Tip – Westcott Eyelighter Review for Headshots

This has been a tool I’ve seen talked about for some time. I wanted to get my hands on it for an easy one- or two-light headshot setup. For all disclosure, in the past Westcott has sent me items for free to review, but in this case I paid full retail, just like everyone else. It isn’t a cheap modifier at $299, but it is one of those items in your toolkit that does just one thing very well – it makes the eyes pop. I first did a review on the Eyelighter alone, and then decided to try it again with a Halo for better wraparound light, which I included at the end of this post. 

What is it?

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Many of you have seen the old school triple reflectors used in headshots. This is pretty much the same thing, except it is one single curve. Getting creative you could probably make your own (and I’ve seen people do this with Home Depot parts), but for me, the sturdiness of the real thing was important. It reflects your main light back into the subject, filling the face with fantastic specular light and creates a crescent catchlight in the bottom of the eyes, that really makes the eyes pop. Anyone who has done a lot of headshots knows how important it is to make the eyes pop.

Portability

I currently have this set up in our studio and I don’t plan to take it down often. It is portable when you disassemble it. The main horizontal pieces come in half. It breaks down into a small case about three feet long. That said, it does take a good five minutes to break down and a good 10 min to put back together. So, it isn’t like a quick pop up umbrella or anything. It takes a short time.

The Result

We decided in our tests to try and replicate as real world an assignment as possible. I have two set ups. The first setup was taken with two Alien Bees (an 800 and a 400). The main light had a 47″ Octobox on it and the backlight had a 30 degree grid spot. This, I hope would emulate a studio setup or a remote setup where you had more time and more space to set up a shooting location – for example, if you were setting up in a business office to shoot 10+ headshots. The second setup is with three speedlights (you could totally do it with two, I just wanted a bit broader light going into the umbrella). I had two speedlights on a T bracket shooting into an umbrella. And I had one speedlight with a MagMod grid on it for the background light. This seems like a quick portable setup that many people would use on location. The biggest lighting item in this second setup is the Eyelighter itself.

Reference Shot

Here is a shot with the umbrella set up WITHOUT the Eyelighter.

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Obviously in a real world shot without the Eyelighter, we would have added some more lights or a reflector to better illuminate the face. But I wanted you to have a reference shot. The shots below were set up exactly like this, but with just one thing different. The Eyelighter brought in below the face.

Alien Bee Softbox Setup Results

This is the setup: Two Alien Bees, one 800 with their large Octobank and one 400 with a 30 degree grid spot. For more info on these products, click here. We set up the Octobank so most of the light would shoot past the model and feather down onto her face. The grid spot was dialed in to simply create a vignette on the background.

Behind the Scenes Shot:

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So you’ll notice a couple of things here. First, you can see our video/shooting room during construction. We recently took over this space and you can see the ugly painting on the wall, and the less-than-attractive blinds that we are covering with a moving blanket. This is key. You don’t need a pretty place for headshots like these. The Octobank is pointed down toward the face, but we are feathering it off the top of the model’s head, so we don’t get such a bright “on the face” light. The Alien Bee grid spot on the background is set up to create a nice vignette around the model’s head. I am using the Radio Popper JrX to remotely control the power output of the Alien Bees, so I don’t have to keep moving up and down a ladder to adjust power.

Here is the result:

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Speedlight Umbrella Setup Results

Sometimes on location, you don’t want to carry around an entire mono light setup. We wanted to create a super light kit. We have 3 Strobie 230s. These are super cheap, all manual flashes. They are $159 and include a radio transmitter. They also have a receiver built into the flash, so no bulk. You do have to adjust power ON the flash. Two of these guys on a T bracket with an umbrella and one with a MagMod for the background.

Setup:

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As you can see, this is a simple setup. Umbrella pointed down at about a 45 degree angle. Eyelighter right under the model and the Magmod on the background.

Here is the result:

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Conclusion

I’m the first to admit that I’m no lighting guru. I can see areas where I could improve this setup with the distance of the the main light, the power and adjusting the f-stop. But I think these images give you a clear indication as to whether this is a tool for you. Personally, I can see myself using this reflector a lot. I think it adds significantly to the impact of a headshot. The headshot is all about the connection of the viewer and the subject. By drawing the viewer’s eyes to the subject, I feel that connection is made. I’m prefer the image created with the umbrella and am going to work on perfecting the Alien Bee setup (as I like the control and the background light better), but instead of the Octobank, use the umbrella. I prefer the way the light wraps around the face and fills the shadows better. Additionally, the smaller source, makes the hair go darker faster. This is fantastic if you prefer the second image also, as umbrellas are between $20-$30 and a grid spot is about the same. So if you have lights already and $50 for lighting modifiers you are in business.

Some people have had issues with the price tag of $299. I’m the first to admit that it is expensive for a reflector. But, it has one simple purpose and it fulfills that purpose 100 percent. If you are looking for a great tool to make your headshots stand out, I feel that this might be the answer you are looking for.

For more information on the Eyelighter, please click here.

All images shot on a Leica M + 75mm f/2 Summicron. Aperture at 8 and 9.5 respectively. Shutter at 1/90.

Images retouched by Lavalu. Definitely check them out if you need some work taken off your hands. 

P.S. – NEVER invite #flatfundy along for a shoot. He’s always goofing off with the models.

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Round II – New and Improved

After doing round one, we wanted better wraparound light and a bit off center for the main light. So we contacted FJ Westcott and they were kind enough to send us a Halo, which is basically a collapsible umbrella with a black back, so you can bounce INTO the back and through the umbrella. Super soft light.

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We did a super simple setup, as you can see above. We placed the Halo with an Alien Bee inside it just left of center of the subject and just above eye level. The Eyelighter placed 30″ from the nose of the subject, and about 45 degrees down from the nose. We went a bit off center to create some more dynamic shadows on the face. An Alien Bee on the background one stop lower than the main light. And a kicker behind the subject for the hair light. Also one stop lower than the main light.

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The Results

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We Hope You Love It

We are big fans of the Halo and the Eyelighter. If you are doing headshots and want an easy setup that gives you great results, definitely check them out – click here.