Cowboy Studio Soft Box Review
Diffusion without confusion - Easy to Use Lightbox
My first Cowboy Studios purchase, the 30-Inch Photo Soft Box, will not be my last. This product helped make my first foray into food photography both beautiful and profitable.
I've been a professional photojournalist for a number of years. My expertise, if you can call it that, is in capturing unstaged moments, & images of life on the fly. Much of my work is at scenes of accidents, fires, festivals and concerts. It was with some trepidation that I accepted my first paid job as a food photographer for one of our local restaurants. The restaurant ended up using these photos both on their website as well as in print ads. The Cowboy Studios Soft Box made my job far easier than expected.
The Cowboy Studios Soft Box came packed in a circular shaped nylon bag. It was folded and rolled in a manner that might remind you of some of the more expensive sunshades people use in their automobiles. In addition, the package included several pieces of background fabric of different colors. Opening the light box was quite simple. Pull it out, give it a little shake and a little pull and it pops into a giant white fabric cube -as if it were spring loaded.
The "door" on the front of the cube is attached by several Velcro strips. The door itself has a slit sewn into it where one could easily put a camera lens through. Speaking of the door, one of my few complaints about the Cowboy Studios Soft Box is that there is no way to partially seal that slit. In my opinion, CS should have included some form of Velcro closure or double-headed zipper so that photographers could fully seal the door with the exception of where they stuck their lens through.
The unit is made of a light-weight fabric that transmits light very nicely. The Soft Box does not come with its own lighting which allows photographers to choose their own light sources- be they economy clamp lights from a hardware store or multi-thousand dollar flash rigs and tripods. For my first project, I chose the economy route and purchased clamp lights and a number of CFL bulbs.
I set the light box up on the table in the restaurant's back room and positioned four clamp lights at different angles all around the box. After setting my camera up to the corresponding white balance, I stepped back and had a look and was very pleased by what I saw. The transmission of light on this unit is excellent. I didn't notice any shadows cast from the outside because of the ribbing/framing of the box and I had little problem producing a fully lit white interior similar to what one might get outside on a perfectly lit overcast day. I spent the entire evening taking hundreds of shots of numerous dishes that the restaurant chef had prepared specifically for their ads. I didn't employ any food groomers nor did we use any strange techniques you may have read about which would include anything from coloring to shoe polish to oil in order to enhance the shots. The resulting photographs are outstanding, if I do say so myself and I credit much of this to the use of Cowboy Studios Soft Box. If you'd like to see some of the results of my first foray into food photography using this light box, do a web search for M and M Italian Restaurant in Los Banos. When the website comes up, click where it says "outstanding choices" on the home page and then on the next page that comes up, click on the link that says "restaurant's photo gallery page". Look for the photos with the white background. I am particularly fond of the photos of the drinks and desserts.
After the photo shoot was over, I struggled a little bit with putting the light box away. Folding it back up so that it can fit back into the blue nylon bag is not intuitive but is a fairly easily learned skill. The trick to doing so is to use a proper twist of your wrist after making the initial two folds to perform the final collapse. The video showing this technique was found on YouTube and after practicing it 4 or 5 times, rebagging the light box became easy to accomplish.
The quibbles I have with this product are small and include the aforementioned door issue which makes shooting near surfaces more of a challenge but can probably be overcome with safety pins. I found the included background fabric to be a nice thought but pretty much useless for my purposes as it wrinkles all to easily. Another quibble I have with this product is that the light box itself is prone to slight wrinkling too. If you are using the light box rear wall as a background without direct lighting from behind, you may end up having to do a little bit of post processing / Photoshopping. Similarly, the base of the light box is made of the same fabric that the sidewalls and top are. While this would be great for light transmission if lit from below, it doesn't make for what I consider to be a perfect base / background as the color of the table you set it on will likely show through. I solved this problem on the food shoot by borrowing one of the restaurant's perfect new white tablecloths.
Despite the minor nits outlined above, I really do like the way this product is made. If treated properly, it is my opinion that the Cowboy Studio Soft Box should last for a good long while. Having never had another light box and only looked at its competition briefly in camera stores, it's my opinion that the construction is solid, the stitching is good and I'm expecting this product to hold up for a long time.
My first attempt at food photography was made much easier by using this product. Not only was the chef and restaurant manager quite pleased with the results, but the publisher of the local newspaper selected four of the shots in which to construct an ad which appeared in the Life in Los Banos Magazine. Prior to purchasing the Cowboy Studio Soft Box, I had considered attempting to build my own light box using a PVC frame and white fabric. While it is true I would have saved about ten dollars, I would have also created myself a kludgy, hard-to-transport soft box which likely would have resulted in more frustration and maybe even less attractive photos. I would recommend this product and I have continued to use it for various projects. Despite its minor shortcomings, I think the Cowboy Studio Soft Box is a great value and I'm glad I purchased it.
Click to view the CowboyStudio 30-Inch Photo Soft Box Light - 4 Chroma Key Backdrops on Amazon.com.