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|| News Item: Posted 2009-07-27

Photographer's Toy Box: Is The FourSquare For You?
By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter

Photo by Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter

Photo by Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter

The FourSquare in action: Matt Brown and AVP player Michelle Moriarty during a portrait shoot in Hermosa Beach.
My friends know that I LOVE gadgets. But often, once the newness and the "wow cool" thoughts subside, a lot of the gadgets I try often end up not being used very much, basically specialty items that I pull out when the need --- or inspiration --- arises.

Honestly, that was my original thought when my friend Paul Peregrine from Lightware showed off the prototype of his FourSquare --- a speedring enabling you to mount multiple speedlights into it --- at last spring's Sports Shooter Academy Workshop.

I use lighting gear a lot in my day job, staff photographer with USA TODAY, but mostly I use Dyna-Lites --- 2 to 4 packs and sometimes 4 or 5 strobe heads. I have when necessary gone "small ball" using speedlights, but most of the time it's for quick run & gun portrait situations where time and space are tight.

Mounting multiple small, hotshoe strobes into a softbox is nothing new --- I have two speedrings (a Chimera and a PhotoFlex) that will hold one or two lights. But I've always felt for most of my portrait work, especially outdoors, they were underpowered.

Now along comes the FourSquare.

It is considerably smaller than the usual softbox speedring (3 1/3" x 3 1/3"x3 1/3" compared to a 6"x6"x6" PhotoFlex) and its unique design has four molded cold-shoes along the outside.

Currently the FourSquare is sold as a kit, with a 30" x 30" softbox that ---get this --- has poles that collapse the entire thing to a tiny 18-inches!

For those of you that want to maintain that "lighting in the bag" status, this is one of several advantages the FiourSquare has over other medium to large softboxes.

I have my speedlight kit (3 SB-800s, SU-800, 4 stands, Jackrabbit battery pack, Digital Camera Battery and cords) in 24-inch long bag. Neither my medium (24"x32"x17") PhotoFlex nor Chimera softboxes when collapsed and folded will fit in this bag. However the FourSquare and its softbox fit into this bag very easily. I cannot say how much I love the idea of the collapsible poles with this softbox.

(As a matter of fact, the FourSquare, 4 speedlights, my collection of HonlPhoto lighting control devices all fit easily in a large Domke bag.)

I recently had a trip to Colorado for several assignments, requiring me to shoot video and stills. I needed to bring a lighting kit because I knew I'd have to shoot portraits of the athletes we were doing features on. My speedlight lighting kit fit into a medium Pelican Case fine EXCEPT for the softbox, which I had to put into another, larger case that held my video gear and tripod. Just an inconvenience, but frustrating that I could not keep the lighting kit together.

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / Sports Shooter

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / Sports Shooter

AVP player Michelle Moriarty shot with the Lightware Direct FourSquare with 4-SB-800 speedlites at 1/2500 @ f/3.2.
The FourSquare has a 1/4-20 and a 3/8th-16 tap so you can use a adapter to mount the rig onto a light stand (my recommendation is this one from Bogen:

Another touches include:
Four flaps in the back of the softbox, making access to the mounted speedlights easier
Setscrews in the bottom of the cold shoes to better secure the strobes
Two umbrella mounts
Hook and loop patches on the outside to hang a radio trigger

On recent test portrait shoots, I found the FourSquare ---using two and four speedlights --- produced more than adequate amount of light, with the nice wrap-around quality portrait photographers love.

Using a VAL (voice activated lightstand, aka: an assistant) and iTTL this rig expands the concept of run & gun strobe work. Utilizing the strobes in "banks" you can even control the output on the different sides of the softbox to feather the light if you need to (especially easy if you're using Nikon's SU-800 TTL commander or the Canon STE-2).

The softbox has a removable front diffusion panel and shooting sans diffusion at close range gives you a whole different look, still soft, but with more of an edge, like a large beauty dish.

Bring the FourSquare close in, directly in front of the subject, with the diffusion panel removed, you get a sort of ringlight look, with a truly interesting catch light in your subject's eyes --- with multiple strobes installed.

Now where I found the FourSquare especially cool to use was outdoors, where lighting with a non-system strobe (like a Dyna-Lite or Elinchrom) will limit you to shooting at a maximum shutter speed of 1/250 of a second.

Experimenting with Nikon's FP high-shutter speed flash mode, I was able to shoot portraits at f/4 - f/2.8 giving me very shallow depth of field so I could better isolate my subjects (shooting at shutter speeds like 1/2500 of a second). Shooting a portrait with strobes and at wide-open gives you a really cool, different look…just another thing to have in your arsenal that can't be matched by reporters or bloggers shooting with their point & shoots and camera phones!

The new speedlights from both Nikon and Canon put out a fair amount of light and if it's not baffled, diffused or softened and if you gang up 3 or 4 speedlights, you can easily over-power crappy, high-noon sun. Add to that the ability to shoot at high-shutter speed … wow!

While I have not had a chance to try this as my friend Dave Black has, using a gang of speedlights in FP mode could really add a whole new dimension to shooting action portraits outdoors in sunny conditions.

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / Sports Shooter

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / Sports Shooter

The new Lightware Direct FourSquare has shoes to mount up to 4 speedlites.
• Small size
• Ability to gang up multiple speedlights
• Utilizing multiple strobes to overpower ambient light
• Using multiple strobes in FP (high-shutter speed mode)
• Use with the hotshoe strobes you already own
• Kit (FourSquare and softbox) moderately priced
• Multiple "looks" achieved by removing front diffusion, adding speedlights

• Long recycle time if not using external battery packs
(This has more to do with the limitations of speedlights in general)
• Must buy a light stand adapter (which adds about $25-30 to the price)
• Should have at least 2 speedlights to get the most out of it (though one will work fine, but limited)

Every photographer worth a compact flash card has at least one or two speedlights. Adding something that is portable, easy to use and versatile to your bag of tricks is a good thing, whether it's a set of HonlPhoto grids, a small Lastolite TriGrip or the new FourSquare.

Getting that hotshoe flash off the hotshoe is the first order of business in improving your lighting technique. Adding control, direction and softness (when necessary) is your second step.

The FourSquare may not be for everyone, but it is another new, cool lighting control device that you can add to the strobes you already own.

(For more details on the FourSquare, checkout Lightware Direct's website: .)

(Robert Hanashiro is the founder of Sports Shooter and is a staff photographer with USA TODAY. He is also the co-creator of the Sports Shooter Academy workshops.)

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