Living on the edge of all light

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Living on the edge of all light

You might have heard of it as feathering, creating wrap-around light; you might have heard the words Umbra and Penumbra being tossed into the explanation.

When I want to create a soft flattering light, this is where I go; to the edge of the light.

Most photographers starting out are more concerned about the volume of light hitting their subject, less about the quality. With an umbrella, to achieve volume, you point the center of the umbrella right at the subject. Because it is a larger light source, it is naturally softer than the small light source being fired into it.

To get the sweet spot, the softest light, turn the umbrella (holds true for soft boxes, scrims, reflectors etc.) so the point of the umbrella passes in front of them. Now you are lighting your subject with the umbrella’s edge of light. This light creates a very soft shadow edge on the subject, especially noticeable on their face. You will lose some power, or quantity, since the bulk of the light passes in front of your subject.

That’s ok, since as photographers we want to paint with light delicately when revealing beauty.

The same approach works with soft boxes. There is a formula to work out the optimum distance of a soft box from a subject. Christopher Grey, in his Studio Lighting Techniques for Photography book explained it the simplest:

head shot light diagram

“. . . add the length and width of the modifier together, then place the modifier at that distance form your subject. In other words, a 4×6 foot softbox will perform best at 10 feet and a 3×4 foot softbox will do its best job at 7 feet.”

There are some very complicated formulas, but this is a nice and quick, practical break down of light placement. It is based on the spread of the light and the specular highlights, or lack thereof.

While that is the most effective, your style and taste will define the final choice of light placement.

In the sample images here, the images have only been raw processed, you can see the pattern of light. In the head shot she is in a small white walled room.

To take advantage of the feathered light effect, move your soft box so it is mostly in front of your subject. The light that strikes your subject first is from the edge of the light. The larger surface wraps around giving you this very soft, almost glowing light.

Do some experimenting. Nothing brings it home like seeing what the effect looks like with your gear and your placement.

You will find the same principles hold for working with reflectors.

Feathered edge lighting is the finesse of lighting. You will see an instant and huge improvement in the look of your images.

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