Digital Photo Help

How to Use an iPad as a Softbox or Custom Background

by on Aug.30, 2016, under Tips and tricks

What I really like about the iPad is the retina display screen; the quality of the images displayed on it is simply stunning. The brightness emitted from the screen is also quite powerful, so I was curious to see what apps are available in harnessing the light to aid photographers and see if the iPad can be used as a small softbox.

A glass tumbler shot on an iPad. I created the custom pattern using Photoshop.

For this article, I wanted to see how useful some of these apps on the iPad are for photographers. In particular, if you are only starting out in photography and you need to understand more about lighting. Or you are stuck in a hotel room, and you want to have a bit of fun experimenting with a light source.

Can an iPad be used as a Softbox? Or is it just an interesting alternative light source to explore your photography skills?

I will also demonstrate a simple step-by-step Photoshop tutorial on how to create simple pattern preset images for your iPad or tablet, that you can use as creative backgrounds for your shots.

If you are not interested in creating your own, you can simply download the free ones I’ve created specially for this article. Please click on the download button at the bottom.

What is a softbox?

A softbox is really only a light modifier, similar to an umbrella. However, a softbox controls the shape and direction of light more so than an umbrella does. A softbox has the flash (strobe) enclosed behind a diffuser, which prevents light-spill from occurring. They come in different shapes and sizes. The more common ones are square, rectangular and octagonal.

Softboxes also have the advantage of being able to produce natural-looking light by mimicking the shape of a window. As the name suggests, they produce a soft light for all types of shooting, be it food, product, portraiture, and so forth.

The regular size iPad has 9.7 inch (1536x2048px) display, and most softboxes range from small (12″) to quite large (four by six feet). This makes the iPad a very small softbox. A good rule of thumb is the bigger the light source relative to distance to the subject, the softer the light.

How to use a soft box?

A quick on search on iTunes and I came up with the following apps:

As I can’t make the iPad bigger, I’m going to use the iPad as a softbox in four different ways:

Head shot using an iPad as a soft box

My daughter shot with an iPad I used the Photo Light HD (Softbox) app

As a main light source

The first method is using the iPad as my main light source. I had the iPad on a tripod, close to my daughter’s face. You do need to turn off all other light sources. Having the iPad on a tripod made it easier for me to direct my subject. I downloaded the Photo Light HD app to test it out.


The Photo Light HD (SoftBox) app comes with 24 preset pattern images.


One of the preset images that comes with the Photo Light HD (Softbox) app

It comes with 24 preset images. I used the second one here (see above photo). I was also able to use my iPhone as a remote with this app. I wanted a more dramatic portrait, where half of her face is illuminated, and the other half falls off to darkness. I did bump up the ISO quite high, as I handheld my camera.

Tip: You can mount your camera on a tripod and reduce the ISO, which will also help reduce noise in your photos.

Of course you don’t have to download this app. You could try out the Refboard or Soft Box Color apps instead, which are both free.


The Soft Box Color app is free to download.

Set the background color to white. Use a willing subject or object, and experiment by moving the iPad nearer or closer. You will see how the light wraps around the subject. Pay attention to how the shadows appear and drop off. See animated gif below.


By moving the iPad nearer or further away from your subject. You can determine how soft or hard the light will be.

Monster lighting

The second method is called Monster Lighting. This is done by placing the main light directly underneath the subject. So I positioned a toy gorilla on the iPad, and displayed a patterned image that I created to add more drama to the photo.


Monster Lighting – where the light source is directly underneath the subject.


Another example of the Monster Light effect. The reflection of the pattern image highlighted just under the mouth of the Lego figure adds to the drama. I wish I could say that this was intentional but it was purely experimental.

In the photo of the Lego figure above, I used a different pattern. You can download this one for free along with two others. See the link at the bottom.

Colored patterns as a backdrop

For the third method, I used colored patterns on the iPad as an illuminated backdrop. I created my own in Photoshop, see the step-by-step tutorial below demonstrating how I created them. This is where you can get really creative, and have fun taking these types of shots.

By placing an ordinary tumbler on the iPad with a preset pattern image, you can get really interesting refractions in the glass. Experiment by moving your camera position slightly up or down, to find the angle that best suits your shot.


I love the way the pattern image is distorted by the glass.

I also shot this small plastic yellow ball, placed on another preset pattern of green circles, to create an abstract composition.


A small yellow plastic practice golf ball, shot on another custom pattern image on the iPad.

Create a silhouette

Creating a silhouette is simple to do. Use the Soft Box Color or the Refboard app, set to white. They are both free to download. Just make sure your brightness level on your iPad is set all the way to the right (brightest) in Settings. In the example below, I used a toy ostrich to create a silhouette.


A toy Ostrich silhouetted against an iPad, using the Soft Box Color app, set to white.

Creating your own patterned images in Photoshop

In this quick Photoshop tutorial I will show how easy it is to make these patterned image,s by using the Step and Repeat technique in Photoshop.

Start by opening a new document 2048px by 1536px. You can ignore the DPI setting. This only matters when you want to print your images. You will be saving this file as a PNG format which discard pixel density. Our concern here is pixel dimensions. I’m going to leave the background as white. You can choose any color you want.


In this example, I’m going to name the document “Circle Pattern” and click OK.

Make a shape

Click-and-hold on the Rectangle tool in the Toolbox and choose the Ellipse Tool from the menu. If you want a different shape, for example a star or diamond shape, you can select the Custom Shape Tool. There are many preset shapes to choose from.


Ellipse tool

Custom shapes

Custom shapes

Then, up in the Options Bar, make sure the Shape Layers icon is selected. Choose whatever fill color you want. For this tutorial, I chose Black (with no stroke).

Hold down the Shift key and draw out a circle. The Shift key keeps the aspect ratio 1:1. I chose 154px, but again choose whatever size circle you want. With the Move tool (shortcut V on the keyboard) place the circle in the very top left corner of the new document file. Have the Info Panel open. Go to Window>Info.

Duplicating your shape

Pressing CMD/CNTL+T on your keyboard brings up the Free Transform Tool. But instead, hold down the Alt key as well so: CMD/CNTL+Alt+T. This is the important step, move the cursor over the circle shape. The cursor becomes a black arrow head. Hold down the Shift key and move the duplicated circle shape over by 154px, or equal to the width of your circle or shape. Look at your info panel when moving the circle shape. Release and click on the commit transform button or press Enter. That is the “Step” part of this technique.

To repeat this shape, hold down CMD/CNTL+Alt+Shift+T again. Keep holding down CMD/CNTL+Alt+Shift while pressing T multiple times, to create a line of circles across the document. Make sure the last circle goes beyond the document boundary (off the edge).

In your layers panel, you’ll notice that we have only the one layer and not duplicated layers for each circle. To create a new line of circles. Hold down the Shift+Alt keys and drag down by 154px. Continue all the way down the document until you have a document full of circles. Now go over to the Layers panel and select all the layers and put them into a group folder.

Creating a custom pattern image using the Step and Repeat technique in Photoshop.

Creating a custom pattern image using the Step and Repeat technique in Photoshop.


Select all your shape layers


Make a group of all the shape layers

You can now use the Free Transform tool to hold to scale the shapes (CMD/CNTL+T ), so that they are all contained within the document boundaries to create a seamless pattern effect.

Go to File>Save for the Web. Choose PNG-8 for the file format and click Save. Another pop dialog box appears. Name your file and select the location on your computer and click Save.


You now have a pattern preset image to transfer to your iPad or tablet.

If you haven’t got Photoshop, feel free to download the preset images by downloading the ones I made below, enjoy (just right-click and choose “open link in new tab”, then right click and choose “Save Image As”).





Can an iPad be used for photography? Well not in the professional world. If you a beginner to photography and experimenting with artificial light for the first time, give it a try if you have an iPad or tablet. But I wouldn’t suggest going out to purchase an iPad for this reason only.

I am great believer in using whatever light source(s) are available, to explore different shooting techniques and styles. So if you don’t have an iPad/tablet or photography lights, why not experiment with just a flashlight or LED light!

Do you have an iPad/tablet? If so what photography apps have you used? Please leave your comments below.

The post How to Use an iPad as a Softbox or Custom Background by Sarah Hipwell appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Sony introduces FE 50mm F2.8 Macro with 1:1 reproduction

by on Aug.30, 2016, under Reviews

Sony has announced the FE 50mm F2.8 Macro, a full-frame lens with true 1:1 macro magnification. It provides a minimum focus distance of 16cm/6.3in and is resistant to dust and moisture. Its design includes 8 elements in 7 groups and a rounded 7-blade aperture.

The Sony FE 50mm F2.8 Macro will sell for $500 when it goes on sale in September.

Press release:

Sony Releases Full-Frame FE 50mm F2.8 Macro Lens

A lightweight and compact standard 50mm F2.8 macro prime lens that offers versatile shooting experience

SAN DIEGO, Aug. 30, 2016 – Sony Electronics, a worldwide leader in digital imaging and the world’s largest image sensor manufacturer, has today introduced a new full-frame lens for their E-mount camera system, the FE 50mm F2.8 Macro lens (model SEL50M28).

Ideal for everyday photography, this 50mm macro lens features an F2.8 maximum aperture that offers outstanding image quality and bokeh, while its 1:1 macro capability allows the photographer to get sharp close-up shots of their subject. Additionally, its comprehensive range of controls including focus-mode switch, focus-range limiter and focus-hold button ensure an effortless shooting experience for a wide range of users.

The lens offers a 6.3 inch minimum focusing distance and a wider field of view for capturing more background, compared to longer focal-length macro lenses. Weighing in at a mere 8.4 oz., it’s extremely lightweight and portable, making it easy to carry around.

The new FE 50mm F2.8 Macro lens features an ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass to effectively compensate for axial chromatic aberration at close focus, allowing it to create consistently sharp and high quality images. The optical and mechanical construction of the lens has less glare and ghosting, even without a lens hood. The lens is also dust and moisture resistant.

Pricing and Availability

The new FE 50mm F2.8 Macro lens will be available in September for about $500 US and $650 CA, respectively. It will be sold at a variety of Sony authorized dealers throughout North America.

Sony FE 50mm F2.8 Macro specifications

Principal specifications
Lens type Prime lens
Max Format size 35mm FF
Focal length 50 mm
Image stabilization No
Lens mount Sony FE
Maximum aperture F2.8
Minimum aperture F16
Aperture ring No
Number of diaphragm blades 7
Elements 8
Groups 8
Special elements / coatings Extra-low Dispersion glass
Minimum focus 0.16 m (6.3)
Maximum magnification 1×
Autofocus Yes
Full time manual No
Focus method Extending front
Distance scale Yes
DoF scale No
Focus distance limiter Yes
Weight 236 g (0.52 lb)
Diameter 71 mm (2.8)
Length 71 mm (2.8)
Sealing Yes
Colour Black
Filter thread 55.0 mm
Hood supplied No
Tripod collar No

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UPDATED | Don’t get ahead of yourself: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV rolling shutter test

by on Aug.29, 2016, under Reviews

Much of the initial concern about the EOS 5D Mark IV’s video has been about its substantial 1.64x crop (relative to the full width of the sensor, 1.74x compared to the 3:2 region) and its use of the inefficient Motion JPEG compression system (which limits the ability to use SD cards with any dependability).

However, upon shooting with the camera we found it to have significant rolling shutter. We’ve demonstrated the effect alongside the EOS-1D X Mark II, which reads out its sensor fast enough to exhibit pretty low levels of rolling shutter, and the Sony a6300, which shows a relatively high level of rolling shutter at 24p, albeit less so at 30p.

Detailed demonstration

Now we’re allowed to show footage from the camera, we can show more clearly the difference between the EOS-1D X II, which showed very low levels of rolling shutter in our real world videography, and the EOS 5D Mark IV’s footage, which we believe you’ll need to be much more careful with. Particularly when it comes to using 4K video to shoot action at high frame rates, either for video or for 4K frame grabs.

Fast pan

EOS-1D X Mark II (60p) EOS 5D Mark IV (30p)

As before, these grabs were taken from a relatively fast pan with both cameras attached by an arm so that they’re being moved at exactly the same speed. Unlike before, these were shot at 1/1000th of a second shutter speed, so reflect the behavior when trying to shoot for frame grabbing.

Slow pan

EOS-1D X Mark II (60p) EOS 5D Mark IV (30p)

These grabs come from a slower pan, much more like the kind you might wish to include in your own shooting. The 1D X II displays so little rolling shutter as to not be an issue at all at these speeds, while the 5D Mark IV continues to exhibit enough rolling shutter as to render a very odd looking frame grab.

What does this mean?

While rolling shutter isn’t a huge deal at 1080p on the 5D Mark IV, 4K footage risks having panned or moving objects skewed diagonally across the frame and, potentially worse, a ‘jello effect’ to hand-held video. The jello effect can particularly show up in footage shot while walking, which isn’t an unreasonable use-case for this camera for, say, wedding cinematographers. 

The 1D X II shows far better performance in this regard, and the ramifications extend beyond video shooting. We were – and continue to be – quite excited at the prospect of using the 1D X II for, effectively, 60 fps action shooting with (Dual Pixel) AF, thanks to Canon’s excellent 4K Frame Grab feature and very capable video AF. While you can do the same, albeit at 30 fps, with the 5D Mark IV, the reality is that the very fast action shots, or fast-moving subjects, that would benefit from the high frame rate of capture are the ones that will be most adversely affected by the decreased rolling shutter performance.

Ultimately, if you’re careful with the way you move the camera, this rolling shutter effect may not be too apparent; however, there will be scenarios where it becomes distracting, at which point you may have better luck rolling the 5D Mark IV back to 1080p.

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