Handy Compact Modifiers

Courtesy Matthews Studio Equipment

Matthews Studio Equipment makes gear for supporting and controlling light, mostly for cinema and television production, where large, heavy stands and lighting are needed. Over the past few years, the company has added equipment for smaller productions. The original 18x24-inch RoadRags and larger 24x36-inch RoadRags II kits are ideal for small productions or working in small spaces.

Using stand-alone flags, diffusing scrims, and nets are some of the easier ways to improve the quality of your light, whether you’re using a small, hard light source, light that’s already diffused by a soft box, or available light. What makes the RoadRags kits appealing is their ease of use, including setup and storage.

Courtesy Matthews Studio Equipment
The RoadRags kit comes with two folding frames and four flags in a compact carrying case. The same case is large enough to hold extra flags and frames if you need them.

When packed up for transportation or storage, the overall package measures 20x9x2 inches. A RoadRags kit consists of two open-ended folding frames and four flags: white artificial silk, solid black, a single net, a double net. It’s all packaged in a canvas carrying case. The translucent flag made from synthetic silk diffuses light, and the single and double black nets reduce it. The frames are three-sided, which lets you feather the effect with the silk and net flags—inserting the flag part way through a beam of light—without the interrupted light path being evident. The short sides of the flags are hemmed over rugged canvas tubes that slip over the sides of the frame. The hemmed edges are color-coded: red for the black double net, green for the single net, gold for the artificial silk diffuser, and black for the solid black flag. 

The frames are 3/8-inch tubes of anodized aluminum connected to a central lollipop mount by an internal bungee cord. The ends of the base tubes are keyed to matching openings in the lollipop, and the frames nearly assemble themselves with a flick of your wrist. Stretching a fabric on a frame takes less than 30 seconds. Start by pushing about an inch of one of the hemmed tubes over the end of one of the arms and repeat on the opposite arm. Now slide the hemmed edges of the flag all the way down the arms, then loop the elastics over the base frame and snap them closed. The oppositional forces of the outward springiness of the arms, the strength of the fabric, and the elastic on the bottom edge keep the material taut with no sagging. The 3/8-inch diameter spigot on the lollipop stem fits into the same size channel of any grip head.

The frames in the original and RoadRags II kits are open-ended. This means that when you insert the nets and silk flags partially through a beam of light, the graduation between the flagged and unflagged area is softedged and usually imperceptible. Using the open edge of the single and double nets and the artificial silk flags, the closer the flag is to the light, the more imperceptible the gradient between the modified and unmodified light will be. That’s important for portraits when your goal is evening the exposure across a face or from face to body.

The single net flag decreases light by close to a half-stop and the double net by one stop. Like all diffusers, the artificial silk (which can also serve as a bounce panel) reduces illumination and warms up (lowers) the color temperature. You lose only about a half-stop of brightness, and according to a Sekonic C800-U color meter, the color shifts by only 40 kelvins with zero change to the green/magenta balance.

©Ellis Vener
For this dramatic portrait I used two flags with the open top sides rotated to face each other like parentheses with about an inch gap between them. On the left is the black flag and on the right is the artificial silk diffuser. A white surface on camera

The RoadRags and RoadRags II kits are ideal for location work with simple, quick, and straightforward set-up and pack up in a compact package. Additional frames and fabrics are available. I added two frames and flags to mine, and they all fit into the original case. Do heed the warning from Matthews about using these in windy situations: The frames are not as sturdy as convention flags with welded frames. 

Ellis Vener is a contributing editor.