background around your subject in a semi-circle. At the center, where your subject is located, it should be a full amount of light shining on the background. As you go to the edges, it softly feathers (fades) the light to the edges of where the light surrounds your subject. This is called a shovel. Another use is to back light your subject without lighting your background. In both these uses, the light, stand, and shovel need to go between your subject and the backdrop.
As most of you probably have guessed, I use Alien Bee lighting by Paul Buff. One of the products that Paul Buff offers is the white shovel reflector. How convenient that they have something like this for a review I am about to do. They refer to it as a UBR White Shovel Background Reflector. Does it do what it says? What can I do with it? I hope to answer that in this entry.
The UBR White Shovel Background Reflector starts with a full amount of light in the center (about 20 degrees). It fades to one stop at 70 degrees and to two stops at 90 degrees. Does this shovel do this? I personally have found the falloff at the center a little more than this, and the light sprays out at more than 180 degrees on both sides. Using gels isn’t easy with the shovel. Paul C. Buff says it is easy – but it isn’t as easy as they say. There are two ways to use one with the shovel. The first is to tape the gel around the shovel like a snoot, but then you have multiple layers of gel over the opening. The second is to cut down your gel and fasten it in some way – tape, plastic clamps that came with your Alien Bee flash, or otherwise. I have tried other ways, but nothing has been reliable and covered the opening completely to keep from getting white light.
In all honesty, I haven’t spent much time with this device, as I tried to use it a few times and then set it aside. I haven’t found it useful except as a paper weight. For others, you might find it useful. The portrait images I take don’t make it easy to use this shovel – or any shovel for that matter. Keep this in mind when I say you are better off using your money on something else or a better tool. There have been times I have used it, but this has been strictly for formal portraits with someone sitting on a chair and shooting just a head shot or waist up image. Outside of this, using the shovel is difficult because you have to hide the stand, cables, light, and shovel between the background and the subject. Not an easy thing to do with full length captures. Is it something to play with and maybe have on hand if you do formal portraits – probably something you may use with some regularity (but you will probably only use it in one of ten at most). Outside of this, I have to say that your money is better spent on something else or use it to save up for something like a parabolic umbrella.
More information and link to Paul C. Buff:
The Alien Bee UBR White Shovel Reflector