Why use Barndoors on a flash?

An OCF Accessories series by Quentin Décaillet
Still life

Discover the benefits of using OCF Barndoors for the Elinchrom ONE. It helps create, shape, and control hard light on the go. This is the first part series of OCF accessories for your Off-Camera flash unit.

Like many photographers, I started flash photography with accessories such as the Elinchrom Rotalux Deep Octa Softbox. The Rotalux are amongst the best softboxes out there. They produce beautiful soft and diffused light that helps you create flattering portraits. However, with time, I started experimenting with hard light using small reflectors. One of the tools that I’ve come to love is the Barndoors because of their flexibility.

From Standard to OCF

The Barndoor 21cm for standard Elinchrom mount

The OCF Barndoors for OCF mounts

Elinchrom has offered Barndoors for the 21cm reflector for a while, and it works amazingly well for studio work. With the recent introduction of the Elinchrom ONE and the OCF mount, it was time for an OCF version of the Barndoors. More portable than the 21cm reflector, the OCF Barndoors can be mounted directly on the ONE or any OCF compatible unit. This direct mounting system is terrific for any photographer on the go or working on very tight lighting setups.

Control hard light

Barndoors is such an affordable and helpful piece of equipment that I’m convinced it should be in any photographer’s kit!
As the name implies, these are small doors to block the light beam in specific directions. It works in the same way as flags would, except that they are placed directly on the light, and so you don’t need additional stands or clamps to flag the light – making it very practical for on-location shoots.

It has different purposes in real-life scenarios, and it can be used for any genre. From product to portrait and even wedding photography, I don’t see a reason not to have the OCF Barndoors along with your Elinchrom ONE on every shoot.

Avoid bounced light

The easiest way to create hard light is to use a bare bulb flash or a small reflector such as the Elinchrom Standard 21cm reflector.

Both work nicely but come with one major flaw: there’s no way to control precisely where the light will bounce.

This may lead to color casting issues and reduced contrast because of the light reflecting on every wall and object in the room you’re shooting in.

Using Barndoors, you can precisely control the beam of light.

For example, if you want only to light your subject and block the light from bouncing on the walls and the ceiling, you close the doors parallel to the beam so the light can’t go anywhere but forward.

It’s that simple!

It does wonders if you are shooting portraits in a colored room and want to avoid any color casting on your subject. It’s also fantastic if you have a white wall next to your subject but don’t want to use it as a fill and would rather keep a stronger contrast.

Contrast comparison

I had to do a recent product test shoot at home; the Barndoors came in handy as I had to avoid getting any bounce light. It was for an e-commerce lighting proposition, so I had to get my colors rights.

Living in an apartment made mainly of wood, if light were to bounce around, I’d get weird colors in shadows, which would require much editing. With the Barndoors, I could easily control the light beam and have much cleaner shadows.

If the contrast gets too strong because there’s no fill anymore, I could simply add a fill card next to the product and make sure I get a clean and neutral fill light instead.

Without and with fill card contrast

Harder than hard light

The initial idea behind the Barndoors is to control where the light goes and avoid unwanted light bounces.

However, it comes with another great use for hard light lovers. If you close the doors and leave only a tiny opening for the light to escape, it essentially creates an even harder light source than when shooting bare bulb.

The smaller the light source in relation to the subject, the harder the light is. So indeed, Barndoors can be used to create a tiny light source, similar to a snoot but in a more rectangular shape and with the control offered by the doors.

Product photographers looking to mimic the sun and summer-like razor-sharp shadows will love the OCF Barndoors for this use. Just be mindful that it may result in light loss, and so you’ll have to bump up the power of your strobe to compensate for it.
But other than that, it’s fantastic and can do wonders when you don’t have the space to carry a full-size snoot along with you.

Without and with barndoors - shadows sharpness

In my product test shoot, as you can notice, when I put on the Barndoors, I was able to get much more defined shadows. They are razor-sharp, whereas previously, they were a bit soft. One is not better than the other, but it’s great to offer a variety of choices to clients in such scenarios and know how to create such light effects.

Creative light with Barndoors and LED

When I first got my hands on Barndoors and started using them, I noticed how excellent the result was with just modeling light on. As the LED is a lot more directional than the flash tube, the beam of light when using Barndoors is very defined.

Let me explain what I mean by that.

Flash vs. Continuous light effect with barndoors

The Barndoors will avoid the light hitting everything and anything around it when using the flash. However, it won’t create a sharp and defined beam of light like a projector or fresnel would as there is no optical element to focus the light.
The goal of the flash tube isn’t to push light in one direction but instead in all directions to make the most of your beautiful light shapers. If that wasn’t the case, unique softboxes such as the Litemotiv 190 Indirect wouldn’t create such an outstanding light quality. However, most LEDs are a lot more directional.

The combination of a LED light – such as the Elinchrom ONE’s pilot lamp – and Barndoors will let you create a defined beam of light similar to that of light creeping through a cracked door. Then you can adjust how sharp you want the effect to be.

The closer to your subject, the more defined the Barndoors shadows will be.
The further away, the less visible the effect will be.

Quentin’s kit

Elinchrom OCF Barndoors

EL26002 - With four trapezium-shaped metal barndoors, this accessory can be mounted directly on the unit to dimmish light spread in all directions or shape a rectangular light beam.